By John Lynds
There is a relatively new billboard that has stirred a certain level of controversy in the predominately Roman Catholic neighborhood of East Boston–a place where many believe assisted suicide goes against church doctrine.
The billboard is on McClellan Highway on the southbound side across from the Courtyard Marriott Hotel. Put up by the group FinalExitNetwork.org, the billboard has a simple message and reads ‘Irreversible Illness? Unbearable Suffering? Die with Dignity” with the organization’s contact information.
According to members of FinalExitNetwork.org the billboard in Eastie is intended to help raise public awareness and promote a dialogue on the right-to-die debate.
FinalExitNetwork.org’s Frank Kavanaugh said those who view the billboard are encouraged to discuss and to share their feelings on the basic human right to a death with dignity.
“There is no special reason East Boston was selected since we are placing billboards in major areas around the country–San Francisco, L.A., Chicago, N.Y., Pittsburgh, Denver, Cleveland, etc.–to encourage a dialogue on the right to die and to encourage people to talk to their loved ones about what they want or do not want at the end of their lives,” said Kavanaugh. “Once that is done they can put those wishes into a health care advance directive in case they become unable to speak for themselves.”
Kavanaugh said that his group of mentally competent adults have a basic human right to end their lives when they suffer from a fatal or irreversible illness that they can no longer bear, when their quality of life is personally unacceptable, and the future holds only hopelessness and misery.
“Such a right shall be an individual choice, including the timing and companion, free of any restriction by the law, clergy , medical profession, even friends and relatives no matter how well intentioned,” he said. “Only laws in Oregon, Washington and Montana currently allow hastening death at the end of life.”
According to Kavanaugh, FinalExitNetwork.org offers free service to all members who qualify, providing relevant information, home visits if possible and compassionate counseling for the individual and family. It further promotes the use of advanced directives and other legal instruments to document the intentions of any individual and to increase the likelihood that their wishes at the end of life will be honored.
“Final Exit Network does not encourage anyone to end their life, does not provide the means to do so and does not actively assist in the person’s death,” he said. “We do, however, believe in the ultimate human right of people to end their lives when circumstances justify, and to have support in carrying out their plan.”
Kavanaugh added that medical advances have created longer lives but ironically sometimes those lives are more torturous, the quality of life can be miserable and some people suffer far more then they expected to, or need to.
Recently a PBS Frontline titled the ‘Suicide Tourist’ documented Craig Ewert’s courageous battle with ALS and his trip to Switzerland to end his own life.
In it, Ewert argued that medical advances that are both politically and religiously supported such as saving lives should be viewed no differently than a terminally ill patient wanting to end their own.
Ewert said that when it comes to assisted suicide, politicians and Church officials say it should not be legal because it is playing ‘God’ but turn a blind eye when doctors perform surgery or prescribe medicine to save lives.
“Isn’t that also playing God,” Ewert asked on the program.
While it has long been a hotly debated subject that has led to groups like FinalExitNetwork.org advocating for the legalization of euthanasia, Kavanaugh said his group is unique among death with dignity organization in accepting all qualified clients, and not only those declared “terminal.
“It counsels, supports, and provides a compassionate presence to assist in their decision-making to their peaceful end if they so choose,” he said. “We do screen clients carefully to insure we support only mentally competent people. We are an all volunteer non-profit 3000 member organization, with no office or staff.”
More information is available on the groups website: www.finalexitnetwork.org