The case for “Death with Dignity”
I have a unique relationship with death. My father was an undertaker, and we lived in an apartment above his business. Contemplating death and dying — my own and others’ — has been a part of my life since childhood. I have sat vigil during the hours and days of the deaths of both of my parents. At the age of 77, I am closing in on my final years. I have no control over when or why I will die; but I am learning about the choices I have about “how”. What I have come to believe is that it doesn’t matter what one believes about an “after-life”; what is important is to live fully while embracing the fact that we, after all, are all “terminal.” Those individuals whose religious beliefs preclude them from participating in such a process can follow the dictates of their religions, but those of us who have different beliefs should be allowed to make our own choices.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is once again considering a Death with Dignity bill. Modeled on the Oregon law, H 1991, Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act, would give terminally ill people more freedom, control, and peace of mind at the end of their lives. It is called “The End of Life Options Act”. I noticed that both the Northampton City Council and the Amherst Town Meeting passed resolutions in early November that called on the legislature to enact “The End of Life Options Act” (H1194 and S1225). I urge other municipalities to become familiar with the intent of this bill and take action to lend their support.
Seven out of 10 Americans who support the end-of-life option allowing qualified terminally ill people to end their lives through physician-prescribed medications support having a process to enable terminal patients to choose how they want to die. Such laws have enacted and practiced successfully in other states. I believe this bill has strong safeguards to ensure that no one – including people with disabilities, the frail elderly, and the low-income –could be coerced or pressured to end their lives rather than live longer or seek continued treatment for their terminal illness.
This is NOT assisted suicide, but rather an option to give people the right to choose to end their suffering (and that of their family) when faced with a prolonged and painful dying process.
I support this bill because I have sat by the beds of both parents as they suffered through their last days and hours of pain before death took them. When my father was in the last stages of pancreatic cancer in 1984, thankfully, we were able to use the services of Visiting Nurses (this was before Hospice was available) to give him drops of morphine while he lay in his bed, gasping for air and enduring a level of pain I can’t even imagine. It took him three days to finally die.
My mother, who died at the age of 94 in the “Comfort Care” unit of a hospital, hung on for a week with renal failure, until I finally insisted that the doctor increase her morphine dosage. A “Death with Dignity” Act would have spared both my parents painful deaths that, at that point, were inevitable anyway.
Please join me in contacting the co-chairs of the Joint Public Health Committee: Sen. Jason Lewis (firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-722-1206) and Rep. Kate Hogan (email@example.com, 617-722-2130). Urge them to pass H1194 before the deadline in early February.
For more of my musings about a better way to die, see my blog post: http://www.kalilily.net/2011/10/22/dealing-with-that-disturbing-d-word-being-a-midwife-to-the-dying/