Letter to the Editor:

Assisted suicide has been debated in our country for decades. 

In his Letter to the Editor Aug. 28, Fritz Jenkins advocated that Wisconsin should pass a medical-aid-in-dying bill. Several other states have enacted such legislation and he perceives that this would be a sign of progress if our state were to do the same. 

I disagree.

About 20 years ago, Illinois was considering a similar move. At the time, I was involved in a medical practice of pain management and had spent a fair amount of time in the field of bioethics. I also served on the ethics committee of the hospital where I practiced. An Illinois Senate committee convened in Chicago, Ill., for a hearing on the assisted suicide. I was asked to testify along with representatives from the American Medical Association and other organizations.

Collectively, our message was that patients are not likely to seek a premature end to their lives if two things are addressed: pain and depression. This is a fact that most respondents are unaware of when they are surveyed about their views on assisted suicide.

Fifty years ago, we did not nearly have the tools to treat pain and depression as we do today, and yet, there was no lobbying for assisted suicide. We now have stronger, long-acting narcotics and better ways of delivering them to a patient. There are implantable stimulators that can interrupt pain impulses and also ablation techniques by which we can destroy pain fibers. Much progress has been made in our quest to ease the dying process.

Hospice has been enormously helpful to countless patients and families. Many in the various health-care professions have come to realize that we serve patients best when we attend to physical, emotional and spiritual needs. 

I have seen countless patients suffering through the dying process as well as family and friends enduring these trials. I am thankful that we have better ways of helping people today than when I first entered medicine.

There are two extremes to avoid in caring for dying patients. One is to artificially try to keep someone alive who has no reasonable chance to survive. That amounts to prolonging the dying process, not extending life. The other extreme is euthanasia in its various forms.

It is wise to prepare for one’s death, specifically the need to have advanced directives completed. Living wills and durable powers of attorney allow physicians to carry out a person’s wishes when he or she is near death. Also it is wise to have regular discussions with family members to emphasize what is important.

My mother battled colon cancer the last year of her life. She was mentally clear, but because of her age and frail condition, she and the family decided against surgery. Hospice personnel took excellent care of her, using appropriate amounts of morphine and other drugs. 

We celebrated her 98th birthday with her. She ate some cake. Mom went home to be with the Lord two days later.

Warren Anderson