End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Without lies and without secrecyby Sonja

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By Roberta King of Missoula, Montana. Roberta is the daughter of Bob Baxter, who fought in the Montana courts to have the legal right to aid in dying.

I’m not an activist. My father was Robert Baxter, the plaintiff in Baxter v. Montana, the case that brought Montanans the right to aid in dying. My father fought for the choice to end a drawn out death from a terminal illness with a prescription from a physician.

My dad was a typical Montanan: a proud and independent guy, a very patriotic veteran and ex-Marine. He liked hunting, fishing, camping and spending time at the lake with his friends. He was a truck driver for as long as I can remember. His whole life he wanted to do things the right way.

My dad was diagnosed with lymphocytic leukemia, a form of cancer, about 12 years before his death. He benefitted from multiple courses of chemotherapy, but it gradually became less and less effective in controlling his disease. During the last year before his death he developed an aggressive form of lymphoma, which proved to be very difficult to treat, and he was advised he had a very short time to live.

My dad was a planner and he was always prepared. He had 12 years to plan how his life would end. He didn’t want to be a burden; he told me he didn’t want to put the family through a long drawn out death. He knew there were a lot of options, but wanted to do what was legal. He wanted his doctor to help him, without lies and without secrecy. That is why he went to court to seek a legal right to aid in dying. My father understood he had no hope of recovery, and that the only medical issues remaining were exactly when his death would occur and how much he would suffer before he died. He said, “I don’t know when I will die, but I know what I ‘m going to die of.” And he was right.

In the last year of his life things were hard for my dad. His court case went better. On December 5, 2008 my dad died of cancer. The very same day a judge ruled in his favor, making it legal for mentally competent Montanans with a terminal illness to receive a prescription from their doctor for medication with which they can, if they themselves decide their suffering is unbearable, achieve a peaceful death.

I am very proud my dad’s name will forever be linked to this additional end-of-life choice.