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In his March 2 commentary condemning proposed bill HB 5326, An Act Concerning Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill, Day Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere makes a number of assertions that should be examined.
He incorrectly states the bill would send a message that "death is the best option" for severely disabled people who need the assistance of others. The proposed bill, in its particulars, does just the opposite. Only an adult who has been certified by two doctors to be mentally competent and terminally ill - having six months or less to live - would be considered "qualified" to request medication that they might choose to take.
The bill also requires doctors to counsel patients on alternatives, including palliative care, to sustain their lives. The patient must make the request on two different occasions, at least 15 days apart, and the physician must tell the patient they can rescind the request. Only the patient can take the final act of ingesting the medication.
One should also note that experience in states where aid in dying is allowed (there are now five of these) has indicated that only about 60 percent of patients who request the lethal medication actually take it.
Patients, caregivers and family members have frequently expressed gratitude after the patient obtained the prescription - regardless of whether they filled the prescription or ingested the medication.
According to Mr. Choiniere, hospice professionals he has talked with said people in their last days should not suffer if proper pain-control medication is used. In actuality, studies show most patients on pain-control medications find them insufficient, and 97 percent of patients who have utilized the Death With Dignity Act in Oregon have done so under hospice care.
However, the primary reason for choosing aid in dying is not pain. A study of patients from Oregon's and Washington's "Death with Dignity" programs (1998-2011) showed the reasons terminally-ill patients want to end their lives is "loss of autonomy" (97.2 percent), "inability to engage in enjoyable activities" (88.9 percent) and "loss of dignity" (75 percent). Thus, the more pressing need of terminally ill patients to end their suffering is to preserve their autonomy and dignity in their few remaining months.
As to the author's assertion that the law, if passed, might place pressure on the disabled and dying to end their lives, The New England Journal of Medicine reported (June 2013) that data from Oregon and Washington, as well as Switzerland and the Netherlands, which allow aid in dying, show that there has not been expansion or abuse.
Using the term "assisted suicide," as the editor has does, implies a desperate act of someone who may be severely depressed and unqualified to make such a decision. The law would require doctors to refer patients for psychological counseling to assure they are "free of depression or any other psychiatric disorder that causes impaired judgment." The proposed bill is not about suicide, but as the title suggests, "Compassionate Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients."
Lastly, the jibe that the desire for an aid-in-dying legislation is "not a grass-roots movement" puts one in mind of the criticisms that were hurled against organizers from northern states who went to the South to aid in the fight for civil rights. Compassion & Choices, a nationwide organization, has many members in Connecticut who are grateful for their assistance.
When the organization offered their help in 2012, a poll of Connecticut residents indicated a majority wanted the legislation; a similar poll, taken in February 2014, shows that 65 percent favor a bill that would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medication when requested by mentally competent, terminally ill patients.
Apparently the right to choose death with dignity is what most of our citizens want.
Phyllis Ross lives in Lyme.