Share this article

print logo

Letter: There are stark differences between aid in dying, suicide

There are stark differences between aid in dying, suicide

Professor Philip Reed contends that “ ‘aid in dying’ is just a euphemism for assisted suicide.” He is wrong. Leading health organizations have rejected the term assisted suicide, including the American Public Health Association, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, American Medical Women’s Association, American College of Legal Medicine, in laws that permit aid in dying in Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

It is not a question of whether, but rather how, patients who are terminally ill will die. Patients who consume prescribed life-ending medicines are not suicidal any more than others who hasten their deaths. They do not want to die, but are dying just as are patients who choose to end their suffering (and lives) by having life-sustaining treatments withdrawn, such as a feeding tube or ventilator or by stopping dialysis, voluntarily stopping eating and drinking or having palliative sedation. The result in each situation is death.

Stark differences exist between terminal patients who choose aid in dying, or options mentioned above, and those who commit suicide. Suicides are committed by those who can continue to live, but choose not to; are done in isolation, often impulsively and violently; and are tragic. To the contrary, aid in dying is available only to terminally ill patients who will soon die; the process usually takes at least several weeks; it occurs only after consultation with two physicians and almost always after consultation with and the support of family members; and it is empowering. Over nine of 10 patients in Oregon, where aid in dying has been legal for 18 years, are in hospice.

Aid in dying is an option, rarely used but safe, for people at the very end of their lives, to achieve a peaceful death, now legal in five states, and hopefully soon to be legal in New York.

David C. Leven

Executive Director

End of Life Choices New York