A debate about choices to end your life

PBS News Hour October 14, 2014: a debate about Brittany Maynard’s decision to take her life rather than continue to suffer with terminal brain cancer.

Brittany a 29 year old married woman decided to move to Oregon because of her terminal brain cancer diagnosis.  She knew that she could receive the medications to take her life legally in Oregon.  She announced that she was intending to take the medications on November 1st.  Part of her reasoning was that she was experiencing more and more intense seizures from the growing tumor and she feared that she would not have the physical  capacity to do so if she didn’t act.  (Oregon requires that the patient physically take the medicine by themselves).  Brittany wanted the opportunity to have a dignified ending and posted a statement on youtube.  She was supported by Compassion and Choices, a nationwide organization advocating for “Death with Dignity”.

Brittany reserved the right not to carry out her plans on November 1 but she ultimately did take her life on that date.

The announcement that Brittany would take her life on November 1 stirred up a controversy that the PBS news hour aired on October 14th, 2014. The segment is about 24 minutes into the program and features a debate by Ira Byock, MD, a palliative care physician, who is opposed to assisted suicide and Barbara Combs Lee, the President of Compassion and Choices.

I personally disagree with the characterization by Dr. Byock that Brittany was being exploited by Compassion and Choices.  The very nature of the organization does not suggest that they would be exploitative of terminally ill patients.

Note that Dr. Byock acknowledges that the medical profession is not currently adequately trained to care for terminally ill patients with the compassion and dignity that they deserve.  This acknowledgment should be taken seriously by you, the reader.  You cannot depend on the medical profession to do what you desire.

This is a controversy that you should discuss with your loved ones and your medical proxy.   To do so, you have to ask yourself the question

“WHAT WOULD I DO IF I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH A TERMINAL ILLNESS?”

Then share your thoughts with those important to you.

Then ask those you love,

“WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOUR WERE DIAGNOSED WITH A TERMINAL ILLNESS?”

Here is another easy way to start a conversation…one of the most important of your life.

An argument for making your plans in a short video

The Wisconsin Medical Society produced a video, released in October 2014, that is designed to encourage you to  make your end of life plans and to begin having the “difficult conversations” about what you want at the end of your life

Take ten minutes to watch people of all ages, faiths and races talk about their ideas as to what they would want. The areas of concern are quite varied and some of them will surely stimulate you to think about what you would want.  Particularly poignant is a young adult in his late 20s who was diagnosed with leukemia whose wife was struggling to make decisions without knowing what he wanted.

It is truly an act of love to let people know what you want so they are able to respond. We need to take responsibility for communicating our wishes should we suddenly become ill and unable to make decisions for ourselves.

Here are some suggestions:

1.  View the video and reflect on the comments particularly meaningful to you.

2.  Invite your loved ones to watch and then talk together.

3.  Challenge family members to engage in preparing their own medical directives.

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