As a Massachusetts psychiatrist and medical ethicist, I appreciate that there are people of good will on both sides of the assisted suicide controversy. Nevertheless, I believe the bills before you (Massachusetts House 2381/ Senate 1384) are masterpieces of misleading euphemisms. They represent a betrayal of medical ethics, and a clear and present danger to our most vulnerable patients. The House bill might well be called, “An Act that Gives Legal Cover to Physicians Who Assist in Their Patients’ Suicide.”
The bill perversely re-defines suicide, exonerating physicians who act under its aegis from the charge of “assisted suicide.” As a psychiatrist for nearly 40 years, I can tell you that when a patient knowingly ingests a lethal medication with the intent of dying, that is suicide. The context of terminal illness may partly explain–but does not alter–that fact. Attempts to separate suicides into “regular” and “assisted”, based on supposed psychological differences, are not well grounded in psychiatric knowledge or experience. In short, suicide is suicide.