Monday, March 31, 2008

Death with Dignity in Washington State

Activists in Washington are trying to get an initiative on the ballot for November that would legalize death with dignity. The proposed law is very similar to the one that passed in Oregon about 10 years ago. If it gets onto the ballot and passes, Washington would become only the second state in the nation to have physician assisted suicide.

Here's a link to a pdf with the text of the proposed law.

It's creating some heated and fear-filled discussions in the local papers. Here's a link to an editorial in today's Seattle Times.
You can also read reader responses, which run the gamut from complete support to complete opposition.

An interesting tidbit about this initiative: In February 2008, proponents of the potential law filed a complaint in Thurston County Court saying the title of the Act "Death with Dignity" was misleading because it did not say explicitly that the act would lead to suicide. Proponents wanted the name changed to "Physician Assisted Suicide" to reflect the initiatives goals of creating "an entire protocol for facilitating suicide." However, on February 28, a judge struck down their objection and let the original ballot title stand noting that "suicide" is a somewhat loaded term.

They weren't playing politics ... they were just trying to help the people understand :)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

End-of-life conversations

I find it interesting the extent to which we define a good death with the ability to have a conversation with loved ones before death. In a recent issue of her magazine, Martha Stewart wrote about her mother's death. One of the circumstances she found most moving and comforting was that she had time to talk to her mother before her death. Stewart's mother was able to tell all of her important surviving family members that she loved them and to say goodbye to them.

Is it these actual words that comfort the surviving family members? In contrast, when my grandfather passed last fall, he was essentially in a coma for three weeks before he died and was unable to communicate with any family members. I wonder if the comfort comes not from those actual words of love and goodbye but from what they implicitly say.

When someone gives a "goodbye and I love you" talk on their death bed, aren't they really communicating that they know they're going to die and they're at peace with it? In my grandfather's case, we all knew that he loved us; he was a person who was very vocal about his feelings. No one was in doubt of his affection for them. But, he was afraid of death. And we could have used the comfort of hearing him say that he knew it was the end and he had accepted it.

I think that's the real comfort that comes from those end-of-life conversations. The words coming out may simply be "I love you," "Goodbye," "Take care of your mother," etc., but what they're really saying is, I know I'm dying, and I've accepted it.