December 21, 2022

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rules State Constitution Does Not Protect Assisted Suicide

On Dec 19, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state's constitution does not protect physicians from prosecution; suggesting that laws about manslaughter could prohibit assisted suicide.

The prosecution, consisting of a doctor hoping to prescribe assisted suicide and a cancer patient, argued that the Massachusetts constitution gave patients with terminal illnesses a constitutional right to assisted suicide.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Cape and Islands District Attorney General Daniel Higgins argued that the issue of assisted suicide is best left for the people to decide through their elected lawmakers. Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Frank Gaziano wrote the court's 89-page ruling in agreement with the state's position:
“Our decision today does not diminish the critical nature of [assisted suicide] interests, but rather recognizes the limits of our Constitution, and the proper role of the judiciary in a functioning democracy. The desirability and practicality of physician-assisted suicide raises not only weighty philosophical questions about the nature of life and death, but also difficult technical questions about the regulation of the medical field. These questions are best left to the democratic process, where their resolution can be informed by robust public debate and thoughtful research by experts in the field.”

Gaziano further wrote, “To this day, courts regard suicide as a serious social ill that the State has a strong interest in preventing. Perhaps, for this reason, assisting another to commit suicide largely has been, and continues to be, regarded as a serious crime.”

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