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Barbara Coombs Lee: Allow terminally ill a peaceful escape

Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee wrote a moving piece in The Albany Times Union that pushes back against the false idea that those who choose medical aid in dying are “giving up”. Take a look at the excerpt below:

Cancer comes in many forms, with many degrees of ferociousness and velocity. Sometimes modern medicine can beat it back. Stories like Hanson’s are, indeed, joyous celebrations. But often, and sadly, cancer continues a relentless course in spite of every effort to cut it out, irradiate it, or poison it into remission. People die of cancer, and not because they didn’t try hard enough to cure it.

Brittany did not make a different decision from Hanson. She made the same decision, to undergo aggressive treatment. But it didn’t work. That doesn’t make her weak, or a quitter. It just means life dealt her a lousy hand. Given that hand, Brittany determined to make the best she could of it.

People who are comforted to know medical aid in dying is available if they need it are also committed to fighting their disease when there’s a chance to cure it or slow its progression. The Hansons present a false choice of treating disease or submitting to death. That kind of thinking is seductive. It supports our delusion that we are different from those who die of cancer, and that difference will save us. But it does a grave disservice to those unlucky enough to have fought bravely, long and well and died anyway.

Of course, people hearing they have a terminal illness want to beat it. If they can’t beat it, they want to slow it. If they can’t slow it, they want excellent pain control and comfort care. If hospice cannot control pain and other symptoms, they want a peaceful escape from suffering, hopefully at home, in the arms of their loved ones. Why would a benevolent government, or a compassionate politician, or a fortunate cancer survivor, want to deny them that?

Click here to read the full article in the Times Union.