As a hospice nurse, I know that the solution to providing a dignified death is not to assist an individual in ending their life – it is to provide appropriate end-of-life care.

Consistent concerns reported by individuals seeking physician assistance in suicide are loss of autonomy, decreasing ability to participate in meaningful activities, and loss of dignity. These are valid concerns that can seem overwhelming if faced alone. Yet there is no need to go through this process alone. Hospice provides a team of professionals specifically trained not only in symptom management, but also in meeting the psychosocial needs of individuals and families, both before and after a person’s passing.

If an individual is young and healthy and desires to end their life, we would not stand idle. If an individual has a life-limiting illness, are we to now say that their desire to die an even more untimely death is an act to be celebrated?

I once cared for an individual on hospice who began to refuse all her medications. It appeared to our team that she suffered from the above issues. Thus, we developed a plan to affirm her autonomy, and learned what gave her hope, meaning and belonging, and affirmed her dignity. This did involve a lot of time. The most important element was the affirming presence of others.

She slowly moved from wanting to die to peacefully allowing death to come in its own time. Wanting to die is a pathological condition, and it warrants intervention. Being at peace with one’s impending death is a goal of hospice care.

Maine should not say, “It’s OK to end your life if you suffer,” instead of working to relieve suffering. Let us be a state that upholds death with dignity by promoting good palliative and hospice care, not self-demise.

Kristina Terry