Death With Dignity in Massachusetts

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Lauren Mackler is a world-renowned coach, psychotherapist, and author of the international bestseller Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life.

Watching a loved one die without dignity is devastating. Sadly, both of my parents experienced prolonged, painful, and what I considered to be, unnecessarily inhumane deaths.

Twelve years ago, I attempted to discuss end-of-life planning with my mother and father. Because I believe that death is simply a transition to another plane of existence, I tend to approach the topic in a rather direct and practical way, as was the case with my parents back in 2000. I suggested that they do end-of-life planning in advance, to ensure clarity about their wishes and to avoid any potential family conflict. But because neither of my parents were able to discuss or plan for death, at the end they were each kept alive by artificial means and suffered heart-wrenching deaths.

Following emergency surgery for a ruptured intestine, my 90 year-old father languished on a hospital respirator for more than a month. During this time, I happened upon a documentary on HBO called How to Die in Oregon. The film is about the Death with Dignity laws in Oregon and Washington, which allow mentally competent, terminally-ill adults to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to hasten their death. How to Die in Oregon doesn’t tell people how they should die, but it shows how having more options for end-of-life care gives people more peace of mind in their final days.

I had always felt conflicted about physician-assisted suicide. But after watching the How to Die in Oregon documentary, I became convinced that Death with Dignity should be a legal option for any adult facing terminal illness. On November 6, 2012, the Death with Dignity Initiative (also known as Question 2) will appear on the general election ballot in my home state of Massachusetts. The proposed law would allow for a terminally ill adult with six or fewer months to live to be given lethal drugs. The patient requesting the medication must be mentally capable to make medical decisions while consulting their respective doctors. Patients would be required to submit their request orally twice and witnessed in writing, and the initial verbal request must be fifteen days prior to the written request and second oral request. The patient’s terminal diagnosis and capability to make health care decisions must be confirmed by a second doctor.

Supporters of the proposed law argue that the measure would give terminally ill patients dignity and control over their deaths, and would alleviate suffering. Opponents argue that the measure is morally wrong, and that beneficiaries of terminally ill patients could abuse the provisions presented by the proposal. In early October, YouGov America interviewed 498 registered voters in Massachusetts for a poll released by the University of Massachusetts. The survey found 65% of the registered voters would vote yes on the Death with Dignity initiative.

Having witnessed the heartbreaking suffering of both of my parents, I feel strongly that I’d want the legal option to utilize the Death with Dignity Act should I ever be faced with a terminal illness. Rather than incur prolonged suffering or be a burden to my family, I would prefer to have a “good death”—have the time and ability to say goodbye to my loved ones, be able to leave when it’s time to go, and not have my life unnecessarily prolonged.

© 2012 Lauren Mackler
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