The Supreme Court decision upholding Oregon’s death with dignity law must remain intact, said Attorney General John Kroger who appeared at the annual luncheon held by Compassion & Choices on Tuesday.
“All of us in our society would be better off if our government doesn’t try to dictate that choice to us, but instead leaves it up to us and our families as to how we’re going to end our lives,” he said.
Kroger related a story about his grandmother who, at age 15, walked from her home in Czechoslovakia to France where she boarded a ship headed to New York. She arrived in Ellis Island in 1919 just as the New York Times was doing an article on recent immigrants and appeared in the newspaper dressed in peasant garb, her guitar in hand.
“My grandmother was a remarkable woman; she was fierce in her determination to get a better life for her family,” he said.
Every day she and his grandfather tucked money away; they saved their entire lives – buying General Motors stock in the 1930s. Years later, when his grandfather died, she was a rich woman.
When told by her family that she could now buy anything she wanted for herself, Kroger still remembers her response. “She thought about it and said, ‘mini blinds’ – to her that was a luxury item.”
But she wasn’t offered such a choice when her life came to an end, and spent her last months in a hospital on every possible machine imaginable.
“A lot of her life had been stripped away from her, and I remember spending time with her and from the look in her eyes, I knew that’s not what she wanted,” Kroger said. “My grandmother was in deep pain had really no opportunity to leave her life the way she had led it.
“We’ve lost what death and dying means to us as human beings. How do you leave this life matters a lot. It matters to human dignity; it matters to your family, to who survives you. And, it’s part and parcel of the subject called death. We seem to have really lost our way in our society in dealing with these issues.”
Such a conversation, Kroger said, needs to happen on a national level, but people are fearful of talking about death and dying.
“It’s been something not to discuss,” he said. “We want to deal with the medical problem where – no matter what — we bring all of our tools to our last dying breath.”
At some point, the key votes for the Gonzales decision are going to leave the Supreme Court which could throw the future of Oregon’s law into question.
Kroger’s confident that whoever succeeds him as attorney general will fight hard to defend this law.
“We need to give people the opportunity to end their lives with spirit and control and dignity, my grandmother didn’t have the opportunity to make that choice,” he concluded.
To learn more about Compassion & Choices and the Gonzales decision, click here.