When Sufferers Select to Finish Their Lives

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When Patients Choose to End Their Lives

Ms. Rehm said her goal is that no patient should suffer the outrage that her husband experienced at the end of his life. She described his death as "excruciating to testify," although the patient's lack of food and water after about two days is usually quite bearable.

Dr. Jessica Nutik Zitter, a palliative care practitioner at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California, said in an interview, “The concept of medical euthanasia is gaining acceptance, but it takes time for people to become familiar with it. Doctors are trained to keep adding technology to patient care regardless of outcome, and technology withdrawal is an abomination to what we are taught. "

As a result, doctors can convince dying patients and their families to accept treatments "that lead to terrible suffering," said Dr. Zitter, author of the book "Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Way to the End of Life". In her experience, the fear of losing control is the number one reason patients seek medical attention when they die. However, when they have access to good palliative care, this fear often subsides.

A third of patients eligible for medical assistance in dying are not consuming the lifelong medication they are given, she explained that after the option, they regain a sense of autonomy and are no longer afraid of losing control. In a study of 3,368 lethal drug prescriptions drafted under Oregon and Washington state laws, the most common reasons for seeking medical help in dying were loss of autonomy (87.4 percent). Impairment of quality of life (86.1 percent) and loss of dignity (68.6 percent).

Of course, many doctors view medical assistance in dying as contrary to their education, religious beliefs, or philosophy of life. Dr. Joanne Lynn, a non-supporter geriatrician in Washington, DC, said the focus should be on better care for people who are very sick, disabled, or the elderly.

"We should resist medical assistance in dying until we can offer people who have opted for medically assisted death a real choice of well-supported, meaningful, and comfortable existence," said Dr. Lynn. "In long-term care there is currently no strong pressure on decency. It is not a real choice when a person's alternative is in misery or the family is impoverished."

Barbara Coombs Lee, president emeritus of Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit in Portland, Oregon that seeks to expand options for the end of life, said, “The core principle of medical assistance in dying is empowerment for someone who is terminally ill . "

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