DEAR ABBY: I have been an intensive care nurse for more than 20 years, and I wholeheartedly agree with the poem you printed, "Let Me Go." Too often patients are kept alive under impossible circumstances.
I must take exception, however, to the phrase that pleads for the "doctor" to let go. That is not the case today. Rather, it is the FAMILIES who cannot let go and insist that the doctors continue heroic measures. They put the doctors in an impossible position. In our litigious society, doctors press on for fear of being punished in court.
Doctors should be honest with family members about the course of the patient's disease so that informed decisions can be made regarding the patient's care and possible withdrawal of treatment. There comes a point when treatment should stop. Pressing on may serve only the needs of those making the request, and not the needs of the patient.
Letting go can be an unselfish act of love for the patient. -- MICHELLE STUART, LAKE FOREST PARK, WASH.
DEAR MICHELLE: It is important that there be honest and ongoing communication between doctors, patients and families. The best doctors answer questions honestly and do not try to "protect" the patient and family by giving them "false hope." They know when to say that the prognosis is not good, and there are no treatment options left.
With empathy and sensitivity, doctors, nurses and social workers can help the patient and family make the decision to "let go," and when the time comes, to concentrate on pain relief and quality of life.
DEAR ABBY: The sentiment in "Let Me Go," the poem that you recently published, is one that we hear a lot at The Hemlock Society. Fortunately, we can offer solutions to suffering people and their families that can empower them.
Knowing there is a choice about whether to go on, or to die with peace and dignity at the time they chose, often extends life and relieves anxiety. There is no reason why the end of life should be the one time that people dread.
The late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan put it this way: "Dying is personal ... and it is profound. For many, the thought of an ignoble end, steeped in decay, is abhorrent. A quiet, proud death, bodily integrity intact, is a matter of extreme consequence."
We agree, and The Hemlock Society can help. -- FAYE GIRSH, PRESIDENT
DEAR FAYE: I am pleased to publish The Hemlock Society's mission: "To maximize the options for a good death, including legalizing physician aid in dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults who request it, under careful safeguards."
Readers who would like further information can write The Hemlock Society, P.O. Box 101810, Denver, CO 80250-1810. The Web site is: www.hemlock.org; and e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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