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Dr. Zorba Paster: Time for states to allow death with dignity

August 31, 2018

David Stluka Portrait of Dr. Zorba Paster on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 in Oregon, Wis. (Photo by David Stluka)

Dear Doc: I’m a diabetic. I’ve heard that fasting can drop my weight and improve my blood sugar. True or false? — D.T. from Jacksonville

Dear D.T.: I’ve heard your question lots over the past year, mostly from diabetics. There is a whole movement out there to fast some days, eat what you want other days. Proponents say it’s good for the waistline and good for the pancreas.

Bottom line? A recent study out of the Journal of the American Medical Association showed such an approach is nothing special.

Researchers took more than 100 diabetics — all were following a reasonable diabetic diet, they weren’t trying to lose weight, they were just trying to make their diabetes as good as it could be. Half the patients restricted their intake to a mere 500 calories on two nonconsecutive days, with their regular diet the other days a week. The other group restricted their calories to a mere 1,200 to 1,500 every single day.

These folks were motivated. They stayed on the program for a full year, having their blood drawn, filling out questionnaires, the usual thing people do on such studies.

At the end of one year, the study showed no difference between people in these two groups. Nada, nothing — either way worked.

So that means it’s up to you. Fast twice a week or limit your food intake every day, either way works. It’s a style issue.

Dear Doc: I’m from Spokane, Washington. I met a local doctor who spoke about a protocol for using nitrogen gas as an option for death with dignity. He did a controlled test using himself as a subject with medical backup. The doctor is alive with no lasting effects.

He said nitrogen gas was used by a friend of his, a church member with terminal cancer, to end his life. How widespread is this? Can you explore this potential solution? — A.B.

Dear A.B.: I’ve had more emails and letters, 95 percent positive, about my death with dignity columns than any other columns I’ve written, even my stand for immunizations and against the anti-immunizers, another hot topic.

I’ve done some research. Nitrogen gas and other inert gases, such as argon, are used to kill animals such as chickens before they’re led to slaughter. About 20 years ago, an article in the National Review said this method, asphyxiation, was a safe way to kill death-row prisoners. And from what I can tell, the state of Oklahoma is considering this as an alternative to drugs they can’t get for execution.

I’ve thought long and hard on this. First off, would you like to have a bag over your head hooked up to a gas tank while you begin to realize you can’t breathe? This does not sound like a good way to go to me. It sounds wretched.

And what if it doesn’t work? What if it just makes your brain a lot worse, doesn’t kill you, leaving you in a vegetative state? That’s an awful way to spend the end your life.

Next, who would administer it to you? And what would be the consequences for them? Would they go to jail because they helped you end your life? Furthermore, what if they said you wanted to end your life but, in fact, you didn’t and they, in reality, decided to kill you?

I don’t like this idea at all. This is the slippery slope I’ve been talking about.

My spin: If you can buy a gun, buy a noose, jump off a bridge or crash into a brick wall when you have a verifiable terminal disease, you should be able to buy some pills, shut your eyes and go to sleep forever.

California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have led the way — they all have death with dignity acts. The time has come for other states to follow their lead. That will only happen if there is grassroots support for this. Stay well.

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