The Feb. 2 News-Post article by Heather Mongilio regarding possible Maryland legislation on medical aid in dying is certainly welcome. There are many commendable points made in the article, particularly some outline of protocols required in the process leading to such aid. However, early on Mongilio falls into the negative buzzword trap by saying that the action is “more colloquially called physician-assisted suicide.”
The action has nothing to do with suicide. Suicide, by definition, is the taking of a life that is otherwise viable. That is not the case here, since anyone choosing physician assistance has already been determined to have no hope of viability. The disease or injury of such a person is taking the life. What the bill does is to simply allow the person the dignity of choosing the timing of actual death when all quality of life has ceased. The key word here is “dignity.”
What the bill does is to confirm what humanity has known from the very beginning about death in the midst of debilitating pain associated with terminal illness. It is undignified, particularly if accompanied by pain that is beyond any kind of intervention.
I am grateful to Mongilio for talking about hospice relative to this issue, but here again, the discussion is distorted and in some cases just nonsense. Hospice is about life, about meaning that can be achieved through pain management, or the support of caregivers, and accompaniment through the difficult process of dying. It is a most important option, especially for people for whom palliative care works and who wish to choose it, whether in the home or in a hospice facility. To suggest that having a physician prescribe drugs to assist a competent, terminally ill patient to end their life before the condition or disease runs its full course somehow impairs hospice is simply not the case.
What we need is better, informed, insightful, and full information about options. People need to know about hospice and the good and compassionate work it does and that people are eligible to enter hospice months before they die. But people who are suffering a terminal illness also need to have other choices if they wish. That’s all. It’s a matter of personal integrity and, yes, dignity. It’s allowing people to determine their own destiny. Do they not have that right which is so intrinsic to our humanity?
I write this as one who accompanied my wife through nine years of Alzheimer’s. For her last seven months she was in Frederick Hospice at home. Her physical suffering was minimal, but her dignity vanished at least two years before her end. And I know, because she told me years before, that had she had the choice, she would have chosen physician-assisted death. As it was, I am grateful to hospice for the stellar support and compassion provided under the circumstances.
the Rev. M. Michael Morse