Loralee P. Indiana

Dignity in Death

Why physician assisted suicide should be an option in end of life decisions.

Dear President,

I know you’ll never have the chance to meet my grandma but you should know that she was an amazing woman. After raising six of her own children she still had enough love left to make each one of her grandchildren feel treasured. She baked cookies, she knitted dolls, she made quilts. She taught me how to sew and how to collect eggs without getting attacked by the rooster. She was loved by many and adored by all of her children. But the grandma I knew was gone long before she passed away. By the time my grandmother was put on hospice, she wasn’t even my grandma. She wasn’t even a person; she was an empty husk of what she used to be. She had breast cancer, chemotherapy, and a double mastectomy. She had severe diabetes, high blood pressure, and the struggle to keep going wore her out so badly that she didn’t even have the energy to smile when she saw me. She couldn’t stand up, couldn’t breathe on her own, and couldn’t even hug me because she was so bruised and swollen. There were no more cookies, no more crafts. No more Grandma. Watching my grandma deteriorate took a hard toll on my dad and all of his siblings. But for me, it was heartbreaking. I didn’t understand why my grandma didn’t want me around anymore. I now know that she hated being helpless. She was a strong woman who didn’t want help from others, and couldn’t stand to seem weak in front of them. She died from an aneurism, agonized and alone. The paramedics started her heart again in the ambulance and hooked her up to a pump at the hospital. She was grey and cold and braindead, but her heart was still beating. My father, who had her power of attorney, was left with the wrenching decision of stopping his mother’s beating heart.

If my grandma had lived in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, or California, she would have had the choice to avoid her last few months of suffering. In these states, physician assisted suicide is legal and has the backing of state legislature. A licensed doctor must be present, the patient must be competent, and they must be diagnosed with a terminal illness. Diagnoses for terminal illnesses are made all too often. By definition, a terminal illness is a disease that can’t be cured or adequately treated and is reasonably expected to result in the death of a patient within a short period of time. While this option is not promoted or required, it does provide peace of mind to some patients. Patients who have no control of their disease or their death can at least decide when they die. This sense of control is comforting to a person who would rather be at peace than suffer. It’s a sense of peace, knowing that your family will not have to see your suffering or that your son will not have to find you unconscious and not breathing on the bathroom floor.

Opponents of assisted suicide argue that miracles happen, that diagnoses can be wrong. But if a patient has the right to deny lifesaving medicine, should they not have the right to hasten the effect of a terminal illness? Since 1997, 1,545 people from the state of Oregon have been legally prescribed medications that have the intent and power to end their lives. During a five year span in Washington, 725 of these prescriptions have been written. 991 people who received these prescriptions in Oregon, and 712 from Washington, died from ingesting these drugs. What this really means is that 1,703 patients from these two states with a terminal illness chose to put an end to their suffering. I know that you do not single-handedly have the power to legalize this practice across the country. But you do have the power to have an opinion about it. You can realize how many people you could help, how many of your citizens that you could provide comfort to. You may argue that someone with such a wish could simply travel to the places where it is legal. However, often times they are too sick to travel or they can’t afford it due to years of medical bills and failed attempts to increase their quality of living. If you knew that you were going to die in a couple of weeks, wouldn’t you want to save yourself some pain? Wouldn’t you want to save your family the pain of watching your death drag on, wouldn’t you want to die surrounded by your loved ones, finally at peace? My grandma deserved to have this choice and so do Americans all across the country.

Thank you for your time and attention,