GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 1, 2012

Letter: Assisted suicide bill on ballot no answer at life's end


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

I am a registered nurse with more than 25 years experience in oncology during a career that has spanned several different positions in Boston-area hospitals.

I also hold a master’s degree and certification in Hospice and palliative care. I cannot help but worry about the proposed physician-assisted suicide bill in this context.

Care of those at end of life has progressed so much in terms of pain control and support over this time. However, many myths continue to exist, for example, that of inadequate pain control.

Current thinking in the fields of nursing and medicine support using adequate pain medicine even though this may shorten life as long as the goal is to relieve suffering, not hasten death. However, people worry that pain at end of life may not be treated effectively. If your health care provider is concerned about using too much medication even though pain persists, request a consult with a palliative care specialist and change physicians.

Another concern is that a person will be forced to undergo invasive treatments because of ethical or religious reasons. There is the myth that religions advocate for “life at all costs.” That’s not true; anyone is free in a moral, ethical or religious sense to refuse burdensome treatment that prolongs life, but without hope of cure.

Given these myths, some may be enticed to think suicide is a reasonable option.

This is all the more worrisome for those with limited finances. My own parents, having lived through the Depression, would rather deny themselves than be in debt. They don’t want to impose their needs on my time, family or resources.

I would much prefer to spend time with them as they negotiate their elderly years than have them feel they are doing me a favor by sparing me the “burden.” They took care of me when I was a burden in infancy and childhood. I want to repay the favor for them in their twilight years.

The danger of the suicide bill – Question 2 on our state ballot next Tuesday — is that those without resources may be most the pressured to take the cheap way out with a few pills.

Certainly, in regard to finances, insurance companies will find that suicide is cheaper than palliative care or hospice. Society again will lose out as another nail goes into the coffin of community, and reaching out to those in need. Another vote for rugged individualism.

And what happens to those who go this route alone? This is a concern as there is no requirement for any notification of family; or for anyone to be present with the person.

What if only part of the prescription is taken due to weakness or nausea and one doesn’t quite die? Where is the dignity in that?

I would prefer to put resources into symptom management and palliative care; not an all or nothing, do-it-yourself answer such as suicide. Vote no on Question 2.

SANDY DUNSTAN, RN, MSN

Beverly