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Death with Dignity

by David Atkins (“thereisnospoon”)

A friend sent along this deeply touching blog post by the husband of a woman with brain cancer who chose the time and manner of her own death. After losing control of one side of her body due to the terminal illness, she was allowed to take control of her own destiny in a painless fashion surrounded by family, friends and relatives because of Washington’s Death with Dignity law. In most other states across America, she would have been forced to linger increasingly painfully and helplessly without recourse despite her wishes.

Vermont and Massachusetts are working on their own versions of this law as well, and I am pushing legislators in California to get the ball rolling again on this as well.

The principle involved here is that people with terminal illnesses should be able to choose the time and place of their passing. They shouldn’t be forced to allow their illness choose it for them. Obviously, safeguards need to be put in place to prevent the terminally ill from being pushed into the decision. But those safeguards are written into any decent version of the law.

With the graying of the U.S. population, this is increasingly a major issue of social justice. The wealthy, as they do now, will have personal physicians who will “accidentally” allow their patients to administer morphine overdoses. But the poor will be forced to suffer needlessly. Nobody should be forced to extend their life wracked with pain because the State told them it was illegal to do otherwise.

Despite my young age, this is an important subject for me. I am very goal-oriented in my own life, and I don’t take well to incapacitation through illness or otherwise. I don’t drink alcohol or do drugs not because of moral concerns, but because I don’t like not being in control of my mental faculties. My priorities in life are 1) to make the world a better place; 2) to take care of my family and friends; 3) to see and experience as much of the world as possible during my brief stay on the planet; and 4) to do it all with as much autonomy as I can.

If I’m lucky enough to live a long life and die from a slow illness such as cancer, I would hope to be able to be in control of that process. If I’m mentally incapacitated, it will be difficult for me to help make the world a better place; my family and friends would be taking care of me, rather than the reverse; I wouldn’t be able to see or experience much while laid out in bed; and the illness itself will have removed much of my autonomy. A few more debilitating and painful weeks or months of life will not be valuable to me. What will be valuable is the ability to say goodbye to my family and my friends in a dignified and compassionate way as I prepare to take that final journey toward a destination unknown.

The idea that so-called “freedom-loving” conservatives would take that freedom from me is infuriating, and part of the struggle to which I have devoted my life includes stopping them from forcing their misguided authoritarian priorities on the rest of society.