Handbook for Mortals : Hastening Death : Won’t suicide guarantee a comfortable death?

Some of us want everything possible done to keep us alive. Others want to die when nature decides it is time, and we do not seek or want aggressive or curative care. No matter how you envision your death, no matter what you do to prolong your life, you should be able to rely upon your health care team to give you the pain relief and emotional support you need to die comfortably. Each of us will define an "acceptable dying" in our own way, but you should each feel that you will have the basics: that you will not have severe physical symptoms, that your family will have help in providing care, and that you will have the support needed to be at peace with yourself. The information provided here will help you to shape a good death for yourself, without having to undertake suicide or to ask for euthanasia.

Nevertheless, you might not be able to find a health care arrangement that inspires trust, or maybe you just don’t want to take any chances. You should know that suicide attempts — even physician-assisted suicide — can fail. Sometimes the dose of pills is not enough, or you vomit some of the medication, or some other complication arises. Then you risk brain damage without having succeeded at causing death. This prospect may lead you to seek a doctor’s help in giving a lethal injection. However, you are exceedingly unlikely to find a doctor who will comply. Although patients can accumulate pills on their own, the doctor’s involvement in prescribing or giving a lethal injection is illegal, and it carries such severe penalties that few will even talk about it.

Trying to control the hour of your death is an uncertain proposition. Most people find it better to get good, reliable care.

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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