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Worse Than Death?
updated: Oct 11, 2011, 6:06 AM
By Faye Girsh
Dying can be prolonged by medical miracles at the cost of dignity, comfort, and autonomy. Cancer, Alzheimer's, stroke or any number of chronic illnesses are some of the burdens of increasing longevity. When there is no hope, some would rather end it on their own terms. Some do it by shooting or hanging or taking a lot of the wrong pills and waking up sicker than before. In Oregon and Washington a terminally ill person can chose to die with the help of a physician under the Death with Dignity law. Hospice helps with a peaceful death but does not guarantee it.
A Living Will or advance directive also helps when the time comes. This is a good solution if you are receiving life-sustaining treatment -- but half of us will not. The book, Final Exit by Derek Humphry, and will work if you are able to carry out the procedures described.
Most Americans don't want to think about dying. It is unpleasant, morbid. It will not accomplish anything and might even bring death closer. Anyway, your loved ones know what you want, or you know what you will do, or you have a doctor you trust.
More of us, though, are forced to consider end of life issues. We may not want to go beyond the point where we still enjoy our lives, lose our independence, control, and, ultimately, our personhood.
All Americans can document their end-of-life wishes in a Living Will and appoint someone they trust to make health care decisions for them. Oregon has pioneered other end of life innovations. The POLST form, now law in California, enables people who are close to the end to complete a document that their doctor signs and that follows them and is a doctor's order, about what treatment they do not want. In 1994, Oregon pioneered with the first Death with Dignity law (which went into effect in 1998) enabling a terminally ill person to ask a physician for a prescription for a drug which they can administer themselves to end their lives peacefully. This law has worked, for the few people each year who choose to use it, without a problem for the last 13 years. It is now an option in the state of Washington. For others there is the Final Exit Network which provides information and support about end of life choices provided in the home by trained volunteers.
At a free, public meeting at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History on October 19 from 7-9 PM experts from various disciplines will be discussing end of life choices. I will be strongly advocating that there is a right for people to be able to decide how their lives will end, consistent with their own values - and with assistance. I will discuss various choices for a peaceful death in the U.S. and internationally.
Faye Girsh, Ed.D. is Vice-President of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies
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