October 26, 2016

Cape doctors sue AG over assisted suicide

Attorney General Maura Healey's office has declined comment on a lawsuit filed by two Falmouth doctors who are seeking the right to provide medical aid to dying patients.

Two Barnstable County doctors have filed suit in Massachusetts Superior Court for the right to provide medical aid to dying patients, according to the advocacy group representing them.

The plaintiffs, Dr. Robert Kliger and Dr. Alan Steinbach, both of Falmouth, are seeking a declaration that medical aid in dying – also known as doctor-assisted suicide – is not a crime under Massachusetts law. They're also seeking an injunction prohibiting the defendants, Attorney General Maura Healey and Cape & Island District Attorney Michael O'Keefe, from prosecuting physicians who provide medical aid to dying patients. The suit asserts that prosecution is unlawful and unconstitutional.

Kliger himself has been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer. A statement from Compassion & Choices said Kliger's medical condition is worsening and the plaintiffs want expedited court scheduling as a result.

"Having a prescription for aid-in-dying medication that I could self-administer if my suffering became too great in the final days would provide great comfort to me," Kliger said.

John Kappos, an attorney for both plaintiffs, said Massachusetts has no law that specifically prohibits medical aid in dying, though he said existing laws do allow patients to make end-of-life care decisions, "including the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment or nutrition."

"There is no rational or meaningful basis to distinguish between withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment to a terminally ill person and a physician providing the alternative end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying," Kappos said.

Healey spokeswoman Emily Snyder declined to comment Wednesday.

Medical aid in dying is currently legal in five states, including California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. A ballot initiative that would have made it legal in Massachusetts was narrowly defeated in 2012.

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