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Ask Dr. Gott 10/31

End-of-life issues need a forum now more than ever

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Posted: October 30, 2007 3:22 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2007 5:01 a.m.
    DEAR DR. GOTT: As one of the few doctors who is willing to accept that it's OK to talk about end-of-life issues, I would encourage you to consider the following.
    When will we as a country give people the option of assisted suicide without being at death's door? I am now 64 years old and in good health and have a good life. However, I did watch my mother-in-law exist in a nursing home in a situation she never would have wanted. I watched the toll it took on her daughter, who loved her very much and went daily to check on her. In visiting her in that nursing home, I saw countless people just sitting tied to wheelchairs with no hope of ever getting better. While there are very nice retirement homes being constructed, many will be too expensive for many senior citizens, whose social security may well decrease because of the need to cover an increasing number of people. Will future generations be willing to spend their money on care for senior citizens, or will those who can't care for themselves just be "warehoused" as cheaply as possible?
    It isn't right for everybody, but for those for whom it is right, why can't the law be changed so that I can give (in my case, my daughter; for others, a trusted person) the authority to end my life. Many years ago, I had a boss who said, "There is a thing called quality of life." I've talked with my daughter about it, and she understands how I feel. When I reach the point that I have no quality of life, I would like for her to be able to request my life be ended rather than have to spend her money at an overpriced nursing home. I think the God that I believe in will understand. How can we get the dialogue started?
    DEAR READER: Because you express your position in such an articulate manner, I am publishing your letter in its entirety. People — especially family caregivers — must address end-of-life issues when their patients are still able to appreciate quality of life, as opposed to merely quantity of life.
    Since I addressed this issue — and then signed off on it a year or two ago — I have received dozens of letters from both sides of the aisle. So, here I am again, folks, ready to address these problems, which most of us will have to face sooner or later. This is your chance to vent, whatever your beliefs.
    This is a topic that we need to address because it has religious, legal, political and medical components.
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