Sharing Death with Dignity Stories

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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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Week 26/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Last week (June 22 to June 28, 2015), the California Assembly Health Committee hearing on Senate Bill 128 – End of Life Option Act was rescheduled to July 7 while the bill’s sponsors seek to round up the votes.

The Economist magazine featured a themed issue, “The right to die,” with a number of articles:

California

The postponement of the Assembly Health Committee hearing on SB 128 generated a flurry of editorials urging the Assemblymembers to pass the bill.

New Hampshire

After Governor Hasson vetoed a bill that would establish a task force exploring end-of-life options in the state, calls re-emerged calling for Death with Dignity to be legalized.

Elsewhere and Other Stories

Image by jun.skywalker.

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Week 25/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Last week (June 15 to June 21, 2015), following our presentation to the editorial board, The Washington Post endorsed Death with Dignity nationwide, including the bill currently pending in the DC Council.

California

A breather here between the historic Senate vote and the upcoming Assembly Health Committee hearing (now rescheduled to July 7).

Maine

The Maine Death with Dignity bill, LD 1270, fell short of passage by a single vote in the Senate.

Elsewhere & Other Stories

Image by Alex.

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The Washington Post Endorses Death with Dignity

There’s huge news today in our mission to give people more options about how to live their final days. And we urgently need your help.

When I visited with District of Columbia Councilmember Mary Cheh earlier this year, there was a thick binder on her desk labeled, “Death with Dignity 2011.” I knew we had found the strong ally we needed—one who had been thinking about this issue for years.

Today, just a week after we went to the Washington Post to make our case, the paper’s influential editorial board strongly endorsed her bill, the District of Columbia Death with Dignity Act of 2015. You can read the endorsement here: “A humane way to end life,” The Washington Post

The bill will give terminally ill DC residents with less than six months to live the option to end their lives at a time and place of their own choosing. It’s written carefully and narrowly, with plenty of safeguards. In fact, it’s modeled on the Oregon law that has worked flawlessly since going into effect in 1997.

Here’s why we need your help today.

Share Your Story

The bill is on the fast track. A hearing has already been scheduled for July 10.

If the bill is going to pass, the DC City Council needs to hear why you support Death with Dignity. Personal stories—from terminally ill patients, their family members, physicians and others—have been indispensable in passing Death with Dignity laws in other states.

You’ve been a steadfast supporter. Would you please tell us why by sharing your story in this simple form?

If you know anyone— a friend, a relative—with a story of their own, I’m asking you to please forward this message to them. Every story will make a real difference. We need all the stories we can get. And we’re counting on you.

Sign the Petition

In the coming weeks, we’ll bring you updates on the status of the bill and the stories we’re hearing from people who want the freedom to live their final days in peace and comfort, with their family and loved ones around them.

In the meantime, please sign this petition, asking the DC Councilmembers to support B21-0031 – Death with Dignity Act of 2015.

It’s time for DC to take its place as the fourth jurisdiction to let its qualified residents choose Death with Dignity. We’re working day and night to make it possible.

I firmly believe we can pass this law—with your continued support and commitment.

Let’s make this happen together.

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Death with Dignity and People with Disabilities

Joan Tollifson portrait

This is a guest post by Joan Tollifson (the subheadings and links are ours). Read our open call for guest posts →

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Joan Tollifson is an author and teacher who was active in the disability rights movement and the independent living movement. She was a participant in the historic month-long 504 Occupation in 1977 of the San Francisco federal building for disability rights, worked at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, and has written numerous articles on disability, several of which have appeared these anthologies on disability: Staring Back, Voices from the Edge, and With the Power of Each Breath. Disability was also a major theme in her first book, Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life, a spiritual memoir. She is the author of four books on non-duality and meditation. She lives in Ashland, Oregon. Find her online at www.JoanTollifson.com.

Much of the opposition to physician-assisted dying comes from disability rights activists who falsely assume that legalizing the right to die poses a danger to them and undermines the value of their lives. Some people with disabilities fear that physician-assisted dying is a slippery slope and that if we legalize it in any form, soon we’ll be killing all disabled babies at birth, people will be bumping off their aging grandparents to get out of caring for them, and everyone in a wheelchair will feel obligated to kill themselves so as not to be a burden. Some people with disabilities hear in the right-to-die movement the old message that we disabled folks would be better off dead and that our lives are not worth living.

I understand from my own life experience where these fears come from. I am an older person, and I was born with a disability (my father was offered the chance to smother me at birth as a result). I have also had many friends over the years with severe disabilities, as well as friends who have lived well with serious chronic pain and incapacitation. But in the case of right-to die legislation, I feel that these concerns are enormously exaggerated and actually quite paranoid and misinformed.

Safeguards in Death with Dignity laws

The current laws that allow physician-assisted dying, or death with dignity, are all very carefully crafted with many safeguards. No one behind these laws is arguing that anyone “should” end their lives, nor does having the right to choose death in certain situations mean that elders or people with disabilities are worthless or better off dead. This is about choice, not coercion or devaluing the lives of elders and people with disabilities. I seriously doubt that right-to-die laws will result in mass exterminations of elders and people with disabilities, nor do I believe that most people would allow that to happen. That certainly hasn’t been the case here in Oregon, where we do have right to die under certain, very limited conditions.

Questioning the Prolonging Life at All Costs

I question the idea that our goal as human beings should be to prolong life at all costs. This kind of thinking comes from a fear of death and a misunderstanding of life. My mother, who loved life passionately, was a strong believer in the right to die. She had no desire to linger beyond the point where life was no longer enjoyable, and she said over and over in her final years that she was ready to go. She had no fear of death. Luckily, she died without a prolonged period of excruciating pain and incapacitation. But not everyone is so lucky.

I have no desire to spend a long time incapacitated and in excruciating pain before I die. I’ve watched loved ones go through all of that, and I know it is no picnic. I saw my aunt being forced to eat in the nursing home when her body clearly wanted to stop eating so she could let go. I don’t have children or siblings or a partner to take care of me in my old age if I become debilitated, and most of my friends are my age or older. I wouldn’t want any of them to have to dedicate their remaining time and energy to taking care of me when recovery is not an option and the quality of my life is (in my estimation) miserable.

We spend an astronomical amount of money in this country on end-of-life care, often on extraordinary measures prolonging the end of life with feeding tubes and ventilators. In my case, I’d much rather have that money spent elsewhere—there are so many things it could be used for instead. I respect the right of others to have different priorities and to make different end of life choices than I would, and I’d like them to give me the same consideration and freedom. I don’t know what’s ahead for me—none of us do. I know what I think I want, and I’ve drawn up my legal papers and left instructions accordingly. At the very least, I’d like the choice.

A friend of mine who died of cancer a few years ago was very happy to be here in Oregon where Death with Dignity is legal. It wasn’t easy to get the prescription, it was a long process. My friend had to jump through many hoops to get those meds: Two doctors had to sign off, forms had to be filled out, people came to talk with my friend and her partner. And she had less than the required prognosis here in Oregon of no more than 6 months to live. In the end, she didn’t use the drugs to end her life. She kept saying it was so interesting how everything was falling away, and she ended up letting the dying process take its course. But she was very glad she had the choice.

In Support of Proposed Legislation

I hope that the legislation supporting the right to die that is currently moving through the state legislature in California and elsewhere will be successful. Those disability groups who are siding with the religious right on this issue don’t speak for all of us with disabilities. Many elders and people with disabilities very much want physician-assisted dying to be legalized.

Death is part of life, not a horrible thing. I love life, but I’m not afraid of death either. Those who feel differently are free to prolong their lives in every way possible for as long as possible. As a deeply religious person (in the truest sense of religion), I see no problem at all with ending my life at a time of my own choosing, if and when, in my judgment, that becomes the best option for myself and all concerned.

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Week 24/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Newspaper stack image

Last week (June 8 to June 14, 2015), a hearing was held in the Tennessee Senate Health and Welfare Committee on a proposed bill as part of the summer study process.

California

The positive media fallout from the Senate vote on SB 128 continues.

Maine

This week the Maine legislature votes on a proposed Death with Dignity bill.

New York

Though there are now four bills in the New York legislature, two apiece in the Assembly and the Senate, meaningful progress appears doubtful.

Tennessee

A vigorous debate of Death with Dignity unfolded in the state in parallel with the hearing on the state’s proposed bill.

Elsewhere and Other Stories

Image by Jason de Villa.

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Week 23/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Last week (June 1 to June 7, 2015) saw the most important event in our movement this year: the California Senate approved SB 128 – End of Life Option Act, a Death with Dignity bill.

California

Having been approved by the California Senate 23 to 14, the End of Life Option Act now heads to the Assembly with the first hearing, in the Health Committee, scheduled for June 22.

Delaware

A proposed bill was heard and promptly tabled.

New York

A new bill has been introduced in the New York Senate, by a Republican lawmaker, bringing the total to four (two in the Assembly, two in the Senate).

Tennessee

Though referring a bill for summer study is a roundabout way of killing a bill quietly, in Tennessee a Senate committee will discuss a proposed Death with Dignity bill.

Elsewhere and Other Stories

Image by Svein Halvor Halvorsen.

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California Senate Approves End of Life Option Act in a Monumental Step Toward Death with Dignity

This is a press release we issued in connection with the California Senate vote on SB 128. For more information, contact Peg Sandeen at 503.228.4415 or Peter Korchnak at 503.501.2461.

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The Death with Dignity National Center today applauds the California Senate for [resoundingly] approving Senate Bill 128 – End of Life Option Act, which will allow terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the right to obtain a prescription medication to end their pain and suffering. The bill passed on a 23-14 vote, and now heads to the State Assembly.

Our political arm, the Death with Dignity Political Fund, has been integral in drafting and promoting the bill, underscored to our Executive Director Peg Sandeen. “We are pleased to see our work culminate in this historic vote, a monumental step toward providing Death with Dignity as as end-of-life option for qualified Californians.”

One such state resident, retired San Diego-area community college instructor, Steve Mione, said, “I am grateful to the California Senators for passing the End of Life Option Act. When my terminal melanoma moves to Stage 4 and I will have less than 6 months to live, I will want the option to choose death with dignity. I want to be alert, to say goodbye to my loved ones, and to fall asleep and die peacefully. It’s my right, knowing my end is imminent, to choose a merciful death. It comforts me that the Senators voted to provide me and my fellow Californians with this option.”

Providing peace of mind and control for the terminally ill while safeguarding against coercion for those who are vulnerable, SB 128 is closely modeled on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

Death with Dignity National Center’s Vice President George Eighmey said, “Our testimony on the 17 years of flawless implementation of Oregon’s law not only refuted the opponent’s unfounded allegations, but convinced many senators that having a similar California law would provide their constituents with the full range of end-of-life options.”

The Death with Dignity National Center expressed gratitude to the bill’s sponsors, Senators Monning and Wolk, for garnering the necessary support in the Senate to pass SB 128.

“Polls show overwhelming—and growing—support for physician-hastened dying,” said Sandeen. “The time is right for California to adopt this law.”

Mione concurred, saying, “I urge the California Assembly to follow the Senate’s lead and swiftly pass the End of Life Option Act.”

Image by < a href=”https://flic.kr/p/3eZk7G” target=”_blank”>Josh Mazgelis

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Upcoming California Senate Vote on SB 128 a Monumental Step Toward Death with Dignity

The vote in the California Senate this Thursday to allow terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the right to obtain a prescription medication to hasten their death is only about 48 hours away. Our political arm, Death with Dignity Political Fund, has been integral in drafting, promoting, and supporting Senate Bill 128 – End of Life Option Act, according to our Executive Director Peg Sandeen. “We are pleased to see our work culminate in this historic vote on the floor of the California State Senate, a monumental step toward providing Death with Dignity as as end-of-life option for qualified Californians.”

One such state resident, retired San Diego-area community college instructor, Steve Mione, said, “I have terminal melanoma, and when it moves to Stage 4 and I will have less than 6 months to live, I will want the option to choose Death with Dignity. I want to be alert, to say goodbye to my loved ones and to fall asleep and die peacefully. It’s my right, knowing my death is imminent, to choose a merciful death. No legislator or other human being should deny it to me.”

Providing peace of mind and control for the terminally ill while safeguarding against coercion for those who are vulnerable, SB 128 is closely modeled on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. Our Vice President George Eighmey said, “The Oregon law has been implemented carefully and worked exactly as intended for 18 years.”

Following a lengthy, four-month process, involving three emotional Committee hearings and a vigorous public debate, the June 4 vote comes on the heels of the decision by the California Medical Association to drop its opposition to physician-assisted dying and change its stance on the bill to neutral. The CMA acknowledged the primacy of physician-patient relationship in healthcare decisions.

“The End of Life Option Act is designed to give patients more options at the end of life and to uphold the integrity of the patient-physician relationship,” confirmed Sandeen, applauding the bill’s sponsors, Senators Wolk and Monning. “Polls show overwhelming—and growing—support for physician-hastened dying. The time is right for California to adopt this law.”

Mione concurred, saying, “I urge the California Legislature to pass the End of Life Option Act.”

Image by Brian Wilkins

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Week 22/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

News Neon Lights

Last week (May 26 to May 31, 2015), SB 128 – California End of Life Option Act passed 5-2 in the Appropriations Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote this Thursday. Delaware now has a proposed bill, with a hearing scheduled for this Wednesday.

A new Gallup poll shows support across the U.S. for Death with Dignity increasing by 10 percentage points, to 68%.

California

California is gearing up to the Senate floor vote on SB 128 – End of Life Option Act.

Delaware

Delaware is the latest state to see a proposed Death with Dignity bill.

Elsewhere and Other Stories

  • Maryland: A former Attorney General advocates for the Death with Dignity bill to return in the next session. “Going gentle into that good night in Md.,” Baltimore Sun, 5/27/2015
  • A new Gallup poll shows support across the U.S. for Death with Dignity increasing by 10 percentage points, to 68%. Americans favor the right-to-die regardless of their political leanings, age bracket, or how survey questions are worded.

Image by Robert Couse Baker.

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