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Suicide is suicide

To the editor: 

How unfortunate that a physician in our community has the temerity to attempt to redefine our current language and ethics to achieve an ideological outcome. Dr. Federman’s June 1 letter does exactly that. Regarding suicide — quite simply, to quote a popular movie, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

Suicide is the act of intentionally killing oneself. There is nothing in the definition which changes the meaning depending on why one is performing the act. Indeed, even the highest court in New York, the Court of Appeals, affirmed by a resounding 5-0 decision in Myers v. Schneiderman (2017) that regardless of the reasoning behind the desire to allow doctors to prescribe medication intended to cause the patient’s death upon self-administration, it is still, in fact, suicide. The court, no raging bastion of conservatism, recognized the state’s interests in prohibiting assisted suicide including “prohibiting intentional killing and preserving life; preventing suicide; maintaining physicians’ roles as their patients’ healers; protecting vulnerable people from indifference, prejudice, and psychological and financial pressure to end their lives; and avoiding a possible slide towards euthanasia.” So no, Dr. Federman’s claim that “medical aid in dying” is not suicide is factually and legally incorrect.

Further, Dr. Federman points out that patients with a terminal illness do not want to die but they ARE dying. I have a news flash for the good doctor: We are ALL dying. These patients want to die no less than someone who is in distress for some other reason (mental health, etc.) Is that a sound reason to devalue their lives?

Then Dr. Federman makes the nonsensical claim that “there is absolutely no evidence that medical aid in dying impacts suicide rates.” It would be a perfectly sound statement except that suicide rates are based on the number of people killing themselves. But then, if you stop calling suicide suicide, then suicide rates are not affected by suicide — is that how it goes?

Lastly, Dr. Federman attempts to explain that when a person commits suicide, or rather is “aided in dying,” the underlying illness should be listed as the cause of death. Currently, this is known as offering a false instrument for filing and is a crime in New York. Of course, if this bad legislation is passed, what is now an ethical and legal wrong would become the law. Dr. Federman’s insistence on not listing the actual cause of death as the cause of death falls rather flat considering that the underlying illness could still be noted for the purposes of compiling disease statistics.

It’s time for some honesty in this “progressive” world of newspeak and linguistic nonsense. 

John D. Miner

Saranac Lake

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