Physicians Fight to Keep Right to Die Lawsuit Alive

Two local doctors are suing Massachusetts to legalize medical aid in dying.

the death i want roger kligler

Photograph by Webb Chappell for “The Death I Want”

Two physicians suing Massachusetts for the right to die are fighting to keep their lawsuit alive.

Attorney General Maura Healey and Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought to the Massachusetts Superior Court by doctors Roger Kligler and Alan Steinbach, which would explicitly legalize medical aid in dying—under the direction of a mentally capable patient—in Massachusetts. The law as it stands is ambiguous, and a ballot measure on the subject was narrowly voted down in 2012.

Kligler, a Falmouth doctor who suffers from incurable prostate cancer, is suing the state for the right to use prescription medicine to die on his own terms, a decision he documented in BostonHis co-plaintiff, Woods Hole physician Steinbach, is suing for the right to prescribe lethal medication to patients such as Kligler. The doctors’ suit has been filed with help from the nonprofit Compassion and Choices.

Healey and O’Keefe submitted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that, “There is no ‘controversy’ in this case. There is no prosecution, and the District Attorney has not threatened prosecution.” In their eyes, the issue should be decided by the legislature, not the courts.

The plaintiffs feel otherwise, citing in a complaint filed Wednesday a Cape Cod Times story in which O’Keefe said physician-assisted suicide could be considered murder.

The Superior Court must now decide if it will hear the case.