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A doctor takes on 'death with dignity'

To the editor: For all of Dr. Ira Byock's impressive efforts to improve hospice and palliative care for terminally ill patients, he remains adamantly opposed to physician-assisted suicide. Byock even contends that the death-with-dignity movement has given the word "dignity" a new, perverse meaning. ("Palliative care expert is a vocal opponent of Death With Dignity law," April 6)

Au contraire. So long as some terminally ill patients continue to suffer excruciating pain impervious to amelioration — a fact Byock doesn't deny — he shouldn't apply the "Orwellian" label to such dignity as is sought through right-to-die laws.

Would Byock prefer that "death with dignity" be more graphically phrased as, say, "death free of incessant, intolerable pain"? Physician, heal thy thinking.

Betty Turner, Sherman Oaks


To the editor: Byock contends that better administration of hospice-like care is a preferred alternative to terminal patients ending their own lives.

My father recently was in hospice care for five days before he died from congestive heart failure and severe dementia. Since his imminent death was never in question, he should have been allowed to end his own life and not suffer by slowly drowning in fluid that was accumulating in his lungs.

The elderly should be given the right to die when an acceptable quality of life is no longer present. The government and doctors should not have the right to force a terminally ill person to continue living when doing so becomes intolerable.

My father's final year, in his words, was a "living hell." No one should have to live through that. How does this meet a physician's requirement to "first do no harm"?

It is a sick society where we treat our pets more humanely than our fellow humans when quality of life is no longer present.

Robert Hoffman, Huntington Beach


To the editor: Byock inadvertently gives another reason to support death with dignity.

He said, "Many, many people are getting really, really good treatments for their disease — and getting really, really bad care during the last months, weeks and days of their lives." He also mentioned that "it is outrageous that medical schools are not teaching good care of people with serious illness and incurable conditions now. If the public knew what I knew about how bad the medical curriculum is, there would be an outcry."

Positive change moves at a glacial pace. I have multiple myeloma and have no trust in the palliative care and hospice systems.

Thank you, Dr. Byock, for fortifying my belief in death with dignity.

Lloyd Wright, Cypress


To the editor: Thank you, Dr. Byock. Thank you, thank you.

Miriam Kafka, Los Angeles

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