Doctor’s experience shows other angle to wishes of death

Assisted suicide, Kavorkian

I am a doctor in Oregon where physician-assisted suicide is legal.

In my practice, I have discussed assisted suicide with more than a dozen patients. One of the first was with a man in a wheelchair with a progressive form of multiple sclerosis. He told me that if it got too much worse, he might want to “just end it.” I answered that he seemed to be asking for assistance with his suicide. He nodded affirmatively.

I told him that I could readily understand his fear and his frustration and even his belief that assisted suicide might be a good path for him. At the same time, I told him that should he become sicker or weaker, I would work to give him the best care and support available. I told him that no matter how debilitated he might become, that, at least to me, his life was and would always be, inherently valuable. As such, I would not recommend, nor could I participate in his assisted-suicide. He said: “Thank you.”

When a person says, “I want to die”; it may simply mean, “I feel useless.”  When a person says, “I don’t want to be a burden”; it may really be a question, “Am I a burden?”  When someone says, “I might as well be dead”; they may really be saying, “No one cares about me.”  In essence, we are not islands.  How we respond can either reflect the inherent worth of the person requesting assistance with suicide or cause the person even deeper desperation.  Patients can even feel pressured to proceed.

As such, in Oregon legal assisted suicide has undermined trust in the motives of both physicians and family.  Under our law, there is no assurance that the deaths are voluntary.  Don’t make our mistake.

Dr. William L. Toffler

Portland, Ore.