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Hospices Help Patients End Lives With Dignity

May 19, 2003

Re "Living and Dying Along Class Lines," Commentary, May 13: Pamela Fitzsimmons raises a good point about Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's meddling in the practice of medicine in Oregon. The citizens of that state have the right to approve physician-assisted suicide, which they have done by twice passing the so-called Death With Dignity Act.

However, it is sheer nonsense to claim that if physician- assisted suicide is outlawed, only the wealthy would not die a painful death. Fitzimmons has obviously not heard of hospice, which provides expert pain management and symptom control to an untold number of terminally ill patients yearly, with the cost generally covered by Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance or donations. Hospice care professionals use morphine and other opioids, not to kill the patient but to effectively control pain and shortness of breath, which help to maximize not only comfort but also function; excessive sedation and death are almost never needed to control pain.

Please, let's not reinforce the myth that only physician- assisted suicide or euthanasia can guarantee a peaceful, dignified, painless death. Hospice professionals accomplish it daily for their patients, with the concomitant achievement of the best quality of life for whatever time that individual has left.

Mario Milch MD

Los Angeles

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