In a Boston Globe story, Dr. Peg Sandeen and other medical aid in dying advocates respond to false arguments made by Cardinal Sean O’Malley in a recent op-ed.

In Death with Dignity’s campaigns in Massachusetts, the staunchest opponent we face has consistently been the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. On April 15, 2024, the leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, published an op-ed in the Boston Globe restating his belief that the Massachusetts state legislature should ignore the will of well over 70% of residents who want to see a medical aid in dying law passed this year.

In response to Cardinal O’Malley’s op-ed, the Boston Globe published the following article a day later articulating how medical aid in dying advocates, including Death with Dignity’s CEO, Dr. Peg Sandeen, refute the arguments made by the cardinal as unfactual and out-of-touch with public opinion.

Read the full story from the Boston Globe below:

Advocates push back after Cardinal O’Malley denounces bill to permit physician-assisted suicide

By Nick Stoico Globe Staff, Updated April 16, 2024, 6:00 a.m.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley called on the Massachusetts Legislature to reject a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in a Boston Globe opinion column on Monday, reaffirming his condemnation of a practice that he said contradicts “deeply held religious convictions” and “violates principles held by many in the health care community.”

But advocates for medical aid in dying said the cardinal is using “fear-mongering” tactics and basing his arguments on policies in other countries that are unlike the “End of Life Options Act” being considered by state lawmakers.

O’Malley, the head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, said society holds a “collective responsibility to address a person’s psychological, physical, and spiritual needs as they face the end of life or debilitating illness.”

“To instead instigate death with physician-assisted suicide presents a moral and ethical threat to society, the medical profession, the disability community, and the common good,” O’Malley wrote.

“Physician-assisted suicide is just that: suicide. And it is always tragic whether administered under a doctor’s care or self-inflicted,” he added.

The bill before state lawmakers would allow a terminally ill patient — someone who suffers from a diagnosed illness or condition “which can reasonably be expected to cause death within 6 months, whether or not treatment is provided” — to request medical aid in dying.

The bill says the patient must be “a mentally capable adult” who “has been determined by the patient’s attending physician to be terminally ill.” The law would allow them to make an oral request for medical aid in dying, followed by a written request submitted no sooner than 15 days later.

In his column, O’Malley took issue with the six-month timeline, saying such a diagnosis is often wrong.

“There are numerous examples of individuals across the country who have outlived that diagnosis and have lived for many years,” O’Malley wrote. “They get to share the comfort, love, and companionship of family and friends and that wouldn’t have had opted for physician-assisted suicide.”

One of the bills sponsors, state Representative James O’Day, rejected O’Malley’s arguments.

”There wasn’t anything that he’s reporting that we haven’t heard ad nauseum, none of which is accurate,” the Worcester Democrat said in an interview Monday. “He’s not the only person who has utilized those fearmongering impacts.”

“Listen, I’m OK with it being opposed,” he added. “But if I’m in excruciating pain, who is he, or anyone else for that matter, to insist that I have to live through that horrible, tragic pain?”

O’Malley, who also spoke out against medically assisted death at a Washington, D.C., conference in January, wrote that allowing the bill to pass “could lead to a slippery slope of possibilities.” He pointed to a 2017 report by the Bioethics Observatory at the Catholic University of Valencia, which said more than 400 mentally ill people in the Netherlands were “euthanized” without their consent among more than 7,000 “assisted suicides” from 2010 to 2015.

He also referenced the debate surrounding medical aid in dying in Canada, where in 2016 the criminal code was amended to allow for assistance in dying in some circumstances. Four years later, the law was again changed to expand access to medically assisted suicide to “persons with disabilities, whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable,” according to human rights authorities.

O’Day said he has a 40-year-old son with cerebral palsy and found this argument offensive.

“I am not going to be involved in engaging with a piece of legislation that I feel in any way, shape, or form would put that kid at risk,” he said. “That continues to really be their focus on this, focusing on scenarios that have been proven to be unfounded… This is clearly a choice scenario, a choice of somebody who is in critical and terminal pain.”

In Massachusetts, a doctor who provides life-ending medication to a patient can be prosecuted for manslaughter, the state’s highest court ruled in 2022. In that unanimous decision, the Supreme Judicial Court declared that the state constitution does not protect a right to physician-assisted suicide.

In 2012, Massachusetts voters narrowly rejected a “death with dignity” ballot measure. O’Day said he believes the public’s views have shifted in favor of assisted suicide in the 12 years since. In a Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll in 2022, 77 percent of respondents said they favored a right-to-die law, up from 70 percent in a 2019 poll.

“When you ask people about medical assistance in dying, it’s probably in the 60 to 63 [percent] range, but when you explain to them all of what the guidelines are, all about what the protections are, all of what the quality of life issue are, it goes into the upper 70s,” O’Day said. “And that’s with folks in the disability community, those [who] are folks of the Jewish faith, of the Catholic faith, it’s pretty much across the board.”

The cardinal’s column was also rebuked by human rights organizations that have supported the bill in Massachusetts and similar legislation in other states.

Dr. Peg Sandeen, chief executive of the Oregon-based group Death with Dignity, criticized O’Malley for citing sources that she said show just one side of the argument. Oregon voters in 1994 narrowly approved a ballot initiative granting eligible patients the authority, under strict conditions, to obtain a lethal prescription.

“It’s notable that the Cardinal built the core of his arguments against the proposed medical aid in dying legislation in Massachusetts on data from Canada and the Netherlands — which have little in common with the experience in the United States,” Sandeen said in a statement. “It’s like comparing apples to oranges, and thirty years of Death with Dignity in Oregon demonstrates there is no slippery slope — the law, explicit bans on coercion, and strong protections for vulnerable individuals.”

Elizabeth Armijo, national director of legislative advocacy for Compassion & Choices Action Network, said O’Malley’s arguments are “out of touch” with Massachusetts voters, citing a 2023 poll by Beacon Research that found 73 percent of voters in the state would support a bill to allow terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying.

“It is medically inaccurate for him to compare mentally capable, terminally ill adults with incurable diseases who just want the option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end their unbearable suffering to people with unresolved mental health crises who take their lives, often violently,” Armijo said in a statement.

“The Massachusetts bill would be the most comprehensive law in our nation with a dozen safeguards. Like all medical aid-in-dying laws, it would be strictly limited to mentally capable, terminally ill adults and require the patient to self-administer the medication, so they maintain control of the decision-making process from start to finish.”