A terminally ill patient should have the right to decide how and when to die

LETTER — Posted Dec. 26, 2005

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Regarding "Doctors favor physician-assisted suicide less than patients do" (Article, Nov. 21): Your article reports that an increasing percentage of physicians are supportive of a patient having the right to request assistance from his or her physician in ending the dying process when suffering a terminal illness. That confirms my impression in presenting such a philosophy to medical meetings over the past 13 years.

In supporting the wishes made by many patients, I have been impressed by the rationality shown by those with unimprovable medical conditions when choosing to end the fight against a disease process that has severely reduced the quality of life they are experiencing. Most have accepted radiation and chemotherapy, with the attendant side affects, and most have excellent palliative or hospice care when choosing to seek a hastened dying process.

Although the oncologist who acts as spokesperson for the somewhat ironically titled Physicians for Compassionate Care feels that the results of the survey would be different if the term suicide were used in the question, he ignores the obvious. Patients who are terminally ill are not making a choice between living and dying. The disease is ending their lives. A few patients would simply like to have some control over the location, the manner and the time of dying. Surely, that is a right that most compassionate physicians would agree is in the best interest of a dying patient.

Richard MacDonald, MD, Chico, Calif.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2005/12/26/edlt1226.htm.

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