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Letter: Mixed Message on Suicide

To the Editor:

This is in opposition to the physician-assisted suicide bill before the Vermont Senate. There is a suicide problem in Vermont now. This measure would send the message that suicide is an acceptable practice and make Vermont complicit in the act by, in effect, saying to Vermonters that suicide is acceptable in some cases. Mixed messages don’t work, especially with young people.

In testimony before a Senate committee, Dr. Ira Byock of Dartmouth-Hitchcock told senators last Thursday that hospice and palliative care patients already have the means to suicide at hand — pain medication. Pain medications are already the most frequently used means of non-assisted suicide among women in Oregon, according to Byock. “Such a suicide would be nonviolent, and the family could be there without being accused of assisting, as long as the patient did not tell them,” he said. “He could call them together — my dying mother did this several times — ask them to stay with him until he fell asleep, take the overdose, and die, taking responsibility for his own action, as he should if this is really his choice.”

Perceived pressure on patients is also a reason to vote against this bill — not everyone has the patient’s best interest at heart. They may feel a duty to die. Disability rights groups are also generally opposed to this bill.

The American Medical Association and the Vermont Medical Society are on the record against physician-assisted suicide. Dr. Phil Brown of Central Vermont Hospital makes the convincing argument that under-diagnosed depression is too often involved in these decisions, and depression is a treatable illness.

In light of much improved hospice care, is there really a reason to turn medical ethics on its head? And after that, what’s next? Folks with Alzheimer’s or mental illness? After all, they are suffering.

Let’s make Vermont a state known for excellent and compassionate health, palliative, and end-of life care for everyone, not an experiment for out-of-state interest groups. Please contact your state senators and ask them to vote against this bill.

Ed Wendell

Bradford, Vt.

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