Re: ‘Suicide is suicide,’ June 24

To the editor:

I was by my sister Joan Kline’s side when she used Vermont’s medical aid-in-dying law in 2015 to peacefully end her suffering from terminal ovarian cancer. As a result of this unforgettable experience, I’m a strong supporter of New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act, and I take offense when people wrongly compare this end-of-life care option to suicide. My sister was not suicidal.

Major national organizations with an expertise in the field have recognized the distinction between medical aid in dying and suicide: 

¯ The American Association of Suicidology — a nationally recognized organization comprised of respected researchers and mental health professionals that promotes prevention of suicide through research, public awareness programs, education and training — asserts medical aid in dying is fundamentally distinct from suicide and that the term “physician-assisted suicide” should not be used.

¯ The American College of Legal Medicine filed an amicus brief before the United States Supreme Court in 1996 rejecting the term suicide to describe medical aid in dying. The organization also adopted a resolution in 2008 in which they “publicly advocated the elimination of the word ‘suicide’ when referencing this end-of-life care option.” 

¯ The American Psychological Association has concluded medical aid in dying and suicide have “profound psychological differences.” 

It is inappropriate to label a mentally capable, dying patient as “suicidal” when that patient, in consultation with their physician, has made a rational and informed decision to peacefully end their life to avoid prolonged suffering. Prematurely ending one’s life, often by violent means, is often the tragic result of an unrecognized or untreated reversible mental health disorder, such as depression or addiction. It is traumatic for the person’s family and community. 

In contrast, the data about medical aid in dying demonstrates that it brings families together, with a sense of completeness and love, during an extraordinarily difficult time. 

I’m grateful that was my family’s experience.

Nancy S. Murphy