“To my family he was Grandpa Jack, and he was a treasure. We were with him the morning of his death. All of us, including Jack, sat around the breakfast table and talked about what was to come. We talked about how strange and surreal that moment was, and we all expressed our love and respect for him and his decision,” Ohioan Lisa Vigil Schattinger wrote in Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer last December, her first foray into activism in support of end-of-life choice. Grandpa Jack was her stepfather, Dr. Melvin John Rowe III, a noted neurologist, neurophysiologist, author and lecturer from Medford, Oregon, who accessed aid in dying to end his suffering from numerous illnesses including a fatal bone-marrow disorder.
“There’s the absolute reality that you’re going to lose your loved one, and there’s a timeframe to it somewhat. You’re never actually ready to say goodbye though,” says Schattinger. “We’re sad and we miss him, but he chose the way he wanted to go, and it was peaceful and painless. That experience really led me to think, I don’t know how you can not advocate for this.”
Lisa, who holds a master’s degree in nursing, began advocating in her community independently and only recently contacted Compassion & Choices for guidance. Her initiative led to an appearance on the Ohio-based NPR radio show Ideastream just this morning alongside C&C’s director of communications and marketing, Gwen Fitzgerald, explaining why residents of her state deserve end-of-life autonomy. She has also had letters published in The Columbus Dispatch and in the local newspaper in Medford, where she grew up. “The Methodist minister there did a sermon on Christianity and the right to die, and ended with reading my letter. So that was a new forum for me!”
Schattinger feels that she’s honoring her stepfather by communicating the importance of having control at the end of life and raising awareness in a state that offers fewer options than he had. “The more we can talk and share our experiences, the better it is for everybody. One of my ways of approaching this is just to say that we need to further the discussion. Physicians need to talk about it – the whole medical community, the political community, as well as Ohioans overall. I actually have a meeting on Friday with our Ohio state representative.”
Serving as remote caregiver and primary decision-maker for her grandmother the past year and a half has further opened her eyes to the problem of poor communication about healthcare issues. “She’s had several falls and a couple of brain bleeds, and nobody would talk to me about her prognosis. I finally had to say to someone, ‘Is it reasonable for me to be talking to hospice at this point?’ And they fell over themselves saying, ‘Yes, that would be perfect!’ But nobody would talk to me about a 93-year-old woman who’s had a stroke about the possibility of needing hospice. There are so many steps that need to be taken not only among families and individuals, but in the medical community as well. Of course I’ve been in nursing, so at least I have some level of comprehension and some level of understanding that you need to push your own objectives. But I can’t fathom the number of people out there who just are directed without an open conversation. Communication is key to everything, bottom line.”
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