Letter: Law needed on end-of-life choices


To the editor of THE EAGLE:

For many years I have been a believer in reasonable legislation to afford "death with dignity" to those who suffer with an incurable disease and are near the end of life. With tremendous help from our local hospice, my husband, Lew Scheffey, was able to die at home with family at his bedside and nearby.

This was sheer luck. I was then unaware of the various laws in place which could have resulted in denying him this timely and peaceful end of life. As a nation, we need help in overcoming the terror and denial of death. We need help in making the necessary decisions when our time comes. We need legislation.

Recently, Massachusetts had a crack at it. The bill H1998 was inspired by an organization which I have recently joined called "Compassion and Choices," once known as The Hemlock Society. Had H1998 been passed, it would have once again put Massachusetts in the forefront of groundbreaking legislation, like Mass Health and gay marriage. The bill was heard in the Public Health Committee but did not come up for a vote. Instead it was sent to "study" with 200 other bills, which basically means it died in committee. (For information on the bill go to compassionandchoices.org.)

The current issue of the magazine "Compassion & Choices" provides a question and answer segment well worth reading. Journalist and author Katy Butler ("Knocking At Heaven’s Door") is asked is how to avoid unwanted and unneeded medication at the end of life. This is her answer: "As a nation (we need to) triple our spending on palliative and hospice care so everyone can get help with medical decision making early on. We need to ask Congress to support the ‘Better Care, Lower Cost Act’ sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon."

She relates her experience as a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle observing ICU decision-making. While still at home, a longshoreman with incurable emphysema had been having visions of his dead wife and was ready to die. However, his niece on discovering he was having trouble breathing, called 911. He ended up in the ICU and "his death became a prolonged torture for everyone involved -- his relatives, medical staff alike but, most importantly, himself." Through this and other "heroic" intervention methods, Katy became aware of our societal failure to allow death to happen. Technology and denial replace common sense and compassion.

Let’s ask our local legislators, Ben Downing and Smitty Pignatelli, for their views on and support of "end of life" legislation.


Great Barrington


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