Aid in dying is not assisted suicide

To the editor:

Re: “Speak up about assisted suicide legislation,” May 28

Contrary to the author’s claims in the May 27 letter to the editor, “Speak up about assisted suicide legislation,” medical aid in dying is not assisted suicide.

Medical aid in dying allows mentally capable, terminally ill patients to self-ingest prescription medication prescribed by a physician to end untreatable suffering and die peacefully in their sleep. These patients do not want to die, but they ARE dying. In contrast, suicidal patients WANT to die because of depression or other psychosocial issues, which, if treated, could restore their mental health and prevent them from taking their life.

This fact explains why the Journal of Palliative Medicine published peer-reviewed, clinical criteria for physician aid in dying, not physician-assisted suicide.

The New York Medical Aid in Dying Act would allow any doctor, health care worker or pharmacist to opt out of participating in this practice, and it does not allow euthanasia.

There is absolutely no evidence that medical aid in dying impacts suicide rates. However, when terminally ill individuals have the authorized legal option of medical aid in dying, they are not forced to resort to violent means to end their suffering.

For legal and medical purposes, the underlying terminal illness is listed as the cause of the death on the death certificate. This practice is consistent with how doctors routinely report other end-of-life decisions on a death certificate. For example, when a physician administers continuous deep sedation (also called palliative or terminal sedation) to a person with terminal cancer, the cause of death is listed as cancer, not a physician-administered drug overdose.

Finally, listing medical aid in dying instead of the terminal disease as the cause of death would sabotage the purpose of death certificates and skew data collection designed to improve health care. Public health officials use death certificates to compile data on various disease statistics, including the leading causes of death and report that data to the National Center for Health Statistics based upon the International Classification of Diseases. The underlying terminal illness is the most accurate and relevant data to provide.

Jay Federman, M.D.

Saranac Lake

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