The Nov. 15 op-ed by former Gov. Barbara Roberts about the need to reexamine the state’s Death with Dignity law (“It’s time for Oregon to lead once again on Death with Dignity”) describes why a review is needed but omits one of the major issues that should be addressed: Alzheimer’s disease. Many people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (a terminal illness) wish to have a peaceful, dignified death, at home with family members, but the nature of the illness and the provisions of the Death With Dignity law make it difficult.
Terminally ill people who have less than six months to live can request a prescription to bring about a peaceful death. In most cases, even highly trained physicians cannot determine if an Alzheimer’s patient will die within six months. And people about to die from Alzheimer’s disease are not eligible to use the law because they are not mentally competent. This leaves people suffering from this disease little choice. They can die a slow, undignified death while their family watches their painful deterioration, or they can seek ways to end their life while they are still competent and rational. Because they cannot use the law, they must find other ways to end their suffering. They can stop eating and drinking, but this is difficult to do without dedicated helpers. It also prolongs the dying process.
A re-examination of the law should consider changes that would allow Alzheimer’s patients a choice of using drugs to end their suffering.
Ken Myers, Portland