“Years and years ago, it dawned on me that we needed something better for terminally ill people who were having difficulties for whatever reason,” explains retired physician Jim McCreedy about his belief in allowing adults the full range of end-of-life options. The Pennsylvania native received his medical degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The board-certified internal medicine physician started practicing in Kalispell, Montana, in the late ‘60s out of a desire to go where he could make a difference. At the time, no one else there was trained in internal medicine.
During his years of practice, he cared for numerous patients in their final days. “Many slipped away peacefully, but there were those who suffered a slow, agonizing, degrading end. It was not uncommon for them to ask for death,” he says. “Unfortunately, practicing then, it was not legal to help somebody.”
McCreedy, who now lives in Highwood, became formally involved in the movement when Montana’s Baxter decision – the State Supreme Court ruling authorizing aid in dying – came under attack. He volunteers with Compassion & Choices now contacting local legislators and has penned a guest editorial in the Great Falls Tribune in support of death with dignity. “It’s not for everybody,” he explains. “There are people who have religious convictions and other considerations that stand in their way. But to take away the opportunity for people who do believe in it seems wrong to me.”
He is most heartened these days by the great boom in support for aid in dying across the nation and even in his own state, where it’s been available since 2009. “I have Parkinson’s disease; there’s no cure, and it’s going to be progressive. How rapidly, no one knows for sure,” McCreedy says. “Somewhere along the line it’s very likely to get to the point where I don’t want to be around anymore, and I hope at that time that I’ll have good counsel. But right now there’s not a physician in Great Falls that I know of that is willing to take on that challenge.”
He also feels medical schools need to provide more education about end-of-life issues. “It’s all about healing and keeping people alive,” he says. “In fact some people claim aid in dying is against the Hippocratic Oath, which says, ‘Above all else, do no harm.’ But I personally believe that if you have it in your power to end someone’s grief and suffering, it’s doing harm if you don’t take that opportunity.”
Read about Jim McCreedy and other passionate Montana champions in a brand-new colorful report called Five Years of Dignity: The Baxter Ruling and End-of-Life Freedom in Montana.