Several weeks ago, I turned 70. This “magic number” made me think about how much time I have left and what will be the life quality of those years.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 55% of us will die from some kind of terminal illness. A terminal illness is an incurable and irreversible condition that will more than likely cause death within a relatively short period of time. Chief among the medical conditions that are likely to do us in are heart disease, cancers, pulmonary diseases, infections, and organ failures. The suffering may involve searing pain and discomfort.

There are some people who want every possible medical intervention or treatment to keep them functioning as long as possible. However, there are others (and the number is growing) who do not want to be artificially kept alive when there is no hope of any kind of recovery. In other words, there is a growing number of people who want to be able to choose a dignified death over the alternative of simply existing on medication until the body’s final breakdown comes.

I believe they should have that right.

Right now, only California, Washington, Oregon, and Vermont offer citizens the right to choose a peaceful and dignified death. These laws were approved by a referendum of citizens. Montana offers the same through a judicial decision.

Religious conservatives decry this as suicide. They are wrong. Suicide is about choosing death over life and is often motivated by a condition such as depression. Often, conditions like depression can be treated so that the person can lead a relatively normal life.

However, a terminally-ill person, by definition, is in the act of dying and therefore does not have the choice of life over death. Instead, the only choice they have is one type of death over another.

Brittany Maynard was a 29 year old teacher from California (before California passed its death with dignity law). She moved to Oregon to take advantage of its law which allowed her to choose a dignified death rather than being artificially kept alive during which the terminal cancer would have made her last few months a living hell. Compassion and Choices is a national organization that pushes for death with dignity laws.

Here in Ohio, Ohio End of Life Options (OELO) is an organization that is working for an “Oregon-type law” in Ohio. OELO also wants dying patients to be offered all possible options for the last few weeks or months of their life…including a death with dignity option.

Generally, in order to qualify under death with dignity laws in the few states where they exist, patients must meet the following conditions:

  1. They must be terminally ill with no hope of recovery.
  2. They must be of sound mind so that they can make an intelligent decision.
  3. They must be able to self administer the drug that would painlessly take their life.

Death is a subject about which no one likes to speak. However, if the last civil right is the right of a terminally ill person to choose a peaceful and dignified death, then we all need to work for a law like the one in Oregon and we need to make our last wishes known to both loved ones and caregivers so that we can have the death we want.

Mark W. Weber
June 15, 2016

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