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Better care, not euthanasia, should be the goal of end-of-life treatment

I was dismayed to read Catherine Weber's letter calling for right-to-die legislation ("Right-to-die legislation needed in Maryland," July 1).

I am opposed to physician-assisted suicide not only in Maryland but throughout America. Hospice and palliative care can reduce the demand for those steps. Cicely Saunders, who founded the esteemed St. Christopher's Hospice in London, a treatment facility for dying patients, reported almost no requests for euthanasia when pain was significantly reduced and feelings of loneliness were addressed.

In the Netherlands, euthanasia was carried out before a law was passed legalizing it. But with the law, Dutch physicians committed euthanasia without patients' consent or approval by a second physician, even though they were required to get it. No wonder there are elders in Dutch nursing facilities who fear what their doctors might do without their consent.

Finally, our health care system, which is increasingly focused on cost-effectiveness, may be pushing patients down a slippery slope by identifying them as not having lives worth living. Indeed, with the corporatization of health care, we are witnessing many mercantile practices that threaten the professional ethics embodied in the Hippocratic Oath that have served us well 2,500 years.

Let's put to use the new understanding of hospice and palliative or comfort care that in recent years has created a meaningful paradigm shift for better end-of-life care.

William Reichel, Washington

The writer is affiliated with the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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