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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Doctors Ask Court to Approve Assisted Suicide

BOSTON (CN) - A Massachusetts physician and his terminally ill patient are seeking a court order that would decriminalize doctor-assisted suicide.

Dr. Roger Kligler and Dr. Alan Steinbach filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court seeking a declaratory judgment that would allow physicians to provide "Medical Aid in Dying" in other words, using medication to induce a peaceful death for patients with less than six months to live.

Kligler, who is a retired physician, is seeking a lethal dose of medication from his doctor, Steinbach, without his doctor having to face the danger of prosecution.

The lawsuit names state Attorney General Maura Healey and Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe as defendants, calling for a preliminary injunction that would prevent them from prosecuting Steinbach for providing a lethal dose of medication to Kligler.

Kligler was diagnosed with Stage 4, metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer, and given only a few more years to live. With treatment, people with similar diagnoses to Kligler survive on average, for about two years.

State law allows terminally ill patients on life support such as a feeding tube, dialysis machine or ventilator to opt to remove it and accept painkillers until they succumb to death. Terminal patients in extreme pain can also opt to placed into a medically-induced coma in which they often starve to death.

In lieu of a slow death, Kligler would prefer to have the option of a medically assisted suicide, but fears the possible repercussions to any doctor or even a family member that would supply him with the medication.

The plaintiffs argue that denying Kligler the means to end his own life infringes on his rights of privacy and liberty.

"Dr. Kligler does not wish to linger in a state of palliative sedation until he dies of dehydration or starvation," the complaint says. "Dr. Kligler and others like him would be barred from a fundamental medical option for a peaceful and painless death if Medical Aid in Dying is found to be prohibited."

Cape & Island District Attorney Michael O'Keefe questioned if the courts were the best route for legalizing assisted suicide.

"I am sympathetic to this ordeal the doctors are facing but they are petitioning the wrong branch of government," he said. "This is a question raising serious ethical and moral issues and must be addressed by legislators who make laws and not to judges who only apply them."

In 2012 Massachusetts voters narrowly rejected a ballot question that would have legalized doctors prescribing life-ending medication for terminally ill patients, 52 percent to 48 percent. More recently, state Rep. Louis Kafka filed a bill that would legalize assisted suicide, but the bill never made it out of committee before the 2015-16 legislative session expired.

Representatives of the attorney general's office declined to comment.

The plaintiffs are represented by Jonathan Albano and Nathaniel Bruhn of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

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