Doctors for Dignity Profile: Dr. Seth Morgan
Doctors for Dignity is honored to work with Dr. Seth Morgan, a retired neurologist living with Multiple Sclerosis. Since leaving his practice, Dr. Morgan (who prefers to be called Seth) has become deeply involved in disability rights advocacy and is a strong supporter of medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults. We were able to chat with Seth about his path, and passion for patients rights.
(The interview below has been edited for clarity.
The opinions expressed by Dr. Morgan during our interview are his alone and do not necessarily represent the positions of the various community groups he volunteers with, or their members.)
As a neurologist you cared for many patients with MS, before being diagnosed yourself, and focusing on disability rights. Can you tell us a bit about your path?
I went to George Washington University for medical school and residency, and settled in D.C. as a private practice neurologist. About 21 years into my career, I actually diagnosed myself with Multiple Sclerosis. After a few years, my vision and cognitive issues made it challenging to keep up on the literature, and I decided to retire.
Once I came to terms with all the changes I was facing, I called the MS Society. They said “Hey, you know about the disease, you’ve lived it and you’ve treated it. Why don’t you come to Capitol Hill with us?” And since then I’ve been doing nothing but advocating and this is what I love to do at this point. It’s my second career.
I became a member, and then chair, of our county commission on people with disabilities. I have also served as the vice chair of the Alliance of Disability Commissions and Committees for Maryland, and am a member of the Maryland State Commission on Disabilities.
What has led to your advocacy for medical aid in dying?
Both of my parents unfortunately had very poor end of life experiences, experiences that I knew if they could just be out of their body and watch what was happening, they would never have wanted to go through what they went through.
As a neurologist, I honored my patients’ wishes – no matter what choices they pursued. At that point there were no medical aid-in-dying laws on the books, but the medical profession had been addressing the issue for years. When someone is terminal and asking for assistance to be kept comfortable, we would give what was called a “terminal sedation.” Most doctors did it, many still do. It highlighted for me that we needed a better system for people being in control of their end of life experience.
I set up family meetings for patients who wanted that option, to avoid any occasion where loved ones would not follow through with their wishes. I would invite my patients to share with their family and then I would be there to answer technical questions. That simple step helped me better support patients who wanted to be kept comfortable and in control at the end of life.
Between my family experience and my professional experience I came to very strongly support medical aid in dying, and other end of life options, understanding that one answer is not going to be right for everyone, and shouldn’t come from anyone but the patient.
You have testified in favor of the Maryland End of Life Option Act in the past, and have spoken to those opposed to it. What have you shared with them?
Ultimately, I understand that opponents feel very strongly about it, and I respect that. My feeling is that everyone should have the ability to make a decision, that it shouldn’t be something that is mandated across the board by law or religious belief. One of my frustrations is that many of these folks in opposition say that they are speaking on behalf of people with disabilities. To me, there’s no group that can speak for everyone with a disability.
Someone may not support medical aid in dying now, but should their end of life experience be uncomfortable, they should have the ability to choose that option. And they shouldn’t take it away from anyone else.