Death with Dignity Supporters Have Stories to Tell


Everyday, I chat with people who want to help us advocate for the Death with Dignity laws we promote. Supporters come to us from all different groups and all 50 states, and they’re some of the most dedicated you’ll find. The reason people feel so strongly about these laws is usually because of a personal experience—either through facing a serious illness like Penny has or because they were bedside when a loved one died.

Unfortunately, most who’ve found us after witnessing a death did so because the dying person suffered terribly and pleaded for assistance in dying. This was the case for our newest board member, George Eighmey and long-time supporter Dee, who’s committed to our long-term stability and has included us in her will.

These experiences are contrasted with people in Oregon, Vermont or Washington who shared the peace of mind their loved ones experienced because of the Death with Dignity laws in these states. Some I had the honor of working with to help them navigate the details of the law like Jason and his family in Vermont. Others are like Becky who contacted us after her sister’s death to thank us for the Death with Dignity Act in Washington.

Often these conversations are just the start of a long relationship with a supporter, and many continue to volunteer and support us long after witnessing the peaceful deaths of their friends or family members. One such advocate, Nora, generously shares her experiences with Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act often, and has written several times about her husband who was one of the first in Oregon to request the medication. Nora has a gift for distilling all the words I communicate on a daily basis into a succinct and meaningful statement about why Death with Dignity laws should be in every state:

To provide real dignity in dying, we must unconditionally respect the unique and inherent personhood of the person at the center of the process.

Some advocates I don’t have the honor of speaking with directly. Like many when a message goes viral, I come across their clear pleas for more end-of-life options on one online medium or another. In 2013, two prominent figures recorded their support for Death with Dignity laws. Eight days before he died, Dr. Donald Low, who’s best known for being the calm public voice which soothed Canadians through the SARS outbreak of 2003, recorded a message to Canadian lawmakers asking them to change their nation’s laws and allow people to determine what’s best for themselves in their final days.

Before Dr. Low’s video, groundbreaking theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking very clearly articulated his support for laws allowing for safeguarded physician-assisted dying. Dr. Hawking isn’t the only person living with a disability who feels misrepresented by some groups who oppose Death with Dignity laws. One such person is Joan Tollifson, a strong supporter of Death with Dignity laws and long-time disability rights activist. She’s fed up with being told how she should feel about end-of-life options:

Obviously, I do not want to exterminate people with disabilities! I just want people like myself to be free to make up our own minds. I’m tired of the religious right trying to control my body and run my life, and the heartbreak of having the disability rights movement now in their corner is beyond words.

These are just some of the strong personal stories for why people come to support us and the Death with Dignity laws we promote. You can read more in the Personal Stories section of our blog.

How about you; what experience brought you to the Death with Dignity movement? Please tell us in the comments section below.

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