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'Death with dignity' bill is fatally flawed

As a born Marylander and disability advocate, I was disappointed to read the article on the proposed physician-assisted suicide legislation in Maryland ("Dying former official a focus of Maryland assisted suicide bill," Feb. 14). I was particularly troubled by the article's failure to acknowledge concerns from the disability community about assisted suicide.

People who need help with daily life, including people with terminal illness, aging individuals, and people with disabilities, are at high risk of depression and isolation. It is no coincidence that of the people who received "assistance in dying" under a similar Oregon law, 93 percent cited "loss of autonomy" as a motivation. Yet the legislation proposed in Maryland would not even require screening for depression, let alone effective care.

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People with long-term illness are also at high risk of abuse by caregivers, but the bill includes no real protections against abuse. No doctor or nurse must even be present to ensure that the lethal prescription is taken voluntarily.

Although the bill supposedly applies only to people who have less than six months to live, the medical community knows that such prognoses are notoriously inaccurate and patients often outlive such predictions. These concerns are all the more real to me after watching my grandmother pass away last fall. She struggled with suicidal thoughts in her final years as she became less independent and more isolated. With better day services, her depression subsided and she lived many good months past initial prognoses.

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Despite its claims to offer "death with dignity," the proposed legislation would not offer either the palliative care or supports that help people like my grandmother. Instead, it endangers people when they are at their most vulnerable.

Samantha Crane, Washington, D.C.

The writer is a board member of Not Dead Yet, a nationwide grass roots organization opposing physician-assisted suicide.

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