Why I Support Compassion & Choices in Arizona
From Jean Osborne: "Two Loving, Caring People"
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.
From 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.
But 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.
From 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."
When 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.
From 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.
Little 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