“I’m alive,” she sighed, and I’ll never forget the sound of it. Until now, when I had seen people thought dead “pull through,” it was a sigh of relief, but this breath was shortened by pain too deep for any X-ray to see. “Now I’ve got to die all over again,” she said.

The previous night, she had been shipped from hospital to hospital and finally to our wonder house miles from home. She “wanted everything done,” and so it was done to her, but in the end, nothing was to be done for her but comfort. Our fists might not have been pounding her chest, but with all the drugs coursing through the IV lines, we were chemically coding her. Finally, we were told, “no more.”

Goodbyes were said, the priest reconciled her soul and, with hours to live, she made peace and slept – until she awoke while I clumsily listened to her heart the next morning. “Now I’ve got to die all over again.”

Others wait weeks and months, tormented by the consumption of their body and minds to diseases for which there is yet no cure and no relief but the love of family and friends. For patients like these, every day is a grave robbing, and like my patient, each day they must die all over again.

Doctoring is about mediating the ambiguities of life and death, about helping patients make choices. L.D. 1313 does not place some fixed period of state-appointed quality or quantity of years upon the population. But it does allow patients to consider and control their bodies, and that is a considerable choice. A personal reflection of our professional devotions will lead some of us to condemn and others to support its use. How we as physicians consider this ultimate consultation is our choice.

Michael P.H. Stanley, M.D.


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