Letter: Death With Dignity in Vermont

To the Editor:

This spring, the Vermont Legislature will revisit the question of whether to pass a bill that would give competent, adult, terminally ill Vermonters the ability to choose the where and when of their inevitable death. It’s important to make the distinction that these are not people who are choosing death over life. They are only choosing the time and circumstances of their dying. The truth is that none of us “want” to die (except, perhaps, the severely depressed). Most of us actually have an insatiable desire to live, and that is why in Washington and Oregon, where Death with Dignity laws exist, a large number of people who receive the prescription never actually take it. For these people, simply knowing that they have this an option if their symptoms become intolerable is comfort enough.

As a nationally board-certified palliative care hospice nurse working in the field, I see firsthand the advances that have been made in end-of-life care in Vermont. For the majority of dying patients both in the hospital and at home we are able to control symptoms, educate families and provide support and guidance through the dying process.

For the relatively small number of people who don’t fall into that category, there are times when symptoms of pain and suffering are not controlled. Put yourself or someone you love in that position. What would you want? A Death with Dignity law would allow someone you care about and who faces such a situation — and in keeping with their own faith — the right to choose a hastened death. The most recent public opinion poll, conducted last May, showed more than 72 percent of Vermonters surveyed support a Death with Dignity Bill.

I have always taken pride in Vermont’s forward-thinking, fair-minded and inclusive politics. Let’s follow Oregon and Washington’s lead and pass into law this most basic of human rights.

John Young, R.N.