Sharing Death with Dignity Stories


We have long asked members of our community to tell us why they support Death with Dignity. The most common thread running through the responses is that people are in favor of Death with Dignity because of a heartbreaking personal experience. Over the past few months, as half of state legislatures considered Death with Dignity bills, we’ve received an unprecedented number of stories from people all around the country.

Today on this blog we begin a new series, underscoring, in our supporters’ words, the reasons for Death with Dignity to become a legal end-of-life option everywhere. We present the stories you’re about to read in raw form edited only for clarity and length. Because of next week’s hearing on SB 128 – California End of Life Option Act in the Assembly Committee on Health, we begin with stories from the Golden State, many of which express support for the pending legislation. And though none of the stories reference the upcoming Independence Day, the spirit that we associate with the holiday, of personal liberty, individual self-determination and decision-making, and freedom from outside interference, is palpable.

Why Californians Support Death with Dignity

My father, Mark Gonnella, passed away of colon cancer in California on March 10th, 2007, at the age of 51. I am still haunted by the extent to which he suffered in his final days. I remember my father telling me that he “didn’t want to die this way”; that he “didn’t want to suffer.” If my father had the option of aid in dying medication, he would have taken it. I spent the last week of my father’s life pressing the button of his timed morphine pump every 10 minutes, on the dot. He would still wake up screaming in pain. I wish I didn’t have to remember him that way. I wish he could have died on his own terms.
—Francesca G.

I was diagnosed with lung cancer in June 2014, and I had a lobectomy. I’m holding my breath at this time waiting on my cat scan. I don’t want to drown in my own fluids. Chemo was too strong for me, so much so that I once passed out on the way to the kitchen in the middle of the night. I would not end my life unless I felt the worst was starting. I don’t want to die, but I also don’t want a long excruciating death either. Why should I live in pain?
—Connie C.

My father passed away 5 weeks ago today with terminal cancer. He was 91 and had been healthy most of his life. He went to the gym 6 days a week and church every Sunday. We had hospice at home to help but it was a painful and horrible death. My dad never wanted to die like that. When my dad asked his long time doctor to please help him, “give me a pill,” the doctor leaned forward and said, “I wish I could, Calvin, but the only way for you to speed up the process, is to quit eating and drinking.” From that day forward my dad only drank enough water to get his pain pills down. It took thirteen days for him to pass away. I don’t understand how anyone who has watched someone they love die like that would not support a death with dignity law. Why do we allow someone else’s belief dictate our right to choose how we pass on? Thank you for supporting the SB-128 bill.
—David S.

I support Death with Dignity after watching my 83 year old mother-in-law suffer for 5 weeks (so far) as she dies a humiliating third world death of starvation and dehydration. Upon being diagnosed a year ago with terminal cancer, she lived her life to the fullest. She told her doctor and family her wishes to end her life when the time came. But when we engaged hospice we were informed that if we left the medications she wanted within her reach, we would be accused of criminal neglect. Please give our elderly the option, should they choose it, to end their lives on their own terms. They don’t deserve the pain and suffering.
—Lisa T.

My brother was diagnosed with ALS 7 months ago. We have no family history of the disease- I’m hoping I don’t get it He is detiorating SO FAST it is Painful to watch. He has not talked about suicide but he is kind of depressed. I think he should have the right to choose that option if he wants.
—Margo D.

I have seen too many people suffering needlessly and it’s not going to happen to me. I have emphysema, drugs aren’t helping. I will not get to the point where I’m gasping for air with no relief nor will I be a burden on my husband not only physically but financially. Instead of committing suicide, which may fail, I want the option of assisted death, ending the pain. Many physicians want to see Death with Dignity enacted, but as it stands now their hands are tied.
—Karen S.

I have cared for three of my closest family members that have gone home before me with terminal cancer dying the slow painful ending: my husband at only the age of 59, father, and years later mother who passed in hospice, finding no peace. I do not want my end to be the same story. My husband would have very much been for this bill to pass. Mother would say daily, “I want to die, let me go…” She was 92 and should have had the choice to leave with dignity. No one knows the pain they feel or the pain of the caregivers who stay behind to live with those memories. I do not want to leave that kind of memories for my children and grandchildren.
—Saundre L.C.

I’m just getting diagnosed with lung cancer on July 10th. My doctor has already told me about it and what to expect. I don’t want to die curled up in a fetal position totally knocked out and others having to care for my basic private needs. Please pass this bill so we can die while we still have our dignity.
—Connie K.

Had death with dignity been available in CA, it would have saved my 97 year old mother from her last two years of pain and misery!
—Frank K.

Both of my parents died horrific deaths, Dad nine years ago and Mom eight months ago.

My Dad was a brilliant architect before he had a stroke. One afternoon, we were trying to get him to the bathroom. He collapsed on top of me on the floor and I held him in my lap while Mom called 911. Dad wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. He died in my arms. EMT’s confirmed he was gone, then asked, “Do you have a DNR?” Mom and Dad hadn’t finalized their medical directives so EMTs started resuscitation and revived his heart. Dad never would have wanted to be resuscitated only to suffer. Death with Dignity would have been an enormous gift to him and to our family.

My Mom lived eight years after Dad died and lived in our home the last three years. During these years she had serious health problems. Her doctor gave her a choice: come to the hospital and he’d arrange surgery, or do nothing and die. He told her there was an 60% chance she wouldn’t survive the surgery. Mom made the choice to stay home and die. She said she wished she could just take a pill and end it. All I could do was comfort her, watch her suffer and wait for death.

I became an advocate for Death with Dignity after experiencing my parents’ deaths. Both of them were conscientious people yet our laws denied them the right to make decisions about their own deaths. It’s difficult to help a parent die. In our culture, no one teaches us how to face death. It’s time our laws supported end of life preparation through Death with Dignity.
—Joy C.

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