While reading the recent letters to the editor opposing physician-assisted suicide, I could literally feel the hysteria jumping off the page. When did the residents of Montana become so paranoid?
I don’t wish to debate the legality of death with dignity. I agree that it is not currently legal in Montana, at least in the manner it needs to be. If there was a death with dignity law in Montana, it appears that some people believe storm troopers will arrive at their home and force them to take medication to end their lives just because they are depressed. This is preposterous. After all, just because there is a law allowing elk hunting, no one is breaking down my door forcing me to hike into the wilderness to kill one.
The Oregon and Washington death with dignity laws contain very specific rules and steps that must be followed before a physician can prescribe any medication. This process can take months, as it includes visits with more than one physician, sessions with a psychiatrist and many other meetings with appropriate personnel. Once the terminally ill person has the medication in his/her possession, when the time arrives, he/she must be able to ingest it with no assistance from anyone else. It cannot be forced upon a terminally ill patient.
I contacted Tamara Burkovskaia, executive assistant at the Office of Disease Prevention and Epidemiology, Public Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority, and she states, “we have no ‘documented’ cases of elder abuse among Death With Dignity Act participants.” Can we please put that concept to rest now?
For those of you who oppose having a law that allows death with dignity, I would like to know how you’d feel if you have been extremely ill for a year, only weigh 90 pounds because you can’t swallow, and are delirious and writhing in pain because pain medication won’t touch it. Perhaps you would have preferred not to get to that point. I believe you have the right to make your own choice as to what the end looks like.
I pray that some day the people of Montana will vote to join those in Oregon and Washington who believe that I have the right to choose when and how I die. My death will be hard on those left behind, but my dying doesn’t have to be. Please let me make my own choices, as I will let you make yours.
Susan Hancock of Missoula is a former project director of Choices Bank, an Internet repository for advance directives.