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Should doctors be able to prescribe federally controlled drugs for use in assisted suicide?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on August 16, 2006

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Photo of Blair Smith

“No. Not at all. I don’t think they should have help doing it because it shouldn’t happen.”

Photo of Mike Sheridan

“Yes, as long as they are terminally ill and have been found to be a mentally competent adult.”

Photo of Megan Hastings

“Morally speaking, I would say definitely not based on my own personal beliefs.”

Photo of Fredrick Moore

“No, I don’t think they should. There is always a possibility of recovery.”

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classclown 11 years, 10 months ago

Yes they should. Sorry Frederick, but there is NOT always a possibility of recovery. And Megan, it's morally correct to force someone to end their days in pain and misery?

This is something that only affects the terminally ill person. It's nobody else's business.

irnmadn88 11 years, 10 months ago

We euthanize animals. We prescribe the morning after pill to prevent pregnancies. Abortion up to a certain point is legal. All decisions made by supposedly competent people. Therefore, why can't we euthanize ourselves if deemed competent enough to make that decision?

If in the natural course of things, a person would die without the efforts of medicine, why should said person be made to suffer in pain?

Let them "walk with the bears."

sgtwolverine 11 years, 10 months ago

I'm a little bit perplexed at the necessity of assisted suicide when unassisted suicide is quite available.

Linda Aikins 11 years, 10 months ago

TOB, then we'd hear rumors of a creature roaming the Flintss, known only as Coyote Bob (you have to say the ky-oat-eeee pronunciation).

Mike Birch 11 years, 10 months ago

What a stupid question! There is no doctor that is going

to prescribe medicine to somone who might use it to

commit suicide! There is simply too much liability and

this is something that even the most incompetent

doctors understand!


jonas 11 years, 10 months ago

I'm looking at Oregon right now. What am I supposed to be seeing here? I'm kinda high up.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 10 months ago

Thus far I have no idea how traumatic the pain involved with cancer must be. If it were me I'd be saying let's get it over with so everyone else can get on with their lives. I have been loved and know those who love me are enduring a tremendous amount of pain waiting for the end. I say bring it to a peaceful end then bring on Eric Clapton,Kelly Hunt, EmmyLou Harris with Mark Knopfler to celebrate.

Would anyone honestly believe I would want to spend who knows how long in unbearable pain and at times be incoherent due to the drugs? By that time the isurance companies are refusing to pay and the hospital or medical care bill looks the national debt....what's the point. At some point it is time to move on.

Cait McKnelly 11 years, 10 months ago

I lived in Oregon at the time the assisted suicide law was passed in that state by it's legislature. Several right-to-life (right-to-suffer-in-misery-and-pain) groups got enough signatures to force the law to a referendum and it went to an open ballot in November of 1997. It passed resoundingly. It went unchallenged until 2001 when John Ashcroft (Bush's first term AG who sooo reminds me of Phill Kline in the way he tried to twist the law to suit his partisan needs) tried to do an end run around the law by issuing a directive that any Oregon doctor who invoked the law would have their narcotics license jerked by the Feds. Once more the Oregon state governement beat off this attack by challenging it and having it struck down in federal court. That decision was eventually upheld in the US Supreme Court just two days ago. The issue here is that people want control of the way they die. There have only been 246 assisted suicides in Oregon in the 8 years since passage of the law. Of that number 206 reported their reason for doing so as "loss of autonomy". ( My mother committed suicide when she died, if looked at in this way. She was on dialysis and knowingly ceased dialyzing knowing full well that without it she would die. While on hospice after she quit she received drugs that no doubt hastened her death. I defy anyone to criticize her for doing so.

sgtwolverine 11 years, 10 months ago

Haven't they had issues in Europe with assisted suicides being carried out without the consent of the person whose death is being arranged?

In any case: "The issue here is that people want control of the way they die." This is what I do not understand: suicide has always been available in a wide variety of forms. Why is assisted suicide important? I genuinely do not understand it.

jonas 11 years, 10 months ago

Sgt: It's pretty simple. Assisted suicide is clean and largely painless. At least if it's done right. Self-inflicted suicide is chancy at best to work at all in many of its forms, can be quite painful in most of its forms, if even for a few minutes or even seconds, and generally leaves a large mess for someone to have to clean up, not to mention scar the emotions of their families. One would hope that the decision to terminate one's life would be made with interaction and discussion with close family members, and I can't imagine familys reacting well to standard forms of suicide.

"This doctor will put me to sleep and end my life with a chemical injection while I sleep. Here's my will. Please help execute the final arrangements."

"I'm going to put a shotgun in my mouth and blow my head off. Here's my will. Please help execute the final arrangements. Oh, and clean me off the walls when you're done, would you?"

jonas 11 years, 10 months ago

By the way, if anyone knows a small company or hobby car mechanic, I'm trying to find a way of offload a Mazda MX6. It blew its head-gasket a while back, so it's largely useless to me now. I'm going to list it in the paper at 450 obo, and it would sell for close to 1800 fixed up, according to Kelly Blue-Book. If any of you know anyone who would be interested, feel free to contact me through my profile with contact information.


Nairb Rollem.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 10 months ago

Several people I know have "committed suicide." They simply stopped eating. They knew they were dying (as I believe most people in their position do) and they made a choice. It wasn't as fast as they would have wanted. I think that help should be out there if they choose another option to "pull their own plug." Watching someone die slowly is horrible. As someone stated earlier, our society kills all the time. Why such a fuss over something that would actually be considered humane? Could I actually do it? Dunno. Guess I'll "jump off that bridge" if I ever get there.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 10 months ago

There have always been people, Sgt, an will always be people, who will try to hasten along someone's death if they perceive some advantage for themselves in it (usually monetary). This doesn't mean there shouldn't be some legal means for people who are suffering terrible pain, and are going to die anyway, to end that suffering.

There is always someone, somewhere, who will abuse a law, regardless of what it is. It doesn't mean we shouldn't have the law.

I suspect there are many doctors who perform assisted suicide already. They are just not doing it openly, and are good at covering it up.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 10 months ago

Leave it to all those young, YOUNG people they asked the question to to have absolutely no clue about suffering, death, and dying.

anceee 11 years, 10 months ago

Who's to say who is competent and who isn't? Who will evaluate each person to decide if their illness is truly worth suicide? And who's to say an individual who obtains what's needed for an assisted suicide would not give it to some one else? possibly an enemy, stranger or even a child?

sgtwolverine 11 years, 10 months ago

R_I, an excellent point. Would you say, then, that hybrids may have been partly developed by assisted suicide advocates?

Seriously, though, thanks for the answers, jonas and swb. I guess something that still doesn't really work in my mind is the idea that assisted suicides are really that much better for the family, or that they're necessarily more thought out or that people will consult their families on it.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 10 months ago

Sgt, I have known more than one individual that has consulted their families on going against "prolonging suffering" and opted to go home to die "in their own beds." They knew death would come quicker this way, albiet more painfully, because they didn't want their families to suffer longer as well. Unfortunately, I have known too many that have died from cancer. They all discussed their wishes with family members. Some got what they wanted, some did not. It is hard sometimes for family to "let go."

I knew a grand old lady a few years ago that wanted nothing more than to get out of the hospital so that she could go home and die. She was tagged DNR but gave power of attorney to a son. Sadly, she was in the hosp. for a month and a half and eventually died there. It was NOT how she wanted to spend her final days. Really sad.

acg 11 years, 10 months ago

Absolutely! The reasons why have already been stated numerous times. Enough said.

irnmadn88 11 years, 10 months ago

Strange how things become circular...

Ten years ago yesterday my brother ended his life by his own hand in a place far away. Not for illness or loss of mobility but for what he thought was a loss of honor. Whether understandable or not, it was his choice. I have accepted it and moved on.

Receiving the news was horrible. I would not wish such sudden shock and pain on any living person.

In the case of those living in insufferable pain and those helplessly suffering with them, an earlier, less violent end to the inevitable may be welcomed. But let it be their choice.

sgtwolverine 11 years, 10 months ago

R_I, what I meant was that since hybrids cut the gas engine when idling, they would eliminate the option of idling in a garage, thus perhaps encouraging some towards suicide doctors.

sd123 11 years, 10 months ago

People can write out a living will that clearly defines their final wishes in the event they become terminally ill/mentally incompetent to make sound decisions. IE: withhold food, withhold water, withhold medication, withhold medical treatment, DNR, etceteras...

As for my personal choice, I'm with merrill on this one. Bring on some great music and gather my friends and family around for one heck of a send off! We all gotta go eventually, so we may as well go happy!

sgtwolverine 11 years, 10 months ago

TOB: Sarge - I bet there is a process that has to be followed. I don't think you can show up in your docs office and ask for the drugs to kill yourself. A doctor, psych, social work... etc... it's got to be an in depth process.

In Oregon, based on what I've been able to read, it does not seem to be as stringent as you might think. It does require a doctor, but if the doctor doesn't send the patient for a psych evaluation, then it won't happen. I guess some patients have doctor-shopped to find a willing doctor when their doctor did not see them as a good candidate for assisted suicide.

Also, notification of families is actually required only after death.

Teapot9 11 years, 10 months ago

Having a mother that passed away from ovarian cancer in november of last year I would say I wouldnt want drugs to help along with the dying process. Heres my reasoning, even though the person is (atleast my mom) similar to an infant and is practically comatose and not responsive to anything I wouldnt want to help in their death. I and my family would tell her to let go and that there was no need to hang on anymore and doing that was one of the hardest things ive ever done. And as much as I wanted to give her something to help her along I couldnt ever actually do it even though you want them to pass. 2 years ago I would have said absolutely but after seeing that I couldnt bring myself to do it.


irnmadn88 11 years, 10 months ago

Posted by sd123

Bring on some great music and gather my friends and family around for one heck of a send off! We all gotta go eventually, so we may as well go happy!

A little reminiscent of Soilent Green perhaps?

Ceallach 11 years, 10 months ago

WOW!! I think I'm in love!!!

I was going to say, not just no but H3LL NO, considering how often doctors mis-diagnose problems and mis-prescribe medications, and the fact that half of them finished in the bottom half of their class --- but now I'm just going to say --- I agree with RI --- except maybe the election part and uh.. the justice part and uh.. oh yeah, the old growth part and uh.. no, guess that's about it.

Kathy Gates 11 years, 10 months ago

Having had a father-in-law who committed suicide and a father who had an inoperable life-ending brain tumor, this topic hits close to home. Ending suffering when there is no medical help possible is totally different than blowing your brains out. How sanctimonious to presume that you know the "right" thing to do when you've never been put in that situation.

acg 11 years, 10 months ago

Oooh, RI, almost had you, didn't we? It's not too late, you know. You can become. Just let yourself go and embrace the new world order. You'll be much happier if you did. ; )

Linda Endicott 11 years, 10 months ago

Teapot, in assisted suicide, the family would not be involved, just the patient and the doctor. The family might be informed of the decision, if the patient wishes it, but the family would have no part in carrying out the patient's wishes. It would be a physician.

As for the mother had cancer, and was in a coma for part of her last days. Never assume that just because a person is comatose that they can't still feel pain. My mother did. I know this because she moaned and groaned in pain the entire time, even though she wasn't aware of anything around her. It was a terrible, terrible thing to go through, for both her and her family. I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

There was absolutely no hope of any kind of treatment prolonging her life. So when her heart beat the last beat, we let her go. She had no living will, but we could see no point at all in them rescusitating her, just so she could live for a few more days in pain.

I read about a man in Oregon who went through the whole process for assisted suicide, and had everything ready. He decided not to do it after all, and died naturally.

Or as naturally as they will let you nowadays, being hooked up to tubes and hoses.

This would only be for people who are truly terminally ill, in great pain, and there is absolutely no hope. They are going to die anyway, and soon. Why shouldn't we be supportive if they want to die more peacefully?

My main question, though is about insurance companies. Most life insurance policies say that they won't pay if the person committed suicide. Does this include assisted suicide, where it can be proven that the person was terminally ill and was going to die anyway?

sgtwolverine 11 years, 10 months ago

"The family might be informed of the decision, if the patient wishes it, but the family would have no part in carrying out the patient's wishes. It would be a physician."

From what I saw of Oregon's law, the physician is required to be involved only up until he prescribes the drugs. The patient is free to carry out his own wishes at home alone.

Such suicides do not always occur easily and painlessly.

ms_canada 11 years, 10 months ago

As a nurse, having seen many patients die in excruciating pain, and as a Christian, I have a great deal of conflicting emotion on this subject. I believe that suicide is wrong, but just watching someone die in all that pain can't be right either.
There is always massive doses of morphine, but that does not always aleviate pain completely. I wonder what I would do myself if ever I faced death in terrible pain. I remember once having excruciating pain and praying to God, really, that I would just die. Sure, I got through it, but sure would not want to repeat that episode. Again, as a nurse, I have seen doctors hasten a sure death and I won't say how. But it is done. Have you any idea how many babies are born with extreme deformities and are just put on sugar water until they die? It does not take long. As TOB said, if this is legally allowed it would have to be within strict guidelines.

jayhawks71 11 years, 10 months ago

MS Canada why should you have dominion over another person's body, what they do to it and what they put into it? I would like you to drink 12 glasses of water each day, because it is good for you. Do I have any right to demand that of you? Give me a break. Society is running rampant with busybodies. Ms Canada you would be calling the police so quickly if someone "violated" your privacy by peering through your window or having a camera installed in a public restroom? Why? It is wrong to violate an individual's sovereignty even if you think it is "for their own good."

If I don't want to live anymore, where do you get off telling me that I must go on?

Linda Aikins 11 years, 10 months ago

I didn't think Ms_C was saying that it shouldn't be allowed. I believe she said she believes it was wrong, but she did add some arguments to that.

I don't think she was "getting off" with it.

atat_at_at_at 11 years, 10 months ago

jh71 is totally HAWT when he is being all contrary and judgemental and stuff.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 10 months ago

RI, I can see you in a nice pair of Berks, eating granola, and reeking of patchouli. Some dreadlocks sure would look stunning on you, too. Heck, just let the facial hair go the way of ZZ Top and you'll be complete!

Ragingbear 11 years, 10 months ago

The reason such an issue has not come up until fairly recently in human events is that the people that assisted suicide would affect would have all died long ago if we were 100 years earlier.

It now almost amounts to torture. To keep somebody in pain and misery as long as they possibly can, and to do everything they possibly can to prevent the sweet embrace of death...

Katie Van Blaricum 11 years, 10 months ago

It's really sad how this country would rather see someone starve to death than die quickly and painlessly with drugs. I agree Mrs. Schiavo wasn't worth keeping alive, but letting her starve to death??? Can anyone think of a more inhumane way to die? How messed up is that!

sunflower_sue 11 years, 10 months ago

jayhawks71, ouch! I think you need to re-read Ms-C's post. I think you have her confused w/ Marion or something.

MWIV 11 years, 10 months ago

My gosh, it's true. The public schools really have dumbed down America. When was the last time anyone saw a course in "logic" taught? Where do you people come up with such ill conceived logic? Thank God you are not in charge of my life! Pain CAN be controlled. Quality of life is something else, but who are we to judge?

jayhawks71 11 years, 10 months ago

In light of subsequent comments I have re-read my post and ms canada's. You are indeed right. I misread her post and I apologize to her. That said, for those of you that want to control other people's lives, insert your name in place of the incorrectly mentioned ms canada.

badger 11 years, 10 months ago


Pain can be controlled, to a point.

But there is a point many terminally ill patients reach, where the intensity of the pain and their resistance to the drug requires that to overcome their pain, they'll have to have an amount of morphine over the legal limit of what can safely be administered to a human, and so they live in agony. Taking enough medication to stop the pain might kill them, so instead we choose to let them suffer, because somehow it's more 'right' that way.

I have mentioned elsewhere that I'm losing a family member to Muscular Dystrophy. Every year, she's a little weaker and a little less in control of her body, but her mind is still razor-sharp. She's maintained a good attitude so far, but I know and her husband knows that someday there will be a day when she's confined to a bed in terrible pain, imprisoned by her own body and completely unable to control any of her movements. All indicators are that her mind will still be razor-sharp and she'll be fully aware of it all, even though she'll have a hard time communicating it. She will also be physically unable to take her own life. She has said that assisted suicide would be a mercy at that point.

Perhaps the intense pain, hopelessness, and paralysis are simply some people's crosses to bear, and if they were good enough people they could face that suffering without faltering. But I can't fault someone who says, "I can't do this," and asks someone else to get them a drug, hold a syringe, or administer an injection they're not strong enough to do themselves.

I do agree with Blair Smith on one thing. It shouldn't happen. We shouldn't have terminally ill people in physical and emotional agony, facing hell on earth and wishing they could die. But we do.

It's funny how most of the people who adamantly oppose assisted suicide have never been caregivers or remarkably close to the terminally ill, and most people who have been caregivers or close to the terminally ill favor the right of assisted suicide.

Among those with direct experience, the people I see who aren't advocates tend to fall in line with ms_c's "I think it's morally wrong, but I'm not sure I want to make that choice for others." There are a few out there who have faced a loved one's hell and come out still adamantly opposed to assisted suicide, but not many at all.

jayhawkalum 11 years, 10 months ago

Ironic, no, that the rights to life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness can be contradictory? Sometime living prevents one from persuing happiness but we haven't the liberty to give up our own supposedly God given right.

ms_canada 11 years, 10 months ago

To jayhawks71 - I could not believe what I was reading. I accept your apology. I had a hard time to write my previous comment. I guess what I was really saying was that I don't know what to believe. In my 6 years of nursing the hardest part was watching people die, some in very little pain and some with a great amount of agony. That was physical pain. But what about mental agony. There are many people who can no longer live with the despair and mental pain of their lives. I would think that they would not need assistance to end it all. As badger mentioned someone with Muscular Dystrophy, there was a case that came to national attention here in Canada of a lady with M. D. who had help in ending it all and of all people her assistant was one of our Members of Parliament. The doctor was kept annonymous. Her agony was both mental and physical and she chose to go. Her choice but she required help and got it. jayhawk71 - about your statement concerning others having control over the body of another, think about this: we live our whole lives under the control of others in some way. We have to go to school when we reach a certain age, we can only drive at certain speeds and not under the influence of alcohol, we can't shoot another person. You get my meaning. I am not meaning to be nasty by saying these things. I just mean that we are just not free to do whatever we choose. There are limits to our actions. And it is for the better good of all humans and animals, come to think of it. long post, sorry.

Ceallach 11 years, 10 months ago

Posted by aquakej (anonymous) on August 16, 2006 at 4:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's really sad how this country would rather see someone starve to death than die quickly and painlessly with drugs. I agree Mrs. Schiavo wasn't worth keeping alive, but letting her starve to death??? Can anyone think of a more inhumane way to die? How messed up is that!

I can't believe you actually said Mrs. Schiavo wasn't worth keeping alive!! That is truly frightening!! You knew Mrs. Schiavo, did you? Knew her well enough to conclude that she wasn't worth keeping alive? That's the kind of decisions that make me afraid of legalizing assisted suicides.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 10 months ago

I remember the days my brother could run and play. I remember when he could walk with braces on his legs. I remember when he could walk with crutches. I remember when he was able to get around by crawling. I remember when he could scoot around on his rump. I remember when he could get himself back up if he fell over. I remember when he could sit in a wheelchair without being strapped in. I remember when he was social and outgoing. I remember when he could hear well. I remember when he could talk well. His mind still works just fine. Non-ending decline with a normal life expectancy. If this life has taught me anything, it is that there truly are things worse than death.

I could not make the decision for someone, but I would respect the decision if they made it. (As truly heartbroken as I would be...but then again, I already am.)

Badger, I understand where you're coming from.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 10 months ago

Marion, so we're to understand that this terminally ill person is capable of going to buy a bottle of wine, let alone pouring themselves a glass? Clearly, you haven't thought your plan through yet. Why don't you think some more on that and get back to us. On second thought, nevermind!

Linda Endicott 11 years, 10 months ago

Sue, most people who are diagnosed and told they have a terminal illness aren't in the stages yet where they can't function on their own. Many a person who was active and thought everything was okay was told they had a terminal illness.

That is the time to plan, before they get to the point they can't do it themselves.

But some, as Multi said, are in that condition because of sudden accidents, and they have no choice in the matter.

Linda Aikins 11 years, 10 months ago

Very sweet post, MD. I hope we give you some sort of comic relief here. But always feel free to email me if you just need a "shoulder." I have no experience with your situation, but I am a good listener.

Good job with the apology, Jayhawk.

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