Rosemary Johnston: On our right to die |

Rosemary Johnston: On our right to die

Rosemary Johnston
San Diego

I found Rich Mayfield’s paean to assisted suicide both specious and illogical. Because of advances in palliative care over the past decade, most “needless suffering” can be alleviated with appropriate medication. And the existence of a living will can help inform medical decisions regarding the provision of extraordinary means to prolong life when there is no reasonable hope of recovery or healing. Most people with terminal illness who contemplate assisted suicide are suffering from depression.

I too have sat at the bedside of dying friends and relatives and have been reminded again and again that we are not in control of our lives, as Mayfield suggests. Unforeseen tragedies and suffering abound, despite our best efforts and hopeful outlooks. People who are truly grounded are able to embrace ambiguity, mystery and paradox in their lives and are able to acknowledge that suffering, when confronted with courage and determination, can be transformative, both for the patient who is dying and for those who accompany the dying patient on their final journey. I have experienced my time spent with the dying as sacred and holy.

To suggest that “no one has the right, many would argue, to tell someone either how or how long one must live” is preposterous. Why do we have speed limit laws, laws regarding utilization of seat belts and helmets, laws regarding the dispensation of dangerous drugs, laws regarding the licensure of health professionals, laws against murder and assault? These laws affirm that each of our lives has intrinsic value and is worthy of protection and nurture, even when individuals believe that these laws are an infringement on their freedom to do as they please.

Mayfield is also incorrect when he asserts that “most folk in the medical profession feel duty bound to do all they can to prolong lives.” Medical professionals are committed to healing, but they too acknowledge that death is a part of life and that it is their duty to inform dying patients and their loved ones that there is nothing more that can be done to preserve and extend life. Good and happy deaths happen every day without resorting to assisted suicide.

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