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If they’re terminal, let Mainers choose how they die

Alan Purdy, 88, shown with a painting of his late wife, Margaret, at their San Marcos, California home, told authorities that he did nothing to stop her as she committed suicide.
GARY FRIEDMAN | MCT
Alan Purdy, 88, shown with a painting of his late wife, Margaret, at their San Marcos, California home, told authorities that he did nothing to stop her as she committed suicide.
Posted Dec. 09, 2013, at 11:38 a.m.

Despite the controversy surrounding assisted suicide, and the recent rejection of a bill trying to legalize it, there are still many people who, chances are, would actively seek out the means to end their lives rather than live with a terminal illness.

The bill — entitled “An Act Regarding Patient-directed Care at the End of Life” — was sponsored by Rep. Joseph Brooks, I-Winterport, and laid out what looks like, to me, very clear, strict circumstances in which an individual could end his or her life, many of which centered on the patient’s decisions and awareness. It also would have given medical professionals the ability to prescribe lethal doses of medication while freeing them from legal recourse.

And yet it was still shot down, by a vote of 95-43 in the Maine House. Legislators should review the issue because the choice should remain with the individual.

Every day there are people suffering and dying from terminal illnesses. Some would prefer to die natural deaths, and that’s OK, because they’re the ones choosing to do so. But then there are others who would pick assisted suicide, were it available to them. And yet they don’t have that choice. Why should they be denied the right to make choices regarding their own lives? Because that’s what it really comes down to: a choice.

Palliative and hospice care are not horrible, but some people remain in agony regardless of any comforts that can be provided to them, and they don’t have the option — or the ability — to end their lives if they wanted to. Worse, they are condemned for their desire to end their lives with dignity.

People should not be euthanized without their consent; that is murder, no matter what disguise you put it under. What I’m talking about is the choice someone makes regarding his or her own life when that life becomes unbearable due to terminal illness. Even if I don’t think I myself would ever choose to do it, I can see why others would. I can only imagine what a struggle it would be for someone to know that he or she is dying in a manner that will likely not be very peaceful. Assisted suicide would give these people the chance to say their goodbyes while they are still able.

Because doctors cannot prescribe lethal doses of medication, some take a different route. For example, in a story recently covered by the Bangor Daily News, a Yarmouth woman made the decision to end her life by ceasing to eat or drink, due to a degenerative brain disease that was slowly taking away her quality of life. The degeneration would have carried on for years until she no longer had the faculties do anything for herself. She chose to take her death into her own hands rather than let that happen, and so she got the chance to die surrounded by her loved ones, with whom she had already made peace.

We wouldn’t force a woman to stay in an abusive relationship; why then should we force someone who has expressed a desire to end his or her life under their own terms and conditions to continue living? It is unfair, and it does them the disservice of taking the decision away from them.

Assisted suicide is not an easy or pleasant subject to discuss. Ultimately, it will take someone away. But if people make the choice to go out peacefully, to no longer experience daily pain, we should not take that choice away from them.

Grace Marshall, an American from Prince Edward Island, is a first-year student at the University of Maine at Orono where she is studying English.

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