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Former Mayor: Assisted Suicide Is Not Necessarily the Answer

Dear Bintel Brief:

Until very recently, I considered myself an average American woman. I am foreign-born, but I’ve been here for many years — and I love the country that adopted me. I voted diligently in every election. I was also very active and productive. I worked as a volunteer. I was athletic.

Suddenly, without provocation, I became an old lady. I fell many times, and was unable to get up. More than anything, I mourn the loss of my ability to walk and to use my arms well. I live in a nursing home, and I sincerely do want to die. And I notice that many of my friends of more or less the same age, law-abiding citizens, wish we could commit suicide after a certain age — without in any way implicating our children or other people we love.

I would consider it a kindness and a privilege if the country allowed me to commit painless suicide. I think there should be a board of qualified physicians and laymen, including the immediate family, to attest to my sanity and the certainty of my wishes, and to the fact that I was not coerced. A period of a month should elapse between my application and the decision, so that my children wouldn’t be implicated in any way. Because it so happens I have very good daughters, who can’t help me in any way with this — my final request.

Shouldn’t there be a way for people like me to determine how they want to die?


Ed Koch Replies

Dear Patriotic and Ailing:

I am not a doctor. Nevertheless, I will take a stab at your condition.

You are in a state of depression and require medical assistance. Depression, which can overwhelm you as much as a physical disease, can be treated either with prescription drugs, psychiatry, or both. I believe your treatment would be paid for by Medicare or any private insurance policy.

I am 84 years old and continue to lead a full and productive life. Being productive is key to enjoying the balance of your life as well. If you are still physically able to get around in a wheelchair, then do what you did before entering the nursing home and volunteer your time to a worthy cause. Activity does not necessarily require the use of your legs or arms. Use your voice instead. I would suggest that you assist other needy individuals in your own residence. Helping others and lifting their spirits will help improve yours as well.

With respect to physician-assisted suicide, the states of Washington and Oregon allow terminally ill people who are in extreme pain and are expected to die within six months to take their own lives. Oregon requires you to prove that you are a resident of that state. I’m not familiar with Washington’s requirements.

I went through a state of depression in 1989, which lasted for about a year, when I was mayor of the City of New York. There were times when I could not get out of bed because of my depressed state and cried without reason. Since that time I have had a wonderful life using my time productively and only engaging in activities I enjoy doing. I suggest that you try to do the same. All good luck.

From 1978 to 1989, Edward I. Koch served as the mayor of New York. Koch, the second Jewish mayor in the city’s history, is an author of more than a dozen books, including “The Koch Papers: My Fight Against Anti-Semitism” (Palgrave, 2008), written with Rafael Medoff. A longtime advocate of Catholic-Jewish dialogue and relations, Koch also co-wrote “His Eminence and Hizzoner” (William Morrow, 1989) with the late John Cardinal O’Connor. The former mayor is a partner at the Manhattan law firm Bryan Cave.

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