In 2010, a Boston doctor diagnosed Heather Clish’s father with brain cancer, giving him only six months to live. Lee Johnson didn’t want to suffer and decided to end his life.
“It was very important to him to die with grace amid all the indignities that he was enduring,” Heather said, as she walked along the Boston Common. “It was important to him to control that process of dying.”
However, the state of Massachusetts does not give the dying that much control — barring all forms of doctor-assisted suicide.
Clish explained that her father was forced to travel back to his home in Oregon where euthanasia is legal.
“It was a decision I respected,” she said.
Now she is trying to get Massachusetts to respect it as well. Clish is supporting “Question 2” on the state’s November ballot — called “death with dignity,” which would legalize doctor-assisted suicide in the Bay State.
“It would make it legal for people who are terminally ill or dying like my dad to end their suffering if they chose to do so,” she explained.
It’s a tough sell in a state where almost half the population identifies as Catholic.
“It’s just wrong,” says John B. Kelly, from the “No on Question 2 Campaign.” “It’s just not in the state’s interest to set up criteria for when it’s okay to kill yourself.”
The proposals would make it legal for terminally ill patients in Massachusetts to be given lethal drugs. But Kelly, who is a paraplegic, predicted the change would be abused.
“There are no safeguards” he said. “It’s poorly written. What happens if someone changes their mind?” He said the state should not get involved in condoning such a monumental decision.
“What the society should be doing is looking at ways to reduce suicide,” he said. “That’s why we have suicide prevention.”
Clish points out that under the proposal patients have to have been given less than six months to live by a doctor, and have to have been deemed “mentally capable” to make the decision to die.
“It gives (the terminally ill) an option to hang onto and use if they want to die in the way that they want,” she says.
Kelly calls that “nonsense,” claiming doctors constantly underestimate the amount of time a patient has to live.
“Terminal diagnosis is a guess,” he said. “Doctors admit they cannot predict accurately when someone will die.”
He said patients may lose months or years of their lives due to “inaccurate diagnosis or even misdiagnosis.”
And besides, said Kelly, unscrupulous family members could very well take advantage of the ballot measure. He says the measure allows blood relatives to sign patients up for a lethal dose.
“They only have to get one witness who is not a blood relative. There is huge potential for abuse here,” he said.
Clish said the measure is about letting people decide how they are going to die.
“It’s about giving them a choice when they no longer have a choice to live. It’s about giving them the freedom to choose how they are going to play out their last days when they are dying anyhow.”
Massachusetts voters will get to choose if they want to pass the ballot measure on Nov. 6.
Douglas Kennedy currently serves as a correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1996 and is based in New York.