To the Editor:
I am writing in regards to Dr. Ashur’s letter published in the Oct. 22 issue of The Daily Free Press distributed at Boston University. In response to her opposition to Question 2, I counter with the story of Angelique Flowers and several points of contention:
Angelique Flowers was a young woman from Australia who was diagnosed with the debilitating Crohn’s Disease at only 15 and later with colon cancer at 31. She was frightened of a slow and painful death and wanted to end her life peacefully on her own terms, rather than at the mercy of disease. However, due to Australian laws, she was not able to legally obtain anything. She died choking on feces that she was vomiting up as her brother held a dish below her chin. In her words, “The law wouldn’t let a dog suffer the agony I’m going through before an inevitable death. It would be put down. Yet under the law, my life is worth less than a dog’s … I have been robbed of both my living and my dying… ”
I will admit, prior to reading the story of this young woman, I too found physician-assisted suicide to be silly. In fact, I had little respect for those who take their own lives. However, under the circumstances that she died, I cannot believe that this would be preferable to allowing someone to end their own suffering.
Dr. Ashur writes in her letter “to promote ‘suicide’ — the taking of one’s own life, a lonely act for a vulnerable soul — is a sad commentary for a civilized society.” I challenge the notion that forcing people to die when nature allows them to is a mark of a civilized society. Allowing those in pain and misery to pass with less pain and suffering is far more dignified than to allow for someone like Angelique Flowers to die choking on fecal matter. It does not undermine the work of a physician, especially when physicians are unable to cure the ailment or to provide proper care for the dying.
She also writes that “clinical depression is present in at least 25 percent of people with chronic illness. Depressed people think about suicide. Depression, however, is treatable.” According to the website for the U.S. National Library of Medicine, treatment for depression includes medication and psychotherapy, and for extreme cases, sending a patient to a psychiatric hospital. For people who have less than six months to live and are in constant pain while taking a cocktail of drugs, to recommend putting them on more drugs with awful side-effects or to think that a psychiatrist can cure all is rather ridiculous. And I don’t think sending terminally ill patients to psychiatric hospitals is a realistic solution either, should they be extremely depressed or suicidal.
Her reasons for supporting the defeat of Question 2 seem somewhat selfish as well. She writes about where her place should be when those suffer and die, about how it might undermine her work and about how she feels it encroaches on her privileges. However, Question 2 is not about solely physicians, but rather about those who have already been failed by modern medicine.
I watched my grandmother suffer and die at the hands of breast cancer, my mother watched her aunt suffer and die of breast cancer as well. In fact, both died alone, separated from their loved ones in hospitals. I saw what my grandmother struggled through, the livelihood she lost, the separation from her siblings and children, and I would not wish that upon others.
Question 2 does not, in any Orwellian manner, force pills down the throats of “vibrant patients” who may outlive lifespans. It merely gives those an option to end pain and suffering in a legal and civilized manner.
Thanks, and above all, I appreciate your input into the American democratic process.