To the editor:

I have been a practicing registered nurse for 40 years and served as a consultant on the Salem Hospital ethics advisory committee for the past 15 years. In both those roles I have had many experiences with patients suffering at the end of their lives. Often the consultants first questions are: “Has the chaplain been called?” And “Has palliative care been consulted?” For the majority of patients suffering at the end of life those two services provide all the care the patient needs to alleviate their suffering.

But for a very small percentage of patients suffering at the end of life, palliative and spiritual care is not enough. The Death with Dignity Act passed in Oregon in 1997. As of 2019, 70 million Americans living in 10 states and the District of Columbia have the legal right to death with dignity. It’s also known as medical, compassionate aid in dying. 

In Oregon, a state with 4.2 million people, 2,518 people have asked for and received a prescription for medication to end their life. That’s 0.00059% of their population -- 1,657 of those patients have died from this lethal ingestion. A 2020 report on Oregon Death with Dignity shows law continues to work as intended.

The bill in the Massachusetts Legislature is called The End of Life Options Act (H.2381, S.1384)  It has more support than ever before; 64 House members, including state Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Swampscott and state Rep. Sally Kerans of Danvers. And our state senator, Joan Lovely, is a cosponsor of the same bill in the Senate.

I hope that Salem’s state Rep. Paul Tucker, Peabody’s state Rep. Thomas Walsh and state Beverly’s Rep. Jerry Parisella will join them.  Please join me in calling your legislator and urging them to support this bill to end needless suffering by people who are terminally ill and mentally capable of making their own healthcare decisions.

And while you are at it, think about your own of life care and let your loved ones know what you would want if you couldn’t speak for yourself.

Norene Gachinard

Salem

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