Opponents of “death with dignity,” or physician-assisted suicide, feel morally obliged to disagree with the concept. Advocates feel as strongly that this is a moral imperative.

A recent letter in opposition noted that physicians take an oath to “first, do no harm,” and that by legally helping a terminally ill patient reach a quick, easy death they are given “the right to kill.”

Clearly, doing no harm means no deliberate harm. But deliberately closing one’s eyes to the quality of whatever life is left does a deep harm. It brings real, miserable consequence.

Approved medical procedures offer a perversely limited end-of-life choice: be invasively connected to tubes and instruments that prolong existence but not life, or die slowly at home like some decaying vegetable. Either way, the family suffers agonizing grief over a protracted, awful time. Why is this acceptable? Who has the right to demand it?

When our dog is dying a veterinarian provides solace in that tearful moment by administrating a peaceful end. Everyone sees this as an act of compassion, not harm, and the vet is viewed as a helper, not a killer.

In execution by lethal injection, a physician assists in the state-mandated death of a strapped-down convict, yet no one seems to hold the opinion that these physicians are killers.

So providing graceful death to an animal is admirable, and imposing forced death on an unwilling human is routine, but assisting a pained, near-death person through a tranquil, comfortable departure brands the physician a killer. Why is that sensible? Where is the humanity in it? Are we rational, caring beings or are we trapped in words so familiar they seem steel-certain of narrow meaning?

Gene Hart

Topsham