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Archive for the ‘Dying with dignity’ Category

I’m sure you know of the man who was named “Dr. Death” because of his bold battle to bring the choice of physician assisted suicide to the terminally ill. 

As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, and hence living with a very uncertain future, I have a deep interest in the topic of  ‘dying with dignity’.  I consider the act of ending my life at a time of my own choosing as a basic human right which no religion, state or government should be allowed to take away from me.

Of course, people commit suicide every day in the US and around the world.  And I have always thought that it is usually a desperate act, prompted by helplessness and suffering that simply is too much to endure.  But ending one’s life as an alternative to suffering the unending ravages and unbearable pain of a devastating illness, is in no way an act of  desperation. 

In fact, it is an act of courage and should be supported by society the same way we have long accepted euthanasia as a merciful alternative to the unnecessary suffering of a beloved pet.  Only here, with physician assisted suicide, it is the human being him/herself who determines IF and WHEN to die.  This is the complete opposite of a decision that many fear may be made by a second party on behalf of someone who cannot express their wishes.

In a previous post about how “To live and die with dignity” I shared Craig Ewert’s courageous story of how he travelled to Switzerland in order to find the assistance he needed to die his way and at a time of his own choosing.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/suicidetourist/

It seems clear to me that anyone who is brave enough to watch the documentary of Greg’s struggle with ALS and his final decision to die, will also witness the strength and the dignity of his final choice.

However, it is not the premeditated dying that is important here, but rather, it is the legal CHOICE people ought to have, that matters.   Even if the right to die were well established and acknowledged by the power of  law, not everyone would choose this path. 

My favorite example of such an individual is Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist, who has clearly chosen to live in spite of having lost his body to the devastating effects of ALS.   

In his case, no  financial or scientific means are spared to enable him to continue his work.

He also is an inspiration to me and I admire him for his straight forward and unsentimental way of looking at life.  In his recent book “Grand Design,” he says: “There is no heaven or after-life …, that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”   He also states that he is not afraid of death, but adds: “I’m in no hurry to die.  I have so much I want to do first.”

So there you have it: more food for thought. 

I’d like to close by thanking Dr. Kevorkian for his committment to human dignity and by posing the following question: 

What gives a society the right to deny any person a choice in determining how much suffering is enough?  And WHEN and HOW to die?

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I learned that my friend Patti had entered hospice care – and this morning I learned of her early death. 

This dreaded news fills me with a sadness so profound that tears are streaming from my eyes as I compose my thoughts at the death of this courageous woman.  I scarcely knew Patti, but it did not take long to learn of her generosity and the loving kindness she brought to life.

I met Patti about a year ago when she e-mailed me in response to my post on dying with dignity.  At that time she shared with me the struggle that had entered her life after cancer had invaded her spine.  She was determined to love life for the duration and to fight the spreading menace to her last breath.  So she braved the treatments and endured increasing pain.  It was difficult to witness her suffering as it became increasingly clear that Patti was loosing her battle with cancer.   

This picture was taken in June when Patti and her husband Greg met us to witness the arrival of our new BARC berner Sammy.  Sadly, this is the only time we were able to meet.  Had things gone differently we would be planning our road trip to the 2011 Berner Specialty in California in early Spring.   We were going to take an RV and one Berner each and travel through the land, visiting as many of the BARC families along the way as  would have us.

But alas, dear Patti, it was not to be!

Your courageous battle is over and amidst the sadness I am thankful that your suffering has ended.  So let me salute you one more time with a poem that you surely would have liked.

Burning Bush by Alison Apotheker

 

I would like to belive that in the darkness

beneath the skin, the secret dark holds

the same volatile oil as these flowers

and will ignite the stricken

silence of this summer night.

 

And I would like to believe the soul’s

language resides there, and the unfinished phrases

of the dead ones, the ellipsis completed

in a crush of those dark green toothed

leaves and their scent of sliced lemon.

 

I would hope as well that the lightning

in its body finds rest beneath the soil

and knows, as sure as the capillaries

whisper of blood’s persistent passage,

that all will be remembered and spoken for. 

 

Rest in Peace my dear Patti and may Eternity cradle you.

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Over the many years of  living with Multiple Sclerosis I have given a lot of thought to end-of-life issues.  All my life I have valued independence and challenge as an integral and necessary part of my existence.  Ironically the illness, that struck me nearly twenty years ago, is steadily eroding both.  

To me MS is like the silent thief who takes just a little bit, time after time, so that the damage can only be seen over an extended period.

I have done everything in my power to fight this thief – and yes – I am still walking , albeit with the help of cane and walking aids.  

I have built a refuge where I can live in beauty and contemplate the meaning of  All – but as the illness is taking more and more of my ability to function physically, I find myself  contemplating the limits of what I can endure.  How to live with crippling pain?  How to cope with depression that cannot be explained?

Of course, I’m not the only one to encounter a challenge of such magnitude.  Which brings me to the reason for this post:

His name is Craig Colby Ewert and his assisted suicide at the age of 59 was recorded to provide a better understanding of the desire to die with dignity.  The documentary aired on PBS on March 2, 2010 on Frontline. 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/suicidetourist/

Facing similar questions, I am deeply touched by the strength and love Craig and his family showed for each other during such a difficult time.  I consider Craig’s decision to share the process of his death to be a heroic act and I am grateful for the opportunity and privilege to have witnessed his passing, along with all the agony that was a part of his decision to end life.

Thank you Craig Colby Ewert, may your example give strength and comfort to us all.

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