Letter: Truly a Matter of Personal Choice

To the Editor:

I would like to comment on Dr. Ira Byock’s testimony to the Vermont Senate Committee on Health and Welfare (“Doctors Should Not Become Agents of Death,” Feb. 17). Byock eloquently advocates for better palliative care, but demonstrates a limited and judgmental perspective on end-of-life choices.

He attacks the argument that having to be “cleaned and turned by others is an assault to a person’s dignity” by claiming that it is too high a bar to set for dignity, that just being human means we have an inherent dignity. I beg to differ. Although I wholeheartedly believe humans have an inherent, intangible dignity, I also believe each person defines his or her own earthly dignity. Some people might suffer anxiety at the thought of losing control of their body functions and regard it as an assault on their dignity, whereas others may not. Each individual defines dignity as it fits into their world view, not Byock’s world view.

Byock states that legalizing physician-assisted suicide is “regressive social policy.” I don’t think he is listening to himself think. Regressive implies going backward. Advances in science and technology change the context and the meaning of compassionate care. There is a need for social policies to move forward with these changes. In a democracy, our legislators must consider a diversity of perspectives and base policy on what allows individual freedom without harming others and allows individuals to make choices based on personal moral codes. That is progressive policy. Regressive policy imposes one set of moral codes on all.

Byock’s closing argument seems to indicate the patient choice bill is wrong because it does not address the inadequacies of our health care system (that was never the intent of the bill; it is focused on patient choice) and because it does not fit his moral code. I support legislation that allows everyone to follow his or her personal moral code, and does not impose one belief on all. I write this as the widow of a man who chose death with dignity.

Char Osterlund

Springfield, Vt.


Testimony: Doctors Should Not Become Agents of Death

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Following is testimony prepared by Dr. Ira Byock for a hearing on end of life choices held by the Vermont Senate’s Committee on Health and Welfare in Montpelier on Jan. 31. I am Dr. Ira Byock. I am a practicing palliative care physician and direct the palliative care program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. I am a professor in …