This November, voters in Massachusetts will have the opportunity to cast their votes on several ballot initiatives, among them the “Death With Dignity Act”. The proposed legislation states, in its opening section:

It is hereby declared that the public welfare requires a defined and safeguarded process by which an adult Massachusetts resident who has the capacity to make health care decisions and who has been determined by his or her attending and consulting physicians to be suffering from a terminal disease that will cause death within six months may obtain medication that the patient may self administer to end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner. It is further declared that the public welfare requires that such a process be entirely voluntary on the part of all participants, including the patient, his or her physicians, and any other health care provider or facility providing services or care to the patient. This act, being necessary for the welfare of the Commonwealth and its residents, shall be liberally construed to effect the purposes thereof.

Needless to say, this proposed legislation raises a host of ethical concerns all of which center around the question of the degree to which our lives are our own, to do with as we deem appropriate. To date, three states, Oregon, Washington and Montana, allow for some form of assisted suicide. Should this initiative be passed, Massachusetts would join their ranks.

Because I deem this initiative worthy of our collective study and soul-searching, I will be devoting my Yom Kippur sermon to this subject. Furthermore, we will have an opportunity to explore this subject further in a special panel presentation scheduled for Thursday evening, October 11, when we will hear legal, medical, religious and social work perspectives, both pro and con, on this important subject. [Please note that this panel discussion event is open to members of the congregation only.]

In the interim, I encourage you to begin the process of educating yourselves about this issue. The following web-sites may be helpful to you in that process:

Ballotpedia (In the search box, enter “Death With Dignity” + Massachusetts + 2012)

Second Thoughts  (People With Disabilities Opposing the Legalization of Assisted Suicide)

Dignity 2012  (A Coalition of Concerned Citizens Supporting the Proposed Massachusetts Death With Dignity Act)


Reform Judaism (Article from 2005 issue of Reform Judaism that touches on end-of-life issues)

I look forward to engaging our kehillah k’dosha–our sacred community–on this most sacred of subjects.

Wishing you and yours a shana tovah u’m’tooka, a sweet and fulfilling new year,

Reb Elias