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A doctor's warning on 'death with dignity'

To the editor: Columnist Steve Lopez shows himself to be a strong advocate of the "death with dignity" bill in the state Legislature. ("Death with dignity movement is alive and well in California," Jan. 20)

As a frontline geriatric, palliative and hospice care physician, I can tell you there are potential abuses occurring even today.

Hospitals are intervening in care of elderly intensive-care patients, pushing them to write do-not-resuscitate orders and sending them into hospices. HMOs are curtailing medical work-ups (especially in cancer patients), placing them in hospices and washing their financial hands of those patients. Insurance companies are denying or delaying care as they make patients and physicians cut through red tape.

As we move forward with legislation on the right to die, let us maintain safeguards and scrutiny so it is not a sentence to die.

Gene Uzawa Dorio, MD, Santa Clarita

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To the editor: I commend state Sens. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis) for introducing legislation that will expand the options available to Californians facing the end of their lives.

We can choose how we live our lives. But when presented with impending death, we cannot legally choose how we end our lives. That decision should be made by patients, consulting with their families and doctors.

Currently, ending one's life is either excruciating, illegal or undignified for the patient and anguishing for the family. This important legislation would add another option — take it or not, it's a personal choice — to end one's life on humane terms that they choose. It deserves to be passed.

Ben McCulloch, Huntington Beach

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To the editor: The "do no harm" principle in the Hippocratic Oath, in my view, allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient who requests it in order to avoid a miserable death.

Unnecessary suffering benefits no one; indeed, it harms many.

Stephen Seiferheld May, Los Angeles

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