Oregon passed the Death with Dignity Act in 1994 and it survived a repeal measure in 1997. In 2005, after several attempts by lawmakers at both the state and federal level to overturn the Oregon law, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 6-3 to uphold the law after hearing arguments in the case of Gonzales v. Oregon.
In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court held that there was “nothing in Montana Supreme Court precedent or Montana statutes indicating that physician aid in dying is against public policy.”
Euthanasia (for people) is technically outlawed in all states, but physician-assisted-death (PAD) is allowed in three of our 50 states. All 50 states, however, allow one to euthanize a beloved pet at the request of the pet’s owner (aka their “people family”). Why am I reporting this to you as if I were turning in a junior high school term paper? Because I’m now witness to yet another ill-dignified death in my family… another grandmother. My favorite grandmother. The grandmother who both spoiled me and taught me to love life. The grandmother who was my confidant and knew things about me long before my own mother did (and she never told!). My personally-sainted grandmother is now living an undignified life – something she has feared for the past few years (since seeing how my paternal grandmother took years of suffering in nursing homes and hospitals until her death – a death that was practically a relief to everyone who loved her because it meant the end of her suffering).
I’m taking my cat in later this week to be “put down”. She is shitting blood, hacking and having difficulty breathing, losing her hair and tumorous. I’m putting her down because she is in pain. She is miserable, and her way of life is no longer living but a wait for death. A slow, painful wait for death. My grandmother, living in Arizona, isn’t allowed the “luxury” of dying like a loved pet. She is part of the bureaucratic bullshit that keeps our elderly “alive” though no longer really living.
When my grandmother suffered a series of strokes last week, as she lay in the emergency room, she said “I wish I could just get on a plane to Oregon and take a few pills when I land so that I can just die.” My grandmother was diagnosed with 4 spinal fractures in early December due to degenerative arthritis. She was (quite obviously) in a great deal of pain. The doctors didn’t give her anything for the pain. They instead gave her a series of injections (daily, directly into her abdomen) to build bone density that had the nasty side-effect of causing her to go into atrial fibrillation (or a-fib). A-Fib is when one or more valves of the heart stop pumping properly. In her case, the blood pooled in the “broken” valve, clotted and then was pushed out to her brain causing her to suffer a series of strokes. (There will be an entirely other story on just how shitty her internal medicine doctor is as well as the evils of big pharmaceutical companies pushing their poisons out to the masses). Note: the doctors treating her now won’t confirm the a-fib was a result of the injections; however, it is a known side effect the medication and grandma wasn’t in a-fib at her previous check-up/EKG.
My grandmother has a very high threshold for pain (something I inherited from her I guess). She hasn’t been a patient in a hospital in 40 years. Now she has somebody pulling her up by her armpits and helping her to the bathroom – something she has told me on numerous occasions that she dreaded. Since being hospitalized almost a week ago, she has told me no less than 10 times that she isn’t afraid of dying. She just doesn’t want to be in pain anymore. See once you have a problem with your heart, they limit the kind of pain medication you can have (i.e. she was getting NOTHING for her back pain in the first 4 days there).
In “primitive” tribes (in my sarcastic “oh-we’ve-come-such-a-long-way-in-our-evolution voice) from November of the Soul: the Enigma of Suicide by George Howe Colt:
“…elderly suicide has often been accepted, even encouraged, when a person outlived his or her usefulness or during times of extreme hardship and food shortage. The ancient Scythians, for instance, considered it an honor to take their own lives when they became too feeble to keep up with the nomadic lifestyle, saving the tribe the guilt and trouble of killing them.”
Some were served lavish feasts before their deaths while others were given provisions in huts to help them bring their lives to end. Others in Siberia would often walk off to freeze to death. Many elderly and infirm would simply drink a toxic potion to end their lives. To them, it was timely and within the rhythm of nature.
There will be no extraneous measures taken to save my grandmother’s life. No feeding tubes, no tracheotomies, not resuscitation. But until her heart stops completely, of its own “natural” causes, she will suffer. She is from a time when women covered their bodies. They didn’t parade around with their derriers hanging out of their hospital gowns. Hell, they never even left the house without their hair done and at least a bit of lipstick. Now my grandmother sits in a hospital room with acid-tripping hallucinations (another side effect of stroke), her hair in a mess, and her brain triggering sometimes scary visions depending on what time of day you catch her. They finally put her on morphine for the back pain, so “the man” is turning her into a junkie at the end of her long life.
When Hippocrates wrote his oath around 400 B.C. (“I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel”) he wasn’t sitting by my grandmother’s bedside. A true medicine man would help relieve the pain and suffering of the patient – even if that means helping to end the patient’s life.
My grandmother, hell everybody, should have the right to die in a manner that she chooses. How dare our government or religious organizations push their self-serving agendas off on the masses when it comes to the matter of dignified suicide.
Kevorkian may have ended up being paraded as a nut job (who totally wussed out at the end of his own life) and a governmental warning, but he had the right idea. So do the people of Oregon, Montana and Washington.
Our elderly suffer pain and indignities that we would never force upon our household pets. Why? The only thing I can think of for a lack of compassion on the part of our government is money. Somebody is getting out-lobbying groups like the Hemlock Society and similar organizations asking for dignified death. Big pharma? Religious groups?
To any of you righteous assholes who think dignified suicide is an abomination against your faith and government, you can go fuck yourself and the high horse you rode in on. It’s your right to believe that hell awaits those who take their own lives just as it’s my right to believe that you’re unenlightened, dark-aged belief system has created a veritable hell on earth. I don’t understand worshiping a god that says one must endure pain and suffering at the end of life to achieve paradise.
My grandmother deserves to die in a manner and time that SHE decides. Her “crime” is a want to end her life at a time when her way of life no longer serves the living. How dare someone else tell her when/where/how that should occur. My grandmother is 82. She has earned the right to die without pain. I’m doing it for my cat, but I’ll go to prison if I do it for her. My love for her crushes me with as I bear witness to her living in a manner that she swore she never wanted. We all hope that our loved ones could die peacefully in their sleep. The sad part is that the opportunity for peaceful, painless death IS currently available to us through medicine. Once again our government, under the guise of moral righteousness, holds people accountable for victimless crimes. When the “victim” wants to end their pain and suffering, the only crime being committed is by the people preventing her from doing so.
There is something VERY fucked up about this picture, and yet nobody wants to see it because we’ve made death such a taboo subject while splashing it violently across our TV, movie and video game screens. I am witnessing an atrocity against nature.
As I opened my computer to write this piece, there was an article on a local newsman who was found dead along with his wife in a hotel room. They left a suicide note. She was terminally ill. They couldn’t take a pill at home with their family surrounding them in their last moments. They had to hide out in a hotel room and keep it a secret. They were found by hotel maids instead of family members.
I’m disturbed, sad and so very angry at this part of our society. Some people have it right and others, the ones in power at least, still have it all wrong.
If you want the right for yourself and family members to die with dignity, to end pain and suffering when the time comes, you MUST act! Call your senators and representatives (see contact info in our Disturbing Info links to the right of this article). Join organizations that advocate physician-assisted-death.
Hunter S. Thompson, famous American writer and father of “gonzo journalism” killed himself with a gunshot to the head at the age of 67 after dealing with ailments that kept him from living his life as he chose. From his suicide note titled Football Season is Over:
“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax -This won’t hurt.”