Massachusetts doc's personal battle for physician-assisted suicide

Legal cases
Two Massachusetts doctors asked a court to rule on their lawsuit that would allow physician-assisted suicide.

A Massachusetts doctor, diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer, is continuing his legal fight to ensure his right to die.

Roger M. Kligler, M.D., and another physician, Alan Steinbach, M.D., are urging a Massachusetts Superior Court to reject a motion filed by state officials that would dismiss their lawsuit asserting that state law allows medical aid in dying, according to an announcement by Compassion & Choices, an organization that advocates for the rights of terminally-ill patients and has joined in the lawsuit.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe filed a motion to dismiss (PDF) the doctors’ lawsuit arguing there is no actual controversy that requires a court determination because there is no threat of prosecution for doctors. They also argue the issues raised by the lawsuit are best addressed by the legislature, not the courts.

But the doctors have countered (PDF), urging the court to hear the suit so that Massachusetts doctors could write prescriptions for medications that would allow terminally-ill patients to end their lives without fear of prosecution. In their complaint opposing the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the doctors argue that O’Keefe has threatened to prosecute prescribing doctors for murder.

“Defendants are wrong. The DA himself has stated that medical aid in dying would result in the charge of murder,” the doctors said in their complaint, citing a newspaper article published after the lawsuit was filed last fall in which O’Keefe said that state law prohibits medically-assisted dying and doctors could be charged with murder.

Kligler, 64, a retired primary care doctor, wants the option to get a prescription for medication he can take to end his life if his suffering becomes unbearable. Steinbach wants to be able to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication without fear of prosecution. Earlier this month Kligler wrote about his decision to file the lawsuit seeking the right to die using self-administered medication calling it one of the toughest decisions he ever made. Kligler said he decided to forgo his personal privacy to ensure terminally-ill people have the option to end their lives.