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November 3, 2012

Question 2: The choice to die

(Continued)

SALEM —

There is a lot about this proposed law that people don’t know, provisions that are troubling, the rabbi said.

“People don’t realize that a doctor does not have to be present when the suicide medicine is being administered,” he said. “People don’t realize the next of kin doesn’t even have to be notified.”

There also have been significant medical advances, Meyer said, in hospice care and in easing the pain of terminally ill patients.

“What is of particular concern,” he said, “is that those least likely to have access to the discussion of what is available for hospice and palliative care are the most vulnerable in society — the minorities, the mentally ill, the elderly. ... They are going to be the ones to not know what is available and are going to choose suicide as the first response rather than the last response.”

A matter of choice

Paul Spiers of Danvers, a forensic neuropsychologist on the faculty at the Boston University School of Medicine, comes down on the other side of the question. In fact, he is one of the original ballot petitioners for the Death With Dignity Coalition.

Spiers said he has long believed in choice for terminally ill patients, a conviction that only grew stronger after he suffered a paralyzing injury when he fell off a horse nearly 20 years ago.

“It just crystalized my feelings about the importance of choice,” he said. “We have no choice about having a peaceful death at the time of our choosing. ... I don’t want to die in an ICU hooked to a machine and unconscious.”

Like others who support the proposed law, Spiers rejects the word “suicide.” This is not an irrational act made in a moment of desperation, he says.

“Your death has already been determined,” he said. “You’ve been given a terminal diagnosis. That’s why two doctors have to make a diagnosis. ... In this case, the death is preordained. You have cancer. You have ALS. You’re going to die from it. The question is when and how do you want to die.”

Maybe the best argument for Question 2, Spiers said, is that essentially the same law has had a trial run in Oregon and proved successful.

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