Why is assisted suicide psychology's issue?

THE RECENT ASSISTED SUICIDE debate in the Council of Representatives (April Monitor) grabbed my interest. The real question here is not whether assisted suicide is ethical but why should APA have an official opinion on this issue at all? Is this not an issue on which honorable, intelligent, educated people can disagree?

Obviously, APA's Council of Representatives has no consensus. It is a philosophical and moral issue, and therefore not resolvable by scientific research anyway, and addressing the issue at all has made APA look ridiculous.

I fear that if APA does not turn itself away from this self-defeating tendency soon, its influence will diminish to the point of no return. When a professional organization takes up policing political correctness, it destroys its very purpose for existence. The purpose of virtually all professional organizations is to directly facilitate the practice of members' professions. Therefore, APA should not be allowed to be used for political purposes, neither conservative nor liberal, even when they are presented as quests for humanitarian social change.

APA's political role should be to support the profession of psychology, not to change the culture--because we do not have anything like agreement on what direction the culture should go. Let individual psychologists work for social change on their own time and with their own money. It is clear to me that the APA will be most efficient with its resources if it limits itself to the business of the profession of psychology. That is how I would want my dues used.


The election mess

ALTHOUGH REBECCA CLAY'S review of the butterfly ballot has its scientific merit ("It was bad design, not dumb voters" March), she errs in the article by failing to mention the real reason for Gore's defeat: He didn't secure enough electoral votes, in a process that included much more than the state of Florida. In Cleveland, Ohio, I voted on a butterfly ballot. I never heard a peep about how the bad design here swayed the election.

And there is a significant piece of data left out of this article, which debunks her premise that with a "better" ballot, Gore would have won: The total percentage of ballots "not counted" in Florida ranged from 2 percent to 3 percent of the total votes cast. That is the national average, across all states. That percentage has held for many elections over the history of the butterfly ballot and other voting methods, and did not suddenly inflate in Florida in 2000. The science shows that Florida did as well as anywhere else in the nation that used the butterfly ballot, or any other type of ballot, for that matter.

I agree that the ballot should be made as simple as possible, should give immediate feedback to the voter and that the human factors field can contribute to the process. I don't agree that we should manipulate data, and present only bits of broader data, to perpetuate a political agenda using conjecture and not science.

A conservative Ohio Psychologist

You forgot to mention

WITH RESPECT TO THE MARCH cover story, "Everyday fantasia: the world of synesthesia," I am moved to point out that it is extraordinary that two major contributions were not included in this article. In the seriously attenuated background review of this fascinating psychological process, the names Heinz Werner and Aleksandr R. Luria were not even mentioned. Each of these creative thinkers provided groundbreaking ideas on the subject. Synesthesia is a mental experience that has relevance to both cognitive and developmental psychology. A serious study of this phenomenon must include a careful reading of Luria's "The Mind of a Mnemonist" and Werner's "Comparative Psychology Mental Development." These brilliant contributions provide a significant theoretical framework and an important historical context. A reading of these classics will also provide a glimpse into the minds of two of the world's most innovative psychologists.

New York University

Editor's note: Synesthesia has intrigued scientists--as well as philosophers and artists--for centuries. An incomplete historical list of scholars whose work centered or touched on synesthesia includes Francis Galton, Eugen Bleuler, Mary Whiton Calkins, G.T. Fechner, Heinz Werner and Aleksandr Luria. For a thorough account, readers are referred to L.E. Marks's historical review, published in 1975 in Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 82, No. 3). The primary purpose of the March article was to describe new advances in scientists' understanding of synesthesia and its implications for cognition and perception.

Prescription privileges

I HAVE NO DOUBT WHATEVER that psychopharmacology training can help psychologists do a better job. ("How psychopharmacology training is enhancing some psychology practices," March). Knowing more is knowing more. I just don't want Dr. Richeson or any of the other psychologists cited in the article (with the exception noted below) writing the scripts.

The exception: My hat goes off to Michael Enright, PhD, RN, who will soon be an advanced-practice nurse in Wyoming. There is nothing wrong, and a great deal that is right, about holding membership in two professions. Nursing, unlike psychology, is a real medical profession. That is where psychologists who want to prescribe but cannot undertake medical school need to gain their proficiency and credentials.

The article says: "Ironically enough, given some medical societies' opposition to the training, a number of psychologists say that a top benefit is the enhanced communication with physicians. They even say some physicians are among the leading enthusiasts for them getting the training and the prescribing privileges." There is nothing ironic or remotely surprising about this. It is only to be expected.

APA needs to trade in its RxP campaign for a program to help psychologists acquire advanced-practice nursing status. Then, 1.) even more physicians in the trenches would welcome collaboration with them, 2.) organized medicine would have few if any persuasive objections to psychologists' prescribing, and 3.) a destructive, debilitating turf war would be averted.

Committee Against Medicalizing PsychologyBrooklyn, N.Y.

Further Reading

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