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ROI-NJ: A day like no other: The first time I helped one of my patients die

An excerpt from ROI-NJ‘s article, “A day like no other: The first time I helped one of my patients die,” published Feb. 5, 2020:


That recent unseasonably warm January day — the one where it hit 60 degrees — was ordinary in many ways for me: I went to the bookstore and bought a good novel, I picked up something special for dinner on the way home and I enjoyed an evening with friends.

It was anything but ordinary for my patient. Right before sunset, he took the MAID, or Medical Aid in Dying, cocktail that I prescribed for him a week before, and he died.

I have been a palliative care physician for nearly 20 years. I have taken care of thousands of people at the ends of their lives. I help them make complicated medical decisions. I help them tell the people they love the most that they love them the most. I help them say they are sorry. I help them say goodbye. I take care of their pain. I always say that medicine is so humbling, that no matter how much we know about a disease we can never be sure exactly when someone will die. And everyone asks. Everyone wants to know. I’ve only been right twice before. This patient makes three.

I wrote the MAID policy for the largest health care system in New Jersey in response to Medical Aid in Dying becoming the law in our state this past April. It wasn’t easy. Neither was putting it into practice.