Arizona End-of-Life Options


Video: Julie Jones, Prescott, Arizona

Below is a 2018 3-minute video from Julie Jones of Prescott, Arizona. Terminally ill after 14 years of battling cancer, she discusses the choice of medical aid in dying.

In Memory of Edwin J. McIntosh:
Another casualty of lawmakers’ failure to act

By Marsha McIntosh, Sun City, Arizona

Photo: Edwin with his wirehair fox terrier, Christie.

Edwin McIntoshThe morning my father fatally shot himself started out like most other mornings. My parents had coffee together, and my mother prepared to go to her exercise class. My father seemed especially anxious for her to leave the house.

When my mother came home, she was stunned to find my father on the patio floor with blood everywhere.

When the police arrived, they scrutinized the scene and routinely questioned my mother to eliminate her as a murder suspect. After all, there had been no witnesses to the shooting.

My father was an independent and vigorous man, having been raised on a Utah ranch.  He worked hard all his life and took good care of his wife and four children. After his retirement, however, his health began to fail. He suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease for 10 years, and even the prednisone he took every day to help him breathe couldn’t help him lead a normal life or pursue his hobbies. Toward the end, he developed congestive heart failure and macular degeneration. He felt worse each day. He knew his systems were shutting down, and he needed assistance to perform the most routine daily tasks. He hated the thought of losing his self-reliance and could foresee a future of total reliance on my mother. The idea of needing so much help and feeling so poorly was simply not his idea of living.

My younger brother and his family, who my father loved to see, were coming to visit the next week. But my father felt time was quickly running out with his failing health and he saw no other options for his future.

After my father died, I began donating to Compassion & Choices, but I wasn’t ready to become active. I am now ready and am working with Arizona End-of-Life Options to make medical aid-in-dying a law in Arizona.

I often dream of how different it could have been if my father had had the option to use medical aid-in-dying to end his suffering. My sister and brothers could have been here to say goodbye. Most important, my father’s death would have been a much less traumatic situation for our mother.


Don’s Life…and Death

Robin Toole of Tucson has generously shared this story of her husband’s passing. A staunch advocate for Medical Aid in Dying (MAID), Robin has experienced the heartbreak of having a loved one take his own life in the face of unbearable pain and suffering.

Don TooleBeing born as the eldest child in a midwestern dairy farm family afforded Don an opportunity to practice a multitude of balanced values. He learned early on the difficult lessons of self-sacrifice, hard work and, most of all, compassion towards all living beings. He translated these values into a life of non-judgmental kindness and caring. He had developed a strong conviction that no life should ever have to end in suffering. This was his life’s mission.

His sparkling eyes and warm smile were noticed by all, along with his strong desire to help others. He had many passions and talents that he shared generously with people in his life. He was a musician and an athlete.

He cherished life despite having to overcome many challenges. He was a Vietnam Veteran. In 2002, he lost his first wife to a senseless school shooting at the University of Arizona. Nevertheless, he refused to allow these negative experiences to define him. He persisted with his kindness mission. His spirit was and remained unbroken.

Then, without warning, this energetic, vibrant man was stricken by mysterious symptoms—severe, persistent pain radiating from his inner ear to his jaw and head and difficulty swallowing. He fought hard to find answers. His doctors were stumped and while they searched for answers for two-and-a-half years, the pain and suffering were taking their toll on Don.

By the end, he was suffering unrelenting pain, had difficulty eating and speaking, experienced partial deafness and became progressively weaker. His suffering grew, and he was no longer able to enjoy the quality of life he so enjoyed.

Finally, one week before his death, he was diagnosed with a rare form of throat cancer which was attacking his nerves. He hemorrhaged from the biopsy site and was intubated to prevent choking. His vital signs were too weak to allow adequate sedation. He laid in the intensive care unit, helplessly frightened by this bodily invasion. He wrote me a note confessing that he had never experienced such terror. The intubation was removed after 24 hours and he went home with a gastric tube inserted for feeding.

His body was racked with pain and swelling, he had difficulty breathing and he felt constant fear. He spit up foamy, bitter fluid for 24 hours. The hope that he had held onto for years was now dashed by this new reality and loss of autonomy.

Having no ability in Arizona to receive medical assistance in death, Don took it upon himself to end his own suffering with a single gunshot. His death shouldn’t have had to be a violent one. This man who gave so much to others should have had a compassionate option at the end of his life.

I am blessed to have been married to this wonderful man. His life’s mission and values were an example to me and many others.

I emphatically believe that anyone who is terminally ill and facing similar circumstances should be given the option to have control at life’s end. That is why I urge Arizona lawmakers to pass legislation granting medical aid in dying in Arizona.


Why I Support Compassion & Choices in Arizona

From Jean Osborne: "Two Loving, Caring People"

Jean Osborne I take this opportunity to relate two stories about why I got involved in the death with dignity movement. Stories about two wonderful, loving, caring people very close to me who died with anything but dignity. With their bodies full of cancer, they could not be completely anesthetized with any of the palliative care they received at the end of their lives.

My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 1993 and died in April 1994. Hospice nurses came to our home to administer palliative care only in the last few weeks of her existence and, since they were unable to be there on a 24 hour a day schedule, there were many times when Mother would cry out in pain and there was nothing I could do for her. I was unable to administer drugs intravenously to relieve her suffering and she was unable to swallow the potent, liquid prescription. She slipped into a coma and had to be taken by ambulance back to the hospital. She died approximately five hours later.

The second agonizing death I witnessed was my significant other of 21 years. He was a retired Air Force General and fighter pilot, who had proudly served his country for thirty years. In 1989 he had to have his cancerous vocal chords removed. For almost nine years he lived a reasonably happy life and used the voice box apparatus designed for laryngectomy patients. In 1998 his cancer returned and ruthlessly spread throughout his body. In the end he was unable to communicate due to the fact that he could no longer hold the voice box to his throat and that device was his only contact with the world. Because of his special breathing needs, I was unable to care for him at home, and once again I was a helpless observer of an excruciating imminent death. This lugubrious event lasted for ten months and ended by withdrawal of all tubes connected to his fragile body.

As these two loved ones were perishing, I made a tacit promise to them that I would do everything in my power to change the way terminally ill humans are treated. I believe working with the Compassion & Choices organization is a good start.

Karen TynerFrom Karen Tyner: "The Tip of My Nose"

Call it a strong sense of my civil rights that brought me to join Compassion & Choices Arizona. I've always loved that phrase, "all laws stop at the tip of my nose", and that includes my right to see to my own death if I choose to die with dignity.

From John Thaxton: "The Examined Life"

Like any good American, I grew up unaware of dying and death. These concepts were not part of public consciousness and were not even really allowable in "polite" conversation.

John ThaxtonBut experience, the best teacher in life, taught me that Death couldn't be banished. A major injury years ago put me in great pain and made me realize that I would not want to continue living my life if that kind of pain were the price. Fortunately an operation put me back on the path of living well.

A few years later, my mother died, peacefully at home in no pain, cared for by her daughter, who was also a registered nurse. I learned to be grateful for my mother's peaceful death and pondered my own. That led me to do volunteer work for a hospice, visiting dying patients.

My first and most memorable assignment was a man called L, a professional truck driver. Dying caught him on the freeway as he was driving his truck across the country and let him linger in a hospice in Denver until the end. He was miserable, angry, harsh, ungrateful, and in denial. He was also in pain and literally without a relative or friend in the world. Because he was indigent and friendless, his facility and care were substandard, far below what I would ever want for myself. The dollar speaks, even in dying. I sneaked him cigarettes, his one pleasure, for which he never thanked me. It was unpleasant visiting this lost soul, and he died a lonely and very sad death, with virtually no control over any aspect of leaving this world. Again, I learned about dying and death, but this time from the opposite side of the spectrum from my mother's peaceful death.

The cumulative effect of these and other experiences illuminated and reinforced my hope to have a death I could look back on with satisfaction. Above all, I realized I wanted to die pain-free and with as much control as I could. I have always tried to live an "examined" life, seeking to make the best choices consciously and in harmony with my principles.

To have control over my dying process and death is just a continuation of how I have always lived. It is simply the last decision in the living process, and we all should have the right to create and direct the last act. Compassion & Choices supports this basic right and works to create the conditions that allow for dying with dignity. For this reason, I support CCAZ's mission and work.

Dean MyhrFrom Dean A. Myhr: "I Cried and Cried"

Like many of you, I have witnessed, first-hand, the "dying process" of so many people I have loved. And how degrading and embarrassing it must be for those who are in the final stages of that process -- to not have the strength, the will nor the power to control anything, most importantly, "life itself". As those I have loved were in that final process, I cried and cried, not only for losing them from my life, but most importantly the process that society has dictated to be appropriate and humane! How sad!!!!!

For the most part, we are a compassionate society! We are considerate and attentive to the wishes and needs of others. No individual, religious organization, nor government has the right to determine our individual desires when it involves making that final decision, an End-Of-Life-Choice. I applaud and support, whole heartedly, the goals of this organization.

From Vickie Fischer: "What Makes People Tick?"

I have been volunteering for all my adult life. I helped found the Planned Parenthood Chapter in Bucks Coounty, Pennsylvania. I've helped indigent women in Bucks Coounty get health care and contraception and family planning information. I founded the Planned Parenthood "Auxiliary," a fundraising group and served as President. One of my proudest possessions is the Margaret Sanger award given to me March 18, 1974 for "recognition of significant contributions to family planning." I believed whole-heartedly in their concept that "every child should be a wanted child and a woman should be able to control her body."

Vickie FischerWhen my husband and I came to Green Valley, AZ, I decided that my volunteering days were over. Then in March 1993 I picked up the Arizona Daily Star and on the front page was an article about a police officer who went out on a street corner and shot himself in the head with his service revolver. I've always been interested in history, anthropology, sociology, and psychology, and anything dealing with people and what makes them tick. The police officer and his wife were old and ill. They wanted to die together. They did not want one to be left alone. They checked into a motel, took their pills and said their good-byes. That afternoon when the maid came in she found the woman dead, but the man was still alive. Of course they rushed him to the hospital and resuscitated him. That was why he went on a street corner and shot himself in the head!

At the end of the article they mentioned the Hemlock Society and Dr. John Westover. I, who was never going to volunteer again, picked up the Tucson phone book and called John Westover. I asked, "I don't know anything about this Hemlock Society, could you send me some information?" Within three months I was on the board, became treasurer and then President of the Southern Arizona Chapter.

I felt so strongly about a woman's right to choose and I feel just as strongly about a terminal competent person's rights to choose when to end their suffering. I only hope I live long enough to see a law that makes it legal for a suffering, competent person to quietly, calmly, and with dignity, end an existence that has no joy, satisfaction, or happiness.

Paul SachsFrom Paul Sachs: "Anything but Dignified"

My family has always believed in hastened death rather than prolonging a life without any acceptable quality. My brain dead father's life was extended several times despite his medical power of attorney to the contrary.

My first wife died in pain from cancer. After cutting off nutrition she survived for over a week. She never left her bed in over a month. It was anything but dignified.

From V. J. Plummer: "Bow out Gracefully"

As a young dancer, I watched older dancers suffer because they hadn't planned well. Their embarrassment was almost contagious. I promised myself that I would 'bow out gracefully'. I specifically promised myself that I would leave show business when I began to appear to be 30 years old. Dancers, similar to athletes, are considered to be 'over the hill' once they are about 30 years old.

V. J. PlummerLittle did I realize what a valuable lesson I was cultivating -- one of the very few important lessons I was able to learn from others rather than having to experience the agony of the lesson myself. I learned to be able to apply the principle of "bowing out gracefully" to other activities in my life.

At the age of 32, I unexpectedly looked into a mirror and saw the 30-year-old-looking woman I had been waiting to see. I gave myself one year to find another occupation. One year later (to the day) I raised my hand and was sworn in to the Woman's Army Corps. I changed costumes.

A few years before the 20-year anniversary of my military service, I analyzed the pro's and con's of continuing my military service beyond 20 years. As an older female in a male-dominated institution, I decided, again to "bow out gracefully". I tired of over-compensating. Whether or not I could continue to prove that I was physically fit became less important than whether or not I wanted to continue to prove that I was physically fit. "Bowing out gracefully" was an easier decision than it had been as a dancer.

The ethical stance of the Compassion & Choices philosophy is compatible with my personal life stance. Quality of life is most important to me. I had no choice about how I entered life. I do have some choice in how I exit life. More than anything, though, I hope that I have the courage, foresight, and sense of timing to "bow out gracefully".

See also: Open letters from the terminally ill