Richard Wesley: Ill Doctor Sheds Light On Who Chooses Physician-Assisted Suicide

When Dr. Richard Wesley voted to approve Washington State’s Death With Dignity Act in 2009, he had no idea that just one month later he would be diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — or Lou Gehrig’s Disease — just one month later.

Despite the prospect of living, and dying, with an incurable disease that eats muscles, yet leaves the mind intact, Dr. Wesley is at peace knowing there is a prescription of barbiturates waiting at the pharmacy should he choose to end his life on his own terms, reports The Bend Bulletin.

Wesley, 67, lives at home with his wife in Seattle, a view of Mount Rainier in the distance. He states of the knowledge that he can die peacefully that:

“It’s like the definition of pornography. I’ll know it’s time to go when I see it.”

Oregon became the first state to adopt a Death With Dignity Act in 1997 and Washington became the second in 2009. Critics of the laws assumed that poor people would be the most likely to take the drugs under pressure from their families, who could not afford end-of-life care.

The New York Times notes that, instead of poor people being the largest demographic in physician-assisted suicide, the people who ask for the drugs most often tend to be just like Dr. Wesley.

They are people who, like in life, wish to end their lives on their schedule, instead of a disease’s. Those who have taken advantage of the law are often well-off and highly educated. They make the choice for a sense of control instead of because of pain.

Physician Assisted Suicide Truths

Some officials, like Barbara Glidewell, an assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University, feared that people would be flocking to the Pacific Northwest in search of the drugs. Glidwell stated, “There was a lot of fear that the elderly would be lined up in their R.V.’s at the Oregon border.” But that has not happened.

While 596 Oregonians have chosen assisted suicide since 1997, and 157 Washingtonians have chosen to take their prescription since 2009, about one-third of patients who ask for the prescription die without taking the pills.

What are your thoughts on physician-assisted suicide?

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