The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is considering an exception to the state’s ban on assisted suicide.
The case, Kligler v. Healey, was brought by two doctors who challenged the state’s use of manslaughter charges against physicians who prescribe “medication used by a competent, terminally ill person to commit suicide.”
Doctors Roger Kligler and Alan Steinbach recently argued before the court that the state should let them practice Medical Aid in Dying, which they distinguish from physician-assisted suicide because it does not involve the doctor directly administering the fatal drugs.
Doctors in other states practice MAID by prescribing medication that competent adult patients “can self-ingest to hasten the time of their death” without the doctor administering it or even being present, the doctors said in court documents.
That makes it unconstitutional to apply manslaughter charges to doctors for pills that patients themselves request and administer as alternatives to palliative care, they said.
“Physicians are accustomed to making these determinations and those physicians who deal most frequently with terminally ill patients are especially adept at making these determinations,” they wrote.
The two doctors are seeking to follow the example of the city of Washington and 10 states where assisted suicide is legal under similar frameworks.
The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, argued that the commonwealth’s legislature should decide the matter.
“There is no fundamental constitutional right to assistance in suicide, and the policy discussion about the pros and cons of legalization properly belongs in the legislature, where it is currently taking place,” Assistant Attorney General Maria Granik said.
The court also allowed attorneys from the conservative public-interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom to argue in favor of preserving state law’s distinction between “withdrawing or refusing life-sustaining medical treatment” and “attempting suicide.”
In a friend-of-the-court brief, ADF attorneys argue that the two doctors “seek to establish a previously unrecognized right to ‘medical aid in dying,’ where a doctor prescribes lethal medication for use in committing suicide.”
“Creating a right to physician-assisted suicide would not be a mere expansion of the right to refuse life-saving treatment,” the ADF said, adding that the “vast majority” of U.S. states and medical associations oppose it.
Sara Buscher, chair of the nonprofit Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA that filed the amicus brief through Alliance Defending Freedom, said the two doctors want to redefine the purpose of medical treatment.
“Major medical organizations like the American Medical Association oppose the practice of assisted suicide for good reason: turning doctors into killers is the opposite of a doctor’s role in medicine,” Ms. Buscher said. “Assisted suicide treats some people, particularly the disabled, as better off dead.”
The two doctors are appealing a Suffolk Superior Court decision that struck down their lawsuit.
Neither of the doctors has been charged with manslaughter and the lower court noted that it’s highly unlikely such prosecution would occur in Massachusetts.