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My mother did not commit suicide.

Lisa Osborne wrote this letter to the creator of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy in response to the March 25th episode which dealt with a patient who requests aid in dying under the provisions of Washington’s Death with Dignity Act. Lisa’s mother, Linda Fleming was the first person to take advantage of the Act.

April 15, 2010

Shonda Rhimes
Creator and Executive Producer
Grey’s Anatomy
ABC Studios

Dear Ms. Rhimes,

I am writing in response to your recent episode, which included the story of a terminally ill woman who requests a lethal prescription from her doctor under the terms of Washington’s Death with Dignity Act.

My mother, Linda Fleming, was first person in Washington State to take advantage of the Death with Dignity Act. Speaking for myself and as I believe she would speak, I offer my thanks, and a plea.


I applaud Grey’s Anatomy for bringing Death with Dignity to the attention of its viewers. The episode showed that doctors can play an important role in providing comfort and compassion even when healing is no longer possible.

My plea is that you consider the effect on terminally ill patients and their families in using the judgmental term “assisted suicide.” That is politicized language that implies a value judgment and carries with it a social stigma. The Washington State Psychological Association, in arguing for the use of neutral language such as “aid in dying,” stated, “the term ‘suicide’ implies psychiatric illness or other emotional distress that impairs judgment and decision-making capacity.”

My mother did not commit suicide. Suicide is an expression of despair and disconnection. My mother was neither despairing nor was she disconnected. She didn’t want to die. She wished to live. By choosing her time of death, she chose to live in the present and savor the time she had left. She chose to deny a future she was already previewing:  unimaginable pain, loss of mobility, and mind-numbing pain medications. She chose to die in her own time, in her own home, and in the manner of her choosing.

I hope in the future you will adopt the accurate, value-neutral language, “aid in dying.” By doing so, you will respect the terminally ill patients who consider this option and honor the memory of people like my mother.

Thank you.

Lisa Osborne