By Carol Bogart

As Dr. “Death” Jack Kervorkian prepares to resume life as a non-incarcerated citizen, only Oregon has enacted legislation that allows terminally ill people to legally end their own lives.

Some years back, when I was city editor at a newspaper in California, the Terry Shiavo case cast the issue into stark relief.

Schiavo, you may recall, was the Florida woman who lingered in what her doctors called a “persistent vegetative state” (more commonly thought of as a coma) for 13 years. Her husband said, “Let her die.” Her parents argued, unsuccessfully, to let her live. After a prolonged court battle, her feeding tube was removed.

The entire issue might have been decided right when Schiavo’s heart attack catastrophically deprived her brain of oxygen had she had a living will that made clear her wishes. In coming years, her parents insisted she was responsive and would follow them with her eyes. Her husband, who had acquired a common law wife with whom he had two children, was equally insistent that Terri would rather be allowed to die. She would not, he said, want to continue life, wholly dependent upon others for her every need.

Her mother, her sister and others were equally insistent the once-vibrant young woman would, instead, have fought to live – hoping for a miracle. Missing in the equation were irrefutable instructions from Terri.

In Oregon, when mentally sound people in agonizing pain ask their doctor for life-ending drugs, they get them. They have to ask twice verbally, once in writing, and then have to administer the drugs themselves.

Dr. Kervorkian used to hook up such people to a machine he devised that allowed the patient to administer the lethal cocktail. Now he says he won’t do that anymore, but will lobby to have laws changed in the majority of states that don’t allow assisted suicide.

My feelings are mixed.

For one, in a certain sense, assisted suicide is already legal. When a terminally ill person who, say, has cancer decides, “Enough,” and hospice is called in, all cancer drugs are discarded, and “palliative” care (medical intervention to provide comfort only) begins. Morphine, for example, is administered by family members to ease the loved one’s pain. However, it can also speed up their passing.

Morphine interferes with respiration, my mother’s doctor told me. Mom was on a ventilator, dying of pneumonia, when I’d asked if she could have a little more to ease the discomfort of the intubation.

Terri Shiavo was in no condition to give herself lethal drugs, even had they been legal. In Oregon, only a small percentage of people have availed themselves of doctor-assisted suicide since the law was enacted in 1997. To date, fewer than 300 people have taken advantage of the process to end their lives. Last year, 46 did. Of those, many were in their 70s and had cancer.

The will to live is strong. If faced with chronic, relentless, unremitting pain, I’m not certain what I would want to do. My faith says, “Let God decide.” Still, my living will is clear: No hope of recovery? No heroic measures.

Carol Bogart blogs at Contact her at

To read arguments on both sides of the assisted suicide debate, visit the Death With Dignity National Center: and the National Right to Life Committee:                                         




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