I am a 78-year-old retired physician who has a different perspective on what has been termed assisted suicide. Aid in dying is a more appropriate term. During my years of practice I cared for numerous patients during their final days. Many slipped away peacefully, but there were those who suffered a slow, agonizing, degrading end. It was not uncommon for them to ask for death, but death does not always come easily. It is for this group that aid in dying is intended. It is based on an understanding reached between a patient and his doctor only after all the facets of the case have been reviewed. If there is mutual agreement, a prescription for a potentially life-ending drug is issued, which the patient may use at his discretion. Aid in dying allows the dying patient to be in charge of his final time. Experience shows that approximately one-third of patients who have properly obtained an aid-in-dying prescription never use it but do experience great relief in knowing they are in charge of their destiny.
The Montana Supreme Court has opined that it is not illegal for a dying patient to use aid in dying. Nor is it illegal for a physician to counsel or aid his dying patient in his end-of-life decisions.
There are physicians who believe aid in dying violates a physician’s code of ethics. I, for one, believe allowing a patient with a terminal disease to suffer needlessly is in fact a violation of our duty to relieve suffering and pain. I also know that many physicians believe in the principle of aid in dying but shy away out of fear of a malpractice suit.
Aid in dying is intended for people with diagnosed disease in terminal stages. Even with this in mind I cannot believe there are “lazy physicians” lurking out there who would either murder a patient rather than try to establish a diagnosis or to avoid malpractice, nor can I believe aid in dying corrupts the profession.
Aid in dying is not for everyone, but why should those who do not believe in it want to block the availability for someone who does believe? Why would anyone want to interfere with such a private thing as a dying person’s last wishes? I hope when my end is near I have a physician who gives me good counsel.
Dr. Jim McCreedy