Terminally ill should have choice of doctor’s aid in dying

August 11, 2011

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THE ARTICLE “Drive begins to put assisted suicide law on ballot next year’’ (Metro, Aug. 4) uses the term “assisted suicide’’ to describe the proposed ballot measure that would permit terminally ill, mentally competent patients to obtain drugs to end their lives.

The article states that “only two states, Washington and Oregon, have legalized assisted suicide.’’ In fact, what is legal there and, by court ruling, in Montana is for physicians to prescribe life-ending medicines for terminally ill patients, who must take the medicines themselves. This distinction is important. It is not a suicide when a patient, having made a reasoned decision, hastens death by days or weeks with prescribed medicines. By controlling the timing and circumstances of their deaths, patients can prevent or end terrible suffering. Having this option gives great comfort to those who are dying, and many never take the drugs.

Typical suicides occur when people who could live choose to die, usually when depressed, in isolation, and often violently. On the other hand, terminally ill people cannot continue to live much longer. They discuss their options with physicians and usually family members and are not necessarily depressed; most receive excellent hospice care.

Physician aid in dying is a choice that all mentally competent, terminally ill people should have.

David C. Leven
Executive director
Compassion & Choices of New York
New York


Death With Dignity Act chills those who respect life in all stagesREADING THE Aug. 4 article on the proposed Death With Dignity Act would send a shiver through the spine of anyone who believes in respect for life in all its stages, and who believes that life is a gift from God, not something we control (“Drive begins to put assisted suicide law on ballot next year,’’ Metro). Being one of these people, I did wonder about a few things.

Why in Massachusetts, a state where medical care is more accessible and cutting edge?

Why now, when palliative care is finally coming into its own and fast becoming a requirement?

Why now when organizations such as the Supportive Care Coalition are researching and promoting ways to lessen the physical, emotional, and spiritual burdens of the dying?

With all the budget talks, we have had staggering health care costs stare us in the face the past few weeks. That could easily make the right to die slowly become the obligation to die expediently. Be careful - that slippery slope is ready and waiting for the first step.

Mother Mark Louis Randall
Superior general
Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm
St. Teresa’s Motherhouse
Germantown, N.Y.