Assisted suicide

I am a doctor in Oregon, one of two states where assisted-suicide is legal. This letter responds to your article about the controversy over this practice in Montana. (AP article, Medical Examiners Board, Nov. 16, 2012). I write to clarify that legalizing assisted suicide would allow non-dying persons to be steered to suicide.

Oregon’s assisted-suicide law applies to patients predicted to have less than six months to live. In 2000, I had a cancer patient named Jeanette Hall. Another doctor had given her a terminal diagnosis of six months to a year to live. This was based on her not being treated for cancer.

At our first meeting, Jeanette told me that she did not want to be treated, and that she wanted to opt for what our law allowed – to kill herself with a lethal dose of barbiturates.

I did not and do not believe in assisted suicide. I informed her that her cancer was treatable and that her prospects were good. But she wanted “the pills.” She had made up her mind, but she continued to see me.

On the third or fourth visit, I asked her about her family and learned that she had a son. I asked her how he would feel if she went through with her plan. Shortly after that, she agreed to be treated, and her cancer was cured.

Five years later she saw me in a restaurant and said, “Dr. Stevens, you saved my life!”

For her, the mere presence of legal assisted suicide had steered her to suicide.

I understand that assisted suicide will be an issue in your upcoming legislative session. I urge you to encourage your legislators to clarify your law to keep assisted suicide out of Montana.

Kenneth Stevens, MD

Sherwood, Ore.

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