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Massachusetts judge considers right-to-die lawsuit

By Nate Raymond

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - Two Massachusetts doctors urged a judge on Wednesday to let them proceed with a lawsuit seeking an order that the state's murder and manslaughter laws do not apply to physicians who offer lethal medications to terminally ill patients.

During arguments before Superior Court Judge Mary Ames in Boston, a lawyer for the doctors, one of whom is suffering from cancer, said a cloud of uncertainty was preventing physicians from providing such medications.

"Medical aid-in-dying is simply not covered by the Commonwealth's manslaughter and murder laws," lawyer John Kappos said.

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He made the arguments on behalf of Roger Kligler, a retired doctor diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer, and Alan Steinbach, a physician who says he is willing to write prescriptions for lethal medication but fears prosecution.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Quinan said that while Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey extended her "utmost sympathy" to Kligler, no grounds existed to grant the ruling he sought.

Quinan argued the court should defer to the state legislature to decide the issue and ensure safeguards are enacted to protect vulnerable patients and the integrity of the medical community.

"Only a deliberative body can implement the appropriate safeguards," he said.

Ames made no ruling on whether to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed in October, following two hours of arguments. She called the issues "important" and said the case was headed to a higher court no matter how she ruled.

"These are probably issues very much on the mind of anyone with family members facing very serious disease and mortality,” Ames said.

The lawsuit is being pursued by nonprofit right-to-die organization Compassion & Choices.

According to the group, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, California and Colorado and the District of Columbia allow medical aid-in-dying, with all but one of the states taking the action as a result of legislation or ballot initiatives.

The Massachusetts legislature has considered, but never enacted, similar legislation. In 2012, voters narrowly defeated a ballot initiative that would have legalized the practice.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Peter Cooney)