- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - Two Cape Cod doctors are asking a Massachusetts court to rule that it’s not a criminal act for physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to mentally competent patients with terminal illnesses.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Suffolk Superior Court by Dr. Roger Kligler, who himself has terminal cancer, and Dr. Alan Steinbach, with the help of Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based nonprofit that works on end-of-life choices.

It also asks the court for an injunction to prevent criminal prosecution of what it calls “medical aid in dying,” which the group says is not the same as assisted suicide. The group says in medical aid in dying, the patient controls the process from beginning to end. In assisted suicide and euthanasia, someone else’s actions and choices cause death.

Kligler, according to the lawsuit, wants to be able to obtain medication he could use to end his life if his suffering becomes unbearable.

Steinbach, according to the suit, wants the option of providing end-of-life medication to patients without fear of criminal prosecution.

The suit was brought “to validate the liberty, autonomy and privacy rights of terminally ill persons and their doctors.”

It names state Attorney General Maura Healey and Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe as defendants.

Compassion & Choices said there is no current state law that specifically addresses medical aid in dying.

“The concern is that there are no statutory guidelines on what can be done, and physicians are nervous in providing advice or writing prescriptions for terminally ill patients,” said Kevin Diaz, national director of legal advocacy of the group. “They want guidance on what’s allowable and what isn’t.”

The lawsuit references other cases, including that of Michelle Carter, a woman facing a manslaughter charge for allegedly encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself. The boyfriend was not physically ill.

“Massachusetts’ practice of prosecuting people who have encouraged or provided the means for another’s suicide creates uncertainty as to whether informing or advising patients regarding medical aid in dying for providing a prescription for medical aid in dying is also a prosecutable offense,” the suit says. But it notes that if the court rules in the plaintiffs’ favor, it would have no impact on the Carter case.

The attorney general’s office declined comment.

O’Keefe said he disagrees that there is a distinction between medical aid in dying and assisted suicide, but thinks the issue is something that the state Legislature will ultimately have to decide.

“This is one of those issues that are very sensitive and difficult, and I understand that,” he said. “It’s a discussion that’s worth having.”

Compassion & Choices said Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and California have laws that allow medical aid in dying.


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