In Response to: Lesley’s Story

As the author of a recent book analyzing law and policy related to suicide (Rational Suicide, Irrational Laws: Examining Current Approaches to Suicide in Policy and Law; Oxford University Press), I read Lesley McAllister’s story knowing that I could not possibly understand the choices she faces. From both a personal and policy perspective, I agree that these are and should be her choices.

On the other hand, I also agree with Professor Robert George that this is a difficult policy question that implicates many aspects of our society. Experience in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Montana tells us very little about how the End of Life Option Act will work in a state with a multicultural, multilingual population of 38 million people and huge health organizations like Kaiser Permanente. But after interviewing and surveying almost 400 people who made serious and severe suicide attempts, and doing exhaustive clinical and case law research, it is clear to me that our present social policies and laws regarding suicide — assisted or not — are irrational and counterproductive. In one case in Oregon, a man with terminal cancer was prescribed lethal medication by one physician and involuntarily committed for being suicidal by another.

One thing that is clear about this immensely difficult and complex subject is that we need to talk more about it, and listen more. Mark Bernstein and Lesley McAllister have made valuable contributions to a needed national discourse by this article.

Susan Stefan ’80
Rutland, Mass.