Issue Contents : : Letters : : Page [
Death of Her Choosing" appeared in the Summer 2003 issue of OAM.
Thank you so much for your sensitive and touching article about Oregon's
Death with Dignity Law. As someone who has worked with people with life-threatening
illnesses for over 15 years, I found the article very accurate in describing
the difficult decisions patients make regarding their care. In my experience,
hope always plays an important role in decision making, even regarding
death. When patients are first diagnosed, they hope for a cure. If their
initial treatments don't work, then they hope for a different treatment.
Finally, when there are no treatments left, they hope for a death that
is free from pain and suffering. For many patients, just knowing they
can have control at the end of life is essential to their psychological
well-being. And, fortunately, the Oregon law makes this very personal
and difficult decision a possibility.
Robert Tufel '81
Director of Patient Services,
National Brain Tumor Foundation
Having just lost a dear father after a long and sad time of increasing
incompetence, degradation, and depression, I found "A Death of Her
Choosing" somewhat comforting. This kind of dying is an option that
definitely should remain available in Oregon and offered in other states.
My condolences to the family of Peggy Sutherland. I'm sorry for
their loss, but glad they were able to experience her passing in this
Stephanie Perkins Schultz '63
Saddle River, N.J.
I was disturbed by the article because
although the author tries to be balanced by including some arguments
against euthanasia, there was clearly, nonetheless, a tone approving,
if not applauding,
what Peggy Sutherland did. But what Peggy Sutherland did was a mistake.
If she had given life to herself at the beginning, she would have
the right to take it away at the end--but she didn't. A few years
ago my father died, also of a painful cancer, surrounded by friends and
family, blessed by the priest, and finally abandoning his sufferings to
the will of God. That is death with dignity.
Jim Radomski '76
San Bernardino, Calif.
Congratulations on breaking an American taboo against discussing
death in polite society. I have been a member of the Hemlock Society for
years, have supported the Oregon initiative on physician-assisted
and have volunteered in hospice and two nursing homes since 1993.
advocate taking charge and remaining in charge of one's dying and
death. While there are some situations in which a patient needs
from a physician in dying, as perhaps did Peggy Sutherland, there
is usually a better way to accomplish this without requiring that a physician
the law by helping one to die (as is true in all other states).
You, yourself, can choose the time and place, and do this easily, painlessly,
My wife of more than 60 years, Mim Lemmon Tallmadge '39, died a
beautiful death, one that served as an example to her family. She
took the full five months of hospice care. Finally, it was becoming painful
for her to be turned in bed. She asked me, "What can I do?" I
told her that she could stop eating and drinking. She did. Four
days later at 5 a.m., I went into her room, gave her my love, and
told her that she
was free to die. Ten minutes later Mim had departed. Hospice knows
that when the body is shutting down, feeding is harmful to it. They
the patient to refuse food toward the end, and they support the
patient's desire with palliative care. Declining food andwater when
the body is
in the final stages of an illness is an easy and painless death.
It is also best accomplished under home care. It is illegal for
nursing homes to feed you against your will, but they will do so
unless your living will provides against intubation, and unless
your family supports
you. During Mim's dying, I also learned that if a satisfactory life
closure were to take place, the family needed the opportunity to
give an amount of care to satisfy their emotional and mental needs.
it is necessary for the patient having a choice not to choose to
exit this life too soon.
Bill Tallmadge '40, MM '46
"A Death of Her Choosing"--the title itself spotlights
the driving presupposition of death with dignity proponents: "My life
belongs to me, and I therefore have a right to determine its end." This
view is embedded in a secularized religion, complete with its cadre of prophets
and priests, that asserts radical and individual autonomy. In so
it undermines a crucial pillar of human dignity at the center of
Western civilization--that we are created by God, "in his image." Our
lives are sacred precisely because they do not belong to us. We
fought slavery for the same reason, and we should not help people to die
than we would help them to sell themselves into slavery. Our efforts
to alleviate suffering compassionately will thrive only when they are firmly
rooted in the divinely given sanctity of life from conception through
death. Physician-assisted suicide is indeed a slippery slope: The
right to die will become the duty to die, and ultimately the duty to kill.
Andrew H. Selle '73
Essex Junction, Vt.
In response to the article "A Death of
Her Choosing" in the
summer issue of Oberlin Alumni Magazine, I would like to affirm that
every human life has dignity. This dignity is not diminished when a person
is suffering; rather, the value of life is greatest when it appears weakest.
Our laws should protect those who are most vulnerable, and uphold their
dignity when they might be tempted to question it themselves. Only then
will we be a truly compassionate society.
Angela M. Tardiff '95
Your article on physician-assisted suicide arouses some difficult questions.
Here in Oregon, when the issue came to a vote, people talked about potential
sources of abuse such as greedy heirs, cost-cutting HMOs, etc. But I wonder
if an even uglier issue lurks behind all this.
Most people asking for physician-assisted suicide are likely to be
cancer victims. Often enough, their suffering is as much due to the
treatment as to the disease itself. How much of the medical community's
willingness to accept physician-assisted suicide stems from a desire to cover
own mistakes? Dead men tell no tales. And file no lawsuits.
After years of research on mortality statistics, I have yet to find
any evidence for any positive effect of any medical treatment on any
disease condition. Medical science seems to do fine at repair of traumatic
but even much-touted antibiotics did nothing to accelerate the disappearance
of contagious disease, which had already been decreasing since before
the 20th century, thanks to the germ theory of disease and the development
related preventative practices such as asepsis. There does seem to
be an increase in immune system dysfunction and immune system cancers
associated with overuse of antibiotics, however, leading to higher AIDS rates
with lax agricultural antibiotics laws--of which the U.S. is one. By
contrast, preventative medical practices, such as iodized salt and
low cholesterol diets, have sent mortality rates plunging.
The medical community has traditionally relied on the dictum of "reasonable
and common practice" to justify a "no lawsuits" approach--but
what happens when common practice itself is at fault? In a world where
violence at abortion clinics is already routine, what kind of public
we expect if physician-assisted suicide becomes commonplace?
Peter D. Hays '73
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