MA SJC Decision – OK If Terminally Ill

On Saturday, December 19, 2022, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court released its decision in Kligler v. Healy – the assisted suicide case. As I posted previously, only Christopher P. Schandevel from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), representing the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition – USA (EPC-USA) give a vigorous opposition. I recommend watching it here.

Alex Schadenberg of EPC wrote an excellent summary of the case. Bottom line: the SJC found that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights does not protect assisted suicide, and that it is prohibited under the current manslaughter law.

But It Is OK If I Am Terminally Ill?

Within the decision are other cases, observations, references, and perspectives that are enlightening. This post is about the other cases cited in which people have been found guilty of manslaughter.

Persampieri v. Commonwealth (1961) – husband acted recklessly or wantonly in providing his wife, who was emotionally distraught and threatening to commit suicide, with loaded weapon and instructions on how she could use it to kill herself.

Kligler and other advocates say that just having the medication on hand relieves their anxiety. That level of anxiety is “emotionally distraught” and certainly they are seeking to commit suicide; if someone is terminally ill then providing a loaded weapon may still be wrong but a doctor providing a deadly drink would be “standard” medical care .

Commonwealth v Carter (2016) involved a woman who pressured her boyfriend into completing his suicide attempt, in which he filled his truck with carbon monoxide, when he tried to abandon his effort.

We concluded that, although the victim ultimately died by his own hand, the defendant nonetheless was the proximate cause of his death because she “overpowered” his will to live by coercing and pressuring him to complete his suicide attempt, while aware that he was in a “weakened state.”

The End of Life Options Act intends to protect “patient advocates…including being present when the patient self-administers medication”. Often are people provided by Compassion and Choices to “help” people go through with their supposedly free decisions to kill themselves. They need this protection because the Court also points out that:

Although the coercion in those cases [Carter I, 2019 & Carter II, 202] was sufficient to establish causation, it does not follow that coercion is always necessary to establish causation in cases of suicide…(“legal causation in the context of suicide is an incredibly complex inquiry” that depends on facts of each case).

If he tries to get out of the truck and his girlfriend encourages him to go through with his plan, that is manslaughter; if he were terminally ill and an advocate at the bedside encourages him to go through with his plan, that would be legal.

And what of the “incredibly complex inquiry” to determine how much influence doctors, advocates, family, or friends – even the legalization itself – may have? If someone is terminally ill, suddenly a request for suicide is incredibly straight forward. Meanwhile, suicide rates continue to climb faster where assisted suicide is legal.

Commonwealth v. Carrillo (2019) – [A] defendant’s subjective awareness of the reckless nature of his conduct is sufficient, but not necessary, to convict him of involuntary manslaughter. Conduct which a reasonable person, in similar circumstances, would recognize as reckless will suffice as well.

What are we as a society choosing to be “similar circumstances” and “reckless”? If a doctor were to prescribe a lethal dose of a medication to someone asking to commit suicide and an advocate stayed by that person’s side encouraging her to take it, that would be “reckless”, but if someone is terminally ill then the circumstance is no longer similar and the conduct is no longer reckless.

If I had a terminal illness, I would no longer be protected from my doctor suggesting to me that I should try to commit suicide, a suggestion that would otherwise certainly be “recognized as reckless.”

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