As a physician who has been taking care of dying patients in Massachusetts for years, I found Dr. Marcia Angell’s Sept. 29 op-ed “A method for dying with dignity” chilling. Physicians who oppose Question 2 are not concerned about their “self-image,” but rather for the welfare of their patients.
In my experience suicide is a tragedy whether it occurs years, months, or days before natural death. I have been asked for a lethal medication a number of times. Behind the request lies terrible fear. By drawing these fears out and addressing them, we help patients pass through the crisis that leads them to turn to suicide.
Suicide is not a purely autonomous act; it has deep, long-lasting effects on loved ones and society. Even when an individual loses the sense of the value of one’s life, those around the individual do not.
The referendum has no provision for notification of family members, and no requirement that anyone be present when the lethal dose is taken. The patient is left alone with the poison, all in the name of autonomy. To embrace suicide as a medical treatment is to cut at the heart of what unites us as a Commonwealth.
The writer is in the division of aging at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and is assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.