A doctor-assisted disaster for medicine

In my practice, more than two dozen patients have discussed assisted suicide with me. Most did not have a terminal diagnosis. One inquiry came from a patient with a progressive form of multiple sclerosis. He was in a wheelchair yet lived an active life as a general contractor. I asked him how the disease affected his life. He acknowledged that MS was a major challenge and told me that if he got too much worse, he might want to “just end it.”

I told him I could understand his fear and frustration and even his belief that assisted suicide might be a good option. I also told him that should he become sicker or weaker, I would work to provide him the best care and support available. No matter how debilitated he might become, his life was, and would always be, inherently valuable. As such, I said that would I not recommend nor would I participate in his suicide. He simply replied: “Thank you.”…

One of the most troubling notions I hear is that killing oneself with sleeping pills is “dignified”—as if natural deaths aren’t. Last year my wife, Marlene, died of metastatic cancer. We’d been married for 40 years. The final five years we both knew she would inevitably die of her cancer. At one point doctors told her that she had only three to nine months left, yet she lived more than four times as long.

While I treasure all of our years together, the last years of our marriage were among the best. There was great suffering but also great joy and meaning in the special moments we and our seven children shared together—moments that became all the more special the closer we came to the end of her life. I wouldn’t trade a nanosecond of those last years. She died peacefully and naturally at home surrounded by her family and friends. She never took an overdose, yet her death and life had great dignity.