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State high court weighs legalizing medically assisted death

March 9, 2022 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — A retired doctor with terminal cancer is the focus of a case before Massachusetts’ highest court over whether medically assisted death should be permitted in the state.

The state Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Wednesday in an appeal brought by Dr. Roger Kligler, a 70-year-old Falmouth resident with stage four prostate cancer.

Lawyers for Kligler and his physician, Dr. Alan Steinbach, argue that prosecuting doctors who prescribe a lethal dose of medication to mentally competent, terminally ill adults is unconstitutional and violates fundamental rights.

But state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office maintained that such doctors should face involuntary manslaughter charges under state law and that any changes to the statute should be left to the state Legislature.

The high court is expected to rule later on the case. Kligler and Steinbach originally sued the state in 2016.

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The state Superior Court in 2019 rejected Kligler’s argument that people have a constitutional right to die, ruling in part that state lawmakers should decide the legality of the practice.

Ten states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — and Washington, D.C. currently permit some form of medically assisted death.

Massachusetts voters in 2012 rejected a ballot question allowing terminally ill patients to receive a lethal dose of drugs, and state lawmakers have not passed proposals to legalize the practice in recent years.