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Know the facts before opposing an end-of-life options law

Editor’s note: A Sept. 7 op-ed column opposing aid in dying hit a nerve with many readers and prompted numerous rebuttals. Here are some of them:

In response to the opinion piece by Vince Torres (Journal Sept. 7), I feel compelled to speak out. … First, let me mention the one place where we agree. We also feel that most everyone desires, and all should have, the opportunity to die with dignity. Many also want to have some control among their end-of-life options. Some will elect to continue aggressive treatment until they die. Others choose a more hospice-like approach and forgo treatment, seeking only supportive and palliative care in hopes that they may have a pain-free and calm passing. Everyone deserves to die with dignity. Thus, we have titled our bill the “N.M. End of Life Options (NMEOLO) Act” rather than Death With Dignity.

It is a blessing that Elizabeth Bakewicz seems to be surviving her brain cancer and is experiencing the joy of raising her daughter. However, as Torres relates her story, at no point would Elizabeth have been qualified to request medical aid in dying. Our NMEOLO Act has very clear, narrow and strong eligibility criteria: an adult with a terminal diagnosis, capable of making an informed decision, and able to self-administer the medication when and if they decide to, in order to end their unacceptable suffering. Two health care providers must certify the terminal diagnosis, similar to the way decisions are routinely made about eligibility for hospice. If there is any concern or doubt about the individual’s motivation or capacity to make a fully informed decision, a referral to a mental health professional is required for further evaluation to ensure that criteria are met.

Medical Aid In Dying (MAID) is currently legal in seven states and Washington, D.C., covering about 18 percent of the U.S. population. Oregon has 20 years of data that clearly show MAID is safe, effective, used infrequently, and has never led to a case of abuse or misuse. Perhaps most importantly, MAID seems to contribute to more people having their advance directives in place, greater access to palliative care and earlier use of hospice. Thus, in states with these laws, people have a better chance of dying the way they wish … with or without medical aid in dying.

MAID has absolutely nothing to do with suicide. Rather than an act of desperation by a troubled individual who is seeking to kill themselves, MAID is the legal, thoughtful and clearly requested choice of a qualified, dying individual who wishes to live fully until, and if, they decide to end their life on their own terms when they find their suffering is personally unbearable. We are mortal beings; we all die.

To be clear, MAID is entirely voluntary for all involved – qualified individuals, health care providers and health facilities. The NMEOLO Act is carefully written to provide robust protections for all parties. No one is abandoned or alone because of MAID. To the contrary, the mere existence of this law brings peace of mind to many who are living with terminal conditions. Currently, far too often, such folks must live, some for many years, with the fear and uncertainty of an unacceptable death.

And finally, we look forward to debating and enacting the NMEOLO Act in the upcoming legislative session. Medical aid in dying is a reaffirmation of the power of a dying individual to decide for themselves when and under what circumstances they wish to die. It is a basic human right to both live well and to die well. The N.M. End of Life Options Act will contribute to both.

Barak Wolff of Tesuque is a longtime public health worker and founding member of New Mexico End of Life Options Coalition.

 

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