June 10th, 2011
06:03 PM ET

Ending one's life a right, doctor says

Dr. Lawrence Egbert is the former medical director for the Final Exit Network, a group that supports “the human right to a death with dignity.” Throughout his tenure with FEN, Egbert reviewed and processed hundreds of applications for assisted suicide. Below, in his own words, Egbert explains his philosophy. He’ll be a guest on "Sanjay Gupta, MD" this weekend (Saturday – Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET) to defend his stance that suicide is a viable option to end pain and suffering.

My name is Lawrence Deems Egbert, but most friends call me Larry. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1948, the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1952, and was then called into the Navy. I served seven years, where I was assigned to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, as a resident specializing in anesthesia.

Not surprisingly I have given a lot of thought to [why I work with the Final Exit Network]. Being arrested and needing a criminal lawyer gets one’s attention! Simple answer: Such work needs doing and I have the technical background to help out.

A person is suffering unbearably. The situation is hopeless and the doctors are doing all sorts of “treatments” which are painful and do not seem to help very much. The situation is hopeless, over and over again, hopeless. There are a lot of such persons and some simply cannot stand it any more and want out. And I have the technical skills which could help them out.

Nowadays (at least until my arrest) people were asking me would I help them out of the hopeless situation. Oh, of course I could simply tell such a person where to buy a rifle. Many Americans opt out by using a rifle. I am told Canadians and Australians in the same fix opt out using a rope. And repeatedly I have heard that doctors find ways to not stay involved.

I like to think I am a person who says yes to such questions, at least sometimes. Odd, because I have said NO loudly and repeatedly to us “helping” the state with its executions, the so-called “lethal injections.” The difference is that the patient with the horrible disease has asked for such care. I have never offered to help a person die. Actually, I have helped with some people’s thinking it thru and deciding NOT to die right now.

I solidly approve of the idea that competent individuals suffering unbearably should have the right to end their lives when their quality of life is personally unacceptable and their future holds only hopelessness and misery. Such a right should include when to die, where, and how.

I do not believe our work has been illegal but it is quite obvious that some people think it immoral as defined by their religious faith. All I can do for such people is refer them to U.S. Constitutional Amendment # 1.

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