In the last issue, I wrote in this space that we’d like to hear your views on medical assistance in dying, and it’s clearly a subject about which Good Times readers have strong opinions. We got more letters in response to that request than we’ve received on almost any other subject. The letters you’ll find elsewhere on this site are just a small sampling of the many that came in. All but one supports making an assisted death available to those who would choose it, as did most of your letters.

The majority view seems motivated by concern for the suffering of others, the writer’s desire to be able to control the circumstances of his or her own death, or both. Few seemed to spare a thought for the doctors and nurses who could find themselves in an unbearable bind, requested, begged, or even forced by law to do something they never thought they would have to do and perhaps simply can not do. Ponder for a moment what that something is. For the moment, I have another concern.

Raising the matter in the last issue, I spoke of “medical assistance in dying,” enclosing the phrase in quotation marks not because I was quoting anyone, but to indicate that this is the phrase I was seeing used to describe the subject. I added “or assisted suicide” so we’d all be clear about the subject at hand. I have also seen “doctor assisted death.” One reader called it “medical aid in dying,” quickly shortening that to “MAID,” and—along with other readers—took me to task for using the word “suicide” at all, distinguishing between a quiet death surrounded by loved ones and the sort of death the word usually calls to mind. Now if you want to argue that there’s a difference between wanting to die because you see no point in living and wanting to die because you’re going to anyway and the time left to you is something to be dreaded, I don’t deny that. And I quite understand people feeling that the word “suicide” has a negative connotation that suggests moral prejudgement. I object, however, to the contemporary notion that calling a spade a metallic digging implement changes anything—a spade is a spade. A rose is, as Gertrude Stein observed, a rose. And as Juliet pointed out, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”; you can change its name, but you will not by doing so change its being. The word “suicide” merely denotes the act of killing oneself, whether one has the aid of a pistol, a freight train, or a doctor. Hiring a hitman to kill you is still committing suicide. And note the word “kill”—what is it again that we’re asking doctors and nurses to do? You can call it “helping a patient transition to the other side,” but it doesn’t change the rose’s smell.

When a reality makes us uncomfortable, we change the words we use; it helps mask the reality. Thus does “assisted suicide,” which at least reminds us of the seriousness of what we’re discussing, become “MAID.” Nothing unpleasant about MAID, is there? (Wait—what does that stand for again?) It’s dangerous. Before long, what we’re asking doctors to do will be called an assisted transition, or AT. It has a nice ring,’d never really know “AT” had anything to do with death.

Murray Lewis, Editor-in-Chief

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