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Euthanasia Controversy

March 20, 1988

The current controversy surrounding the "It's Over Debbie" article in the Jan. 8 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. is both interesting and annoying ("AMA Journal Death Essay Triggers Flood of Controversy" by Allan Parachini, Feb. 19).

It is interesting in that the article appeared in a section of the Journal traditionally devoted to poetry, fiction and essays written by members of the medical community. This and the facts mentioned in your article make its verity doubtful.

What is annoying is the fact that non-medical professionals from all walks of life, who have spent little more than a few seconds at dying patients' bedsides, stand in moral outrage. Find a physician with any experience who denies that the thought has occurred to him of offering a patient a painless death when the alternative was certain agony and I'll show you a sadist or a liar.

I offer to New York Mayor Ed Koch and Cook County (Ill.) Prosecutor Richard Daley the opportunity to spend a few days in an intensive care or oncology unit: I would be most surprised if at the end of their visit the thought of physician-assisted suicide would seem somewhat less evil.

Euthanasia conjures up the most feared of dreams in the most inexperienced or the most paranoid. It is, in the most objective of analyses, merely a way to offer some dignity to those whose death is certain and imminent. Dedication to the preservation of human life is not synonymous with dedication to the preservation of vital signs: to snuff out the former takes an act of murder; to snuff out the latter takes merely a turning off of the monitor.

THOMAS A. PALUCH MD

New York, N.Y.

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