Monday, August 25, 2014

Assisted suicide proposal ignores wrong diagnoses of terminal illness

Virtually every state’s chapter of the American Medical Association is opposed to assisted suicide, the reasons for which were absent from The Times’ recent editorial, “Death with dignity for the terminally ill includes crucial safeguards” (Aug. 10).

Studies show that diagnoses of terminal illness are very often wrong. A doctor may know someone has an illness, but determining how quickly it might kill the patient or even if it will kill him or her is difficult to determine. A wrong prognosis can easily lead patients into a spiral of hopelessness and to give up on treatment unnecessarily, thereby prematurely ending their lives.

In an age when almost every one of us knows someone who outlived their terminal prognosis, it’s important to remember that legalizing assisted suicide offers no second chances. No supposed “safeguard” can protect patients from deciding to die based on a faulty prognosis.

-- Eileen Fisher,

People with Disabilities at Risk from Assisted Suicide

In its editorial "Death with dignity for the terminally ill proposal includes critical safeguards" (Aug. 10),The Times' assurances that the Death with Dignity for the Terminally Ill Act (A2270) has safeguards is not very reassuring to those of us with disabilities, who see it as dangerous to our lives.

Citing the Oregon and Washington laws as further assurance simply repeats propaganda from proponents. The Oregon law has no protection against coercion used against vulnerable people by those whose motives involve fraud or abuse. Oregon annually destroys data in the doctors’ reports about the deaths allowed by the law, leaving only statistics without investigation, so it is really overreaching to say the law has meaningful protections.

The current legislation in the Statehouse has “protections” that amount to an honor system, providing little comfort to people with severe disabilities. Indeed, whatever protections were seen by The Times are at best a half-hearted attempt by proponents to placate broad-based concerns over this legislation, the assurances of The Times’ editorial board notwithstanding. Unfortunately, these provisions may protect those who assist suicide from any liability for mistakes or abuses, but they do nothing to protect the patient or more vulnerable people with disabilities.

-- Norman A. Smith,

The writer is president of the board of directors of the Hamilton-based Progressive Center for Independent Living and associate executive director of Project Freedom, based in Robbinsville.