Posted: 10/09/2011 09:32:49 PM EDT, Sunday October 9, 2011
I am a doctor in Oregon where physician-assisted suicide is legal. Dr. Richard Guerrero's letter justifies his support of assisted suicide with a discussion of physical pain (Sept. 30).
In Oregon, there has never been a documented case of assisted suicide used because there was actual untreatable pain.
One of the first times I discussed assisted suicide with a patient was with a man in a wheelchair with a progressive form of multiple sclerosis who asked me for assistance with his suicide. 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 suicide. He simply said: "Thank you."
How we respond to someone requesting suicide can either reflect the person's inherent worth or can cause the person even deeper desperation. Patients can even feel pressured to proceed simply due to how we respond. For this reason alone, the deaths may not be voluntary. Don't make Oregon's mistake.
WILLIAM L. TOFFLER, MD