SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Election Forum

October 30, 2012

Column: A physician's perspective on Question 2

As a physician with a background in bioethics, I have a particular interest in the so-called “Death with Dignity” initiative. The bill itself contains various flaws that make it not only unacceptable but dangerous. First, this bill does not require that the mental state of the patient be assessed by a psychiatrist. We know that the top reasons for terminally ill patients to request suicide are that they feel life is no longer enjoyable, have lost autonomy, or believe their lives to be burdensome or without dignity (and NOT as a result of pain). And although these reported symptoms may be similar to those expressed by depressed patients without an underlying terminal illness, no counseling nor psychiatric assessment is mandated under the bill. Psychotherapy and psychopharmacology may provide great relief for any patient suffering from depression. As physicians, we routinely hospitalize depressed patients who are contemplating suicide — for the purpose of treating the depression and getting the patient to a healthier mental state to deal with life. Shouldn’t we require that a thorough psychiatric assessment be done for those struggling to come to terms with their own mortality?

Secondly, the requirement that the patient has “six months to live” in order to request these lethal medications is generally understood by those within medicine to be an unreliable prediction. All health care providers have experienced the desperately ill patient who somehow survives against all odds and the relatively well patient who dies shortly after a diagnosis. In addition, the bill does not stipulate whether the six months is with or without treatment for disease. Although the prediction of six months to live is often required to receive hospice care, the result of miscalculation (i.e., one is discharged from the hospice) is a much more benign outcome than ingesting lethal drugs based on flawed forecasting.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Election Forum

Local News
  • Salem's Collins seeks longer day

    SALEM -- Collins Middle School may look a little different next year. For starters, longtime Principal Mary Manning, who has headed the school for more than 20 years, is retiring and will be replaced by a new, yet-unnamed principal. More than that, t

    April 19, 2014 6 Stories

  • 140418_SN_KYU_WALK_2 Walking the Walk BEVERLY -- Four hundred thirty walkers, 10.5 miles and $65,000. Those are the numbers you can count on just about every year from the Good Friday Walk. The 35th annual walk produced those figures once again yesterday, with the money going to help nee

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Marblehead chief charts drop in crime MARBLEHEAD -- Police chief Robert Picariello has highlighted an overall drop in crime from 2012 to 2013 in his annual report to the town. The decrease was substantial in the category of crimes against persons, down 23 percent for incidents like rape,

    April 19, 2014

  • North Shore residents to run in 2014 Boston Marathon

    The Salem News asked those on the North Shore who are running this year's Boston Marathon to share their reasons for running. 

    If you're running the marathon this year, it's not too late to share why you're running. Send a brief paragraph, a photo of yourself and a link to your fundraising site (if applicable) to Cheryl Richardson at crichardson@salemnews.com.

    April 17, 2014

  • One-way school bus passes to get trial run in Peabody PEABODY -- Students will be able to ride the school bus one way next year without paying the price of a round-trip fare. The School Committee has agreed to offer one-way passes on a trial basis following review of transportation data and a proposal f

    April 19, 2014