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LETTERS

Debate over assisted suicide renewed in Mass.

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There are better ways for physicians, legislators to intervene than to hasten death

As Massachusetts physicians, we agree with Jeff Jacoby that there is no need, and no ethical basis, for physician-assisted suicide (“Legalizing assisted suicide would send a devastating message,” Ideas, Oct. 10). And contrary to a popular myth, most patients requesting assisted suicide are not experiencing extreme bodily suffering or excruciating and intractable pain. Data from Oregon show that the vast majority of patients requesting physician-assisted suicide fear loss of autonomy, enjoyment, and personal dignity. Many such patients fear becoming a burden to their families.

These emotional problems deserve empathic counseling, not death in a bottle. Furthermore, research has shown that when physicians intervene and successfully address issues such as pain, depression, and other medical problems, as many as 46 percent of patients seeking assisted suicide will change their minds.

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Rather than assisting in patients’ suicide, physicians and legislators should be focused on providing accessible state-of-the-art palliative care to terminally ill patients.

Dr. Ronald W. Pies

Lexington

Dr. Mark Rollo

Fitchburg

Dr. Thomas Sullivan

Beverly


Many holes in argument against the End of Life Options Act

I write to take issue with Jeff Jacoby’s argument against the Massachusetts End of Life Options Act.

There is no equivalence between medical aid in dying for mentally capable, terminally ill adults and suicidal behavior in someone who is mentally ill, as the American Association of Suicidology concluded in 2017.

When Medscape surveyed 5,000 physicians nationwide in 2020 and asked, “Should physician-assisted dying be made legal for terminally ill patients?,” 55 percent said yes. A 2017 survey of the Massachusetts Medical Society showed 62 percent of its members supported the End of Life Options Act.

Even the American Medical Association acknowledged in 2019 that physicians who provide medical aid in dying are conforming with the AMA Code of Medical Ethics. In addition, medical schools no longer administer the hopelessly outdated 2,400-year-old Hippocratic Oath, which also condemned surgery.

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The End of Life Options Act requires two physicians to certify that the person requesting medical aid in dying is mentally capable. Furthermore, a licensed health professional must confirm that the person is “not suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment.”

Finally, the 2019 Boston Globe-Suffolk University poll shows that 70 percent of Massachusetts residents support medical aid in dying.

Dr. Jill Schiff

Brookline


Stand at a sufferer’s bedside and then consider your position on the issue

If Jeff Jacoby thinks legalizing assisted suicide would send a devastating message, just what kind of message does he think a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis sends? If hospice workers were interviewed, they could tell of diseases that are easier to manage in terms of pain and other symptoms; however, there are always some diseases, such as ALS, for which it is difficult to deliver enough comfort. This is due to the long and devastating nature of such diseases.

Physician-assisted suicide is not fraudulent health care; it is a badly needed form of compassionate care for people who have only a prolonged downward slope with little hope of meaningful relief. There are groups of people who are concerned about how delivering this kind of care is against the notion of a “civilized society.” I suggest such people stand by the side of someone with a prolonged terminal illness such as ALS for months on end and then see what they might say.

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Roxanne Kelber

West Roxbury


When ‘cause of death’ is beside the point — and the point itself

In his column “Legalizing assisted suicide would send a devastating message,” Jeff Jacoby takes issue with how the cause of death would be certified in cases of assisted suicide.

Did the people who jumped from the Twin Towers on 9/11 die of suicide? Their deaths were determined to be due to terrorism.

People who commit suicide want to die but are living. People who ask for medical aid in dying want to live but are dying.

In 1922, our grandfather shot himself as he was dying from colon cancer. Hardly the equivalent of medical aid in dying, as Jacoby would have us believe.

Dr. Eric Reines

Marblehead