Letter: Logic, compassion and dignified death

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Logic, compassion, and dignified death

To the editor:

Dear Honorable Legislator,

I was at the hearing [Oct. 27] on H1991. I got a chance to put in my two cents late in the afternoon. I support the bill with all my heart and intelligence.

I am a professor of thanatology and one of the courses I have taught for eight years is "Ethics of Health Care." I assure you that the proposed bill does not violate any ethical principle including the much touted "do no harm" that was used by the opposition. "Do no harm" or "nonmaleficence" includes responding to the pain and suffering of others. This is what death with dignity offers. I want to address by bullet points some of the arguments used by those opposing the bill:

— People for the bill call it "death with dignity" or "aid in dying" and people against the bill call it "physician-assisted suicide" or even worse, "suicide." Death with dignity is not the same thing as suicide. Suicide is the taking of one's life unrelated to a terminal illness.

— The much touted "slippery slope" fallacy was brought up by the opponents of the bill. If you review the statistics (public record) out of the states where the bill is already in place (especially Oregon) you will learn that a "slippery slope" has not happened.

— The will to live is exceedingly strong. This bill is really for a few individuals suffering at the end of life. For example, in 2014 the population of Orgeon was 3.97 million people. 122 lethal prescriptions were filled, and as of 2014, there were 71 deaths. People are not racing to line up for death with dignity. Those with prescriptions who did not take the dose obviously died of the disease process, and in all probability with greater emotional and spiritual ease because they had the prescription just in case their condition became unendurable.

— Palliative care does not replace death with dignity. Palliative care prolongs the dying process. Death with dignity ends the dying process.

— We are comparing apples to oranges when we compare people living with disabilities to people dying of a terminal illness.

— Just about all of the individuals who have availed themselves of a legal lethal prescription were already in hospice.

Other thoughts. Ours is a population of increasingly older and chronically ill citizens. Because of the use of medical technology, we are living longer. There is a shortage of professionals who tend to the aged: geriatric doctors and palliative care doctors. There is a shortage of facilities for the aged. These facts don't argue in favor of death with dignity, but they do portend a growing demographic that will be facing end-of-life issues that can last years if not decades.

Please use your common sense and compassion and move the bill toward enactment. If you desire more input from the perspective of a citizen of Massachusetts, a professor of thanatology, and a person who cared for her dying husband in hospice as well as survived her 86-year-old mother's suicide, I am here.

Deborah Golden Alecson Lenox

This letter was sent by the writer to members of the legislative committee.


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