Our Director of Education and Outreach Molly McMahon Graziano wrote a guest article for Death with Dignity National Center on her thoughts on medical aid in dying and her personal experience as an end of life caregiver. We reprint it here with permission.
I was recently talking with a friend about my work with Ohio End of Life Options. She remarked that she fully supported medical aid in dying, but wondered why I would want to do something so depressing.
I explained to her that while it is always sad to lose someone close to us, I considered it a privilege to have been present at such an intimate and profound moment in someone’s life.
She understood that for me as an advocate for end-of-life choices I feel fiercely protective of every person’s right to have all end-of-life options available including medical aid in dying.
Starting Out in End of Life As a Caregiver
In 1999 I began my deep dive into end-of-life experiences both personally and professionally. My mother had been living with COPD when my Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Having just recently been downsized from my job, I took on the role of caregiver. My incredibly understanding husband held down the fort during the week while I lived at my parent’s house. My sister would drive in from Columbus for the weekend caregiving duties.
Like so many others whose family member is given a terminal diagnosis I was kicked out of my comfort zone. I was a quick study in procedures, medicines and ultimately end-of-life care with hospice as a support system for my Dad and our family.
He died at home in 2000 with good pain control until a few days before his death. My mother was both angry and heartbroken that my Dad died. She would die at home one week shy of the first anniversary of his passing.
My attention then turned to my aunt. She was the widowed sister of my mother. She had some chronic health issues, but in February of 2001 she was found unresponsive at her home and died one day later in the hospital with me having to make the decision to remove her from the ventilator.
Within eighteen months our family had lost a generation.
About six months after my Dad’s death I went to work for Lifebanc, the agency that coordinates organ, tissue, and eye donation in northeast Ohio. I had always been a supporter of organ donation, and with recent end-of-life experiences I was in a unique position to be a voice for another group of people at end of life.
Of course, these deaths were usually sudden and often involved young people involved in car accidents, or victims of violence. You never forget the primal scream of a mother when told her child was brain-dead and the abject grief of sudden loss.
At the same time, I was in awe at families who, on their darkest day, saw the opportunity to help another in the midst of their personal tragedy.
More Family Loss
While I was at Lifebanc, my family was once again touched by loss. In 2006, my 44-year-old brother in law had a massive heart attack and left my sister a young widow with two teenaged children. From her I learned perseverance, and I admire how she managed that time in her life and the years since.
Three years later my sister also died suddenly from a heart attack at age 50. She was my daily phone call home from work and there was a gaping hole in my life. Losing a sibling suddenly challenges your equilibrium. A friend, who had lost two sisters, told me, “Welcome to a club that no one wants to be a member of.” So true.
Time for Aid in Dying in Ohio
I have journeyed with many at end of life. I have witnessed good death, painful death, sudden death, and terminal illness. I learned lessons from all of my experiences and have considered my own mortality and the options I want available for me.
I am a strong supporter of reputable hospice and palliative care programs and wish more terminally ill patients were be referred early.
However, as an addition to end of life care I believe that it is time for Ohio to pass medical aid in dying legislation.