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Letter: Outdated report stokes fear about aid-in-dying

Outdated report stokes fear about aid-in-dying

The June 6 Another Voice, “1994 report on assisted suicide still holds true,” refers to a very outdated and now irrelevant report, written before there was any data on how physician aid-in-dying (PAD) would work in practice. PAD, which opponents pejoratively characterize as “assisted suicide,” refers to a dying adult patient voluntarily requesting a prescription for medications that he or she may self-administer to end suffering and die in peace.

Now, with almost 20 years of carefully documented experience in Oregon, the data demonstrate clearly that none of the concerns raised in the report have materialized. The evidence shows that PAD is working as intended. Patients have good deaths, family members feel better prepared and are better able to accept the death of their loved ones.

The pejorative assertion that aid in dying is “incompatible with the physician’s role as healer” is not established fact, but simply a matter of personal belief. Some physicians hold that belief; others do not. Marcia Angell, the distinguished former executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, put it this way: “The highest ethical imperative of doctors should be to provide care in whatever way best serves patients’ interests, in accord with each patient’s wishes, not with a theoretical commitment to preserve life no matter what the cost in suffering … The greatest harm we can do is to consign a desperate patient to unbearable suffering.”

Finally, there is absolutely no support for the assertion “many patients will lose trust in physicians if these practices are permitted.” What curious reasoning. PAD would not create such fears, since the act of requesting – and subsequently administering – a fatal dose would be solely within the control of the patient. Many patients would like to be able to trust their physicians to provide such help in the event of unrelieved suffering.

Evidence and facts are important. The 1994 report offers a wholly unreliable picture of the current situation. Physician aid-in-dying should be available to terminally ill New Yorkers whose suffering cannot otherwise be relieved.

Peter Rogatz, M.D., MPH

Former Director, Long Island Jewish Medical Center

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