Death with dignity

In light of the Montana Supreme Court decision in December 2009 that clearly ruled that there is nothing in the state’s Constitution or laws that prohibit physician assistance to terminally ill patients, it seems possible that the legislature in 2013 might consider establishing comprehensive direction and guidelines for physicians as they counsel terminally ill patients and determine whether to provide assistance to them in making end-of-life decisions. As with all issues of such importance, there are strongly held opinions that vary across the entire range of possible directions for our state to move.

I am concerned to see exaggerated claims of abuse and predation on people approaching the ends of their lives. I have seen accusations of coercion and, yet again, claims based on ridiculous paranoia of “death panels” deciding life-and-death issues. What I have not seen are credible details of even one such case of criminality. The few accusations that claim to refer to specific cases or people have all turned out to be wildly exaggerated or just fabricated. Oregon implemented their “Death with Dignity” law in 1997, Washington state more recently. In those 14 years, in a state with about four times the population of Montana, only 596 Oregonians have exercised their right to determine the nature of their own final days. Just a couple of minutes looking at the nature of their experiences, and the scrutiny that takes place, should reassure anyone that there is no abuse there.

If this is such a heartfelt concern for some, I think their time and effort might be better spent making sure that the guidelines that might be established by the legislature contain sufficient safeguards for oversight. And, while they’re at it, perhaps they could focus their attention on the elder abuse that does take place in poorly monitored assisted living facilities and totally unmonitored private homes. Perhaps they could have a report prepared that shows the status of funding and support for elder care and proper regulation of it. If Montana can monitor and regulate manicurists to protect their customers (yes, there is a Montana Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists), it seems to me that we might be able to provide similar oversight and protection for our elders in their final days.

Fred Brewer


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