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

Frederick

(15) comments

sue1955

Something that Gary said made me think --- if you are in a facility (i.e., nursing home or hospital), you are not seeing your physician that you go to when on your own. Under the hospitalist (and nursing home) business practice, a patient is "cared for" a doctor(s) who does not know you. Even if your primary care doctor (and/or surgeon) has privileges at a hospital where you happen to be in, they do not have direct access to you as the patient. BTW, this is regardless of your insurance. I am currently dealing with this issue in regard to my daughter.

gary4books

Something for all of us to consider.

olefool

Priests, preachers and politicians are all cut from the same bolt; they promise you paradise after death depending on how much money you gave them before you died. But worse, they tell you how to live every moment of your lives here on earth, "my way or the highway" is an example of their warnings. I remember Pope Jim even saying here that heavy pain at death was god's price for leaving life. It's my life, it's my choice so butt out.

nancypace

Thank you Mike for your effective and affecting letter. No one knows this topic better than you do. Your activism on many fronts is much appreciated. - Nancy Pace

shiftless88

My dog was sick with cancer that couldn't be operated on. She was rapidly losing weight, stopped eating, and was in pain. Like many compassionate pet owners who love their animals, I took her to the vet, held her in my arms and we looked into each others eyes as the vet gave her an injection that killed her within two hearbeats. I would not treat my wife or myself any differently.

Are you going to call me a dog killer now, Dick?

gary4books

Several of my dogs passed that way. We should do as well for each other.

Dwasserba

"Suicide, by definition, is the taking of a life that is otherwise viable." I looked it up. Merriam-Webster says nothing about "viable." It can be a noun, a verb, an adjective. It is about taking a life, not judging the quality of the life. So it is what it is.

My mother-in-law had hospice care and suddenly she had new expressions and a different view of life. The last years of her dementia had changed her. We were among the families she lived with for a time. She was not happy away from where she had always lived, and that was basically everywhere, because she could not live alone. Her earlier self could have adjusted, her new self kept mistaking parts of Frederick for her Phila neighborhood, only to realize suddenly it was not, then reliving the shock of her displacement afresh. At 93, in some ways she was a child, in others, the oldest woman I ever hope to meet. Drives anywhere always resulted in surroundings being described as "dead." I had to take her everywhere with me for my peace of mind. My own mother lives in assisted living with dementia. I am not unfamiliar. These were both strong successful women who I suspect would choose assisted suicide to "get it over with", before others' coping skills were taxed. My mother was very angry at first, but nearly 20 years later, she is just starting to lose her conversational skills. Details are fluid, but the ebb and flow is there. Would she have been the best judge of the quality of her life 20 years ago? I wonder.

Boyce Rensberger

An excellent letter. Kudos to both the writer for bringing a thoughtful perspective to the topic and to the editors for selecting a letter that is not just a rehash of unsupported opinions.

DickD

Suicide? And you a pastor? God help us all.

gabrielshorn2013

Do you really believe God believes in suffering dick? May you be fortunate enough to pass peacefully and painlessly from this earth in your sleep. Keep your religion to yourself, and leave the decision on how we go to the rest of us. There are indeed many other ways to commit suicide, such as gunshot, but that leaves a mess for others to clean up. Most poisonings are not pleasant, and cause severe pain. Jumping in front of a train, car, bus, or truck causes terrible stress and guilt for those that just killed you, and they have to live with that pain forever. Some wish to pass from this life painlessly by going to sleep and never waking up. The easiest and best way is through the use of barbiturates and opioids, which are only available through a prescription, hence the need for a doctor to be involved. If that doctor, and maybe a second opinion, determine that you are terminal, and that the process of dying will be horrible and painful, most people would prefer to not go through that.

threecents

Gabe and Boyce[thumbup][thumbup]

gary4books

Well said.

Captain Yossarian

What if you get Alzheimer's and there would be no one around to remind you to unzip your fly before going to the bathroom?

threecents

Fair point which goes to the dignity issue and does not even touch on the pain, fear, despair, and financial issues.

gary4books

God will help us so long as the law lets us decide with our physician's advice.

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