Massachusetts doctor files lawsuit seeking right to die

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A retired Massachusetts doctor, who says he witnessed the suffering of many cancer patients at the end their lives, filed a lawsuit this week seeking the right to die using self-administered medication.

“It’s an option that I want to have,” Roger M. Kligler, M.D., who is terminally ill with metastatic prostate cancer, told The Boston Globe. Kligler, 64, a longtime advocate of expanding laws nationwide to give patients end-of-life options, filed the lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, asserting he has a constitutional right to obtain a lethal dose of medication from his doctor and choose when he dies to avoid needless suffering, the newspaper said. The lawsuit would also prevent prosecution of doctors who assist him.

Kligler and fellow Massachusetts doctor, Alan Steinbach, M.D., another plaintiff in the lawsuit, partnered with the Compassion & Choices organization to file the lawsuit.

Kligler’s legal approach was used successfully in Montana to expand right-to-die options there with a court decision that physicians who assist patients could be shielded from liability as along as patients give explicit consent, the Globe said. Four states--Oregon, Washington, California and Vermont--have passed laws allowing physician-assisted suicide.

Colorado is now considering a similar law and voters there will face a ballot question when they go to the polls next month. Physicians are wrestling with the ethics of Colorado’s Proposition 106, but a February poll of 618 doctors in the state, taken before the ballot measure was proposed, found support for physician-assisted death in general, according to a Kaiser Health News report. The legislation would give mentally competent adults the ability to end their lives with a doctor-prescribed drug. The city council in Washington, D.C., is also expected to vote on legalizing the practice there next month.

The latest research shows that terminally ill patients who seek aid in dying aren’t primarily concerned about pain, according to another Kaiser Health News report. People who have actually used physician-assisted suicide laws have been more concerned about controlling the way the die than about controlling pain, the report said.