To the editor: Death is not a popular topic. Most people dodge it until it gets too close to avoid, and are therefore unprepared to face its inevitability with reasonable options and good information. Hospice and Death with Dignity are critical parts of this education.
My interest in the topic began at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton, Fla., about a week before my mother died. The quality of her (and our) care provided by the staff and especially the volunteers opened my eyes to the need to be prepared. About a year after my mother’s death, I joined hospice as a volunteer, and have continued on and off ever since.
I have seen a lot of people die, most benignly and naturally, though a few truly agonized. Most believed, and I agree, that they should have had the option to end their suffering. The idea carries such merit to so many people that assisted suicide, in the form of the predominant "Death with Dignity” legislation pioneered in Oregon, is now law in nine states and the District of Columbia.
The law closely regulates conditions under which two doctors, who agree that their patient will die within six months, can prescribe medications that will end life. The patient may then choose the time and circumstances of the end of life. The advocacy group Death with Dignity’s website reports that total deaths under these laws represent just 0.3 percent of total deaths in California, Oregon and Washington. They further report that in these states, roughly one-third of people who received prescriptions for assisted suicide never used them.
The Massachusetts Legislature is currently evaluating its own “Death with Dignity” bills [H.2381, S.1384]. These bills are currently being evaluated in committees. With more than 44 sponsors, including Sen. Adam Hinds and Reps. John Barrett III, Paul Mark and William "Smitty" Pignatelli (but, at present, not Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier), these bills should stand a fair chance of passage if and when they get out of committee.
I encourage all Massachusetts voters to contact their state legislators requesting them to advance these bills through committee and pass them.
Jeffrey Lang, Pittsfield