We all have a right to live or as Thomas Jefferson so aptly put it, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what happens when illness strikes and our quality of life becomes compromised by pain and suffering that is often incurable?
The End-of-Life Option bill (SB 128), was introduced in California this past January. Patterned after Oregon’s Death with dignity laws, the legislation would allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults to request medication from their doctor to achieve a peaceful death if their suffering becomes unbearable. Although it was passed in the Senate, the bill was held back by a handful of legislators on the Assembly Health Committee a couple of weeks ago but is now up for reconsideration in a special legislative session as Bill AB2x-15. Compassion and Choices is the national grassroots organization working to pass this and similar legislation throughout the country.
We all remember how Oregon’s Death with Dignity laws allowed Brittany Maynard to choose to die at the age of 29 on her own terms, in her own space and time. This was not what she wanted–no, she wanted to live–but it was the best course of action given the alternative of suffering a lingering and painful end. Instead she chose her own ending, with the love and support of her family after spending her last days enjoying the beauty of nature. This brave act helped us to consider another view of death as a matter of choice and control rather than an inescapable and brutal guillotine.
Brittany’s choice resonated with me and my past. Many years back, long before any Death with Dignity laws, I shared a house with four women as a college student. One day, my housemate Carol made an announcement, “My mother is going to die next Thursday at 7pm.” While this was shocking at first, we all came to support her mother’s decision as she had an incurable cancer with a bleak prognosis and horrible treatment options. When that Thursday had passed, the next morning Carol sat quietly at the kitchen table. I asked her how she was and she spoke of the finality of seeing her mother’s body left as a shell of the person she was. But there was no wailing, it was a peaceful grief after a peaceful end to a beautiful life. Carol made each of us swear to tell no one about the suicide for at least a year since we each could have been deemed an accessory to crime for our knowledge of the act.
Looking back I now know the real crime was our forced silence and secrecy. Now, so many years later, instead of hiding the truth, I hope our society is ready to embrace and protect the right to die, to support those who choose this path, when there is no better option. We will be stronger and better able to cherish life more deeply if we can.
If you would like to help keep this bill moving forward in California — SEND A LETTER IN SUPPORT OF ABX2 15 VIA THE WEB.
Or visit www.compassionandchoices.org to get involved in similar efforts in your state.
Has the Death with Dignity movement touched you in your life? In what ways?