Letters to the Editor: Assisted suicide for Alzheimer’s? Dementia doesn’t mean an agonizing death


To the editor: Ralph E. Shaffer’s argument that physician-assisted suicide should be available to people suffering from dementia is based on the premise that they and their loved ones face a certain future of “prolonged pain and misery.” I question that premise.

My mother had advanced dementia the last eight years of her life. Thanks to an outstanding day program, she discovered the pleasure of painting even as she lost the ability to speak. No longer an active, independent retiree, she found in the day program a new sense of purpose and a new way of belonging.

In the last weeks of her life, my mother was kept comfortable on home hospice. She gave her children the gift of allowing them to care for her in ways that she had cared for them. She came full circle as a mother.


Far from experiencing the “permanent move to warehoused care” that Shaffer fears for his friend, my mother was the beneficiary of enlightened dementia care. Instead of thinking about how to help people with dementia end their lives, let’s continue the work of helping them live their lives more fully.

Mary Bomba, Los Angeles


To the editor: This tragic story reinforces the unfortunate reality that too few people recognize that options exist to reduce years of needless suffering from dementia.

Every competent adult has the right to document in advance their desire to refuse medical treatments if they get dementia in the future by using Compassion & Choices’ free online tools. By pre-claiming their voice, anyone can refuse life-extending medical treatments and reduce years of unnecessary suffering.

Medical aid-in-dying laws, including California’s End of Life Option Act, are carefully crafted to protect vulnerable populations by requiring a person to be terminally ill, mentally capable and able to self-ingest the medication. Given the realities of our health system, we must maintain these safeguards.

Kim Callinan, Washington


The writer is president and chief executive of Compassion & Choices.