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Medically assisted suicide would allow people to die peacefully

State Sen. Will Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat, discusses Tuesday a bill that would legalize medically assisted suicide for terminally ill people in Maryland.
State Sen. Will Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat, discusses Tuesday a bill that would legalize medically assisted suicide for terminally ill people in Maryland. (Pamela Wood / The Baltimore Sun)

Sen. Bob Cassily’s letter contains several egregiously false assumptions, inaccuracies and absurd hypothetical scenarios designed to instill fear and doubt because it lacks any facts (“Sen. Cassilly: Medically assisted suicide sends message to elderly that they are a burden,” Mar. 7).

The Maryland End of Life Option Act would authorize the option of medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults to peacefully end unbearable suffering. Experience demonstrates that authorizing medical aid in dying actually prevents suicides among the terminally ill because when people are empowered at the end of life, and offered a gentle option to end their suffering, they aren’t forced to take their lives by violent means. Generally, doctors overestimate how much time a terminally ill person is likely to live because they do not want to dampen their patients’ hope. Oregon data shows over 90 percent of the patients who qualify to receive an aid-in-dying prescription already are enrolled in hospice, and even if they outlive their six-month prognosis, they hold onto the medication and do not take it, unless their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable.

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A New England Journal of Medicine report concluded medical aid in dying “...is not likely to save substantial amounts of money in absolute or relative terms, either for particular institutions or for the nation as a whole.” If a terminally ill person utilizes medical aid in dying, palliative sedation or dies during an operation, the death certificate rightly says the cause is the underlying terminal disease because it helps policymakers set public health goals and disease research funding priorities.

Finally, contrary to the op-ed author’s claims, the End of Life Option Act cannot change federal laws governing access to patient records.

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Dr. John C. Gordon, Ruxton

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