The letter in italics below appeared in the March 25 issue of the Burlington Free Press and can be read online at http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013303260001.
Better way to show compassion
Dear Gov. Shumlin,
I am an 85-year-old Democrat who applauded your election and has approved of all you have done. However, I must question your reported support for the bill before the Legislature now on assisted suicide. This has been touted as solely a matter of individual rights, but it is a matter of grave concern for the whole community.
Passage of this bill will produce the occasion for the ultimate abuse of the elderly, targeting the old dependent and perhaps ailing and depressed who during these hard times can be easily persuaded that they are a burden on their families and have a duty to release them. Indeed many elderly already feel like this.
With such wide ignorance of the hospice programs, which are the real answer to the problem of end-of-life care, and the number still of doctors untutored in palliative medicine, there can still be unnecessary suffering of the sick elderly, but the right action is to rectify these lacks, not to kill off the victims. Some studies have found that so-called mercy killings happen more to relieve the suffering of onlookers, not the patients themselves.
Sir, think again — which is the better way to serve the community as well as to show compassion?
The medical society has already expressed its disapproval of this bill, knowing it will seriously affect the public image of doctors from healers to death-dealers. The young are already too prone to commit suicide when things get tough — they do not need the way out modeled for them by the supposed wiser.
If assisted suicide becomes more common will society relax its expensive efforts to find cures to deal better with chronic and end-of-life diseases and the social problems caused by them. Let’s face it — the more assisted suicide becomes acceptable to the community, the more the temptation will be to encourage the practice for social convenience and economic need as climate changes cause water and food shortages and high cost medical care continues to take a greater share of the nation’s financial resources. We could go the path already taken by the Dutch — not just the dying elderly with their consent, but the young with chronic diseases and finally people without their consent are receivers of assisted suicide.
Finally, I believe that no doctor with integrity can say with certainty that a person has only six months to live — there have been remissions and new treatment which have allowed some people to live on for years and I believe in hope as an ingredient of healing and on erring on the side of life.
Violette S. Lindbeck of West Burke is professor emeritus, Philosophy Department, Southern Connecticut State University.