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Opinion Letters Death With Dignity

I am writing in response to your article about the unfortunate death of an elderly couple, one member under hospice care, who chose to end their lives with violence. We force such decisions upon people by failing to make a more reasonable choice available to them. It is sad that we, as the makers of our laws, refuse to allow those with terminal or debilitating illnesses to end their lives with dignity. Further, a non-violent death may not leave the family of the deceased with such a high level of sadness and possibly guilt.

While living in Oregon my wife and I were fortunate to be able to vote for the right of choice for an individual to end his or her own life. On October 27, 1997 Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act which allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose. The numbers are small but growing, with 95 people receiving prescriptions for lethal medications and 65 deaths in 2010. (Reporting is required under the Act.) The act has specific requirements including a second request to the physician after a 15 day waiting period. Washington and Montana have recently passed similar legislation.

It is interesting that Oregon was forced by the Federal Government to pass the Act twice, as it was attacked by the Justice Department. The Justice Department continued to fight the law for over five years. In March of 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of respecting the right of mentally competent, terminally ill persons to make end-of-life decisions in consultation with their doctors.

We need to learn that an individual's life is his, and his alone, not ours to control. When a person chooses, rationally and with cause to end that life, we need to make sure a humane route to that end is available, nationwide.

Tom Hill — Franklin, NC

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