Medically-assisted death not constitutional, Massachusetts Supreme Court rules

Two doctors in Massachusetts who wanted assurances they would not be prosecuted for prescribing life-ending medication to terminal patients got an unfavorable ruling from the state supreme court on the matter Monday.

The court ruled that medically-assisted deaths are not constitutionally protected, ending a lawsuit that has gone on since 2016.

“Although we recognize the paramount importance and profound significance of all end-of-life decisions, after careful consideration, we conclude that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights does not reach so far as to protect physician-assisted suicide,” the Supreme Judicial Court wrote in its decision.

Such deaths would be considered manslaughter under the state constitution, the ruling said.

Classified as manslaughter

“We conclude as well that the law of manslaughter may prohibit physician-assisted suicide, and does so, without offending constitutional protections,” it added.

The legislature has attempted many times to legalize medically-assisted deaths, but none of the proposed laws have ever come up for a vote.

State Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office argued the case for the state, said that the legislature is the place to resolve the issue.

“Our office understands the complexities of end of life care,” spokesperson for the attorney general Jillian Fennimore said in a statement. “We are pleased that the Court has affirmed our position that the Legislature is the most appropriate place to have a discussion about this important public policy issue. AG Healey has said she supports legislative action to allow medical aid in dying, provided it includes sufficient safeguards for both patients and providers.”

Celebrating life

Groups that oppose medically-assisted death celebrated the ruling.

“Every human life—regardless of disability or illness—has immeasurable value, and the government must do all it can to protect life, especially for the most vulnerable who cannot advocate for themselves,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Chris Schandevel said. “Every life is worth living. And we’re pleased the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the commonwealth’s long established legal tradition of protecting the dignity of every human life until natural death.”

The alliance had submitted an amicus brief in the case in February.

Canada loosening euthanasia laws

Several states have laws that allow medically-assisted death, and Canada recently loosened its law to include persistent and pervasive mental illness, even among those as young as 18, as a basis for medically assisted death.

One military veteran in Canada testified before Parliament that when she requested assistance for a wheelchair ramp at her home, the veterans affairs worker offered her a kit to help her end her life.

Ten other countries, mostly in Europe, have laws that allow medically-assisted death for the terminally ill.