Education

Suicide talk cancels 4th round of Boise death-with-dignity class

Ending pain and suffering

A Boise psychologist talks about why suicide could be included in discussions for people with painful,debilitating diseases who are considering end of life options.
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A Boise psychologist talks about why suicide could be included in discussions for people with painful,debilitating diseases who are considering end of life options.

Correction: Marty Seidenfeld, a Boise psychologist, is a board member of the Final Exit Network, which provides end of life information. An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information.

The Boise School District’s Community Education program canceled a class this week for adults on ways critically ill people can end their lives because it would have discussed physician-assisted suicide and suicide.

Marty Seidenfeld, 81, a Boise psychologist for several decades, was planning to teach a class he has taught before called “Dying in an Age of Choice.” The course reviews options for people facing death from debilitating diseases.

He has taught the 90-minute class through the community-education program three times since 2015. This class would have been taught Thursday, Sept. 22. Attendees had to be at least 18 years old.

Among the topics were hospice, being removed from life support, accepting only minimum care, and physician-assisted suicide, which is legal in Oregon and some other states but not in Idaho. The course also would have mentioned suicide — or as Seidenfeld called it, “self-deliverance” — which is legal in Idaho.

His class was to “keep people informed around their choices at end of life,” he said. He said he has given talks about this subject to groups in the Treasure Valley.

“I was not advocating suicide,” Seidenfeld said.

Seidenfeld supports death with dignity and is a board member of the Final Exit Network, an organization that provides information on all end of life choices, according to its website.

The school district’s Community Education program typically brings in volunteer instructors to discuss culinary arts, birds, self improvement, healthy living and other courses. Community Education offered 671 classes to 6,459 people last year.

Seidenfeld was unpaid. His class cost $9.55 to attend.

The district rejected Seidenfeld’s classes because he was discussing a way of ending life that is against the law in Idaho, said Dan Hollar, the Community Education program director.

That would be like the district offering a course on marijuana while pointing out that its use is legal in states such as Washington, though not in Idaho, Hollar said.

District officials also raised questions about discussing suicide in a room that could include people facing troubling circumstances unrelated to illness and end of life. “We don’t want to be out there saying you can end your own life,” Hollar told the Idaho Statesman.

Hollar said he received a call recently questioning the description for the class. On Friday, Sept. 16, Hollar asked Seidenfeld to submit a course outline. Seidenfeld emailed one that said in part, “But it should be noted that suicide is not a crime in Idaho.”

Hollar emailed back the same day: “We do not feel comfortable with you providing information as you state in your email as follows: ‘But it should be noted that suicide is not a crime in Idaho.’ Because of this, we will be canceling your class.”

Hollar said he made the decision after discussing it with Community Education staff and Superintendent Don Coberly.

Five people had signed up for the class, and all are getting refunds, he said.

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