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(When you get to be a certain age--ahem--this question becomes more and
more urgent. It is the same fucking bastards who are trying to make
abortion illegal again organizing against the right-to-die. I don't know
if Barbara Ehrenreich gets into this in her new book, but I'll be damned
if I have to endure 6 months worth of torture when dealing with a
NY Times Op-Ed, June 8, 2018
Let Dying People End Their Suffering
By Diane Rehm
It was an emotional moment for my friend and for me. As we sat in the
living room of her home in California, she told me that the breast
cancer that had been responding to treatment for several years had
spread throughout her body. “It’s everywhere now,” she said, adding
without a trace of self-pity: “I have less than six months to live. I’m
so grateful that I won’t have to spend my last days or weeks in extreme
She could tell me that because California’s End of Life Options Act —
supported by 76 percent of her fellow Californians, passed by the State
Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown — had gone into
effect on June 9, 2016. The law made it legal for doctors to prescribe
drugs to end the lives of terminally ill patients, and my friend found
solace in knowing she would have this choice. Her husband and children,
who had seen her bear years of chemotherapy and other treatments and
supported her as her pain intensified, wouldn’t have to watch cancer
torture her mercilessly as it took her life.
California’s law was modeled after the one enacted in 1997 in Oregon, as
were similar laws in Washington, Vermont, Colorado and, most recently,
the District of Columbia and Hawaii; Montana also permits this
end-of-life option as a result of a judicial decision rather than
But this source of comfort was ripped away from my friend and her family
last month when a judge in Riverside County overturned the law on a
technicality. His reasoning? The measure was passed during a special
legislative session dedicated to health care issues, and complainants
argued that it wasn’t about health care.
Try telling that to my friend or the many others whose lives were
upended by the decision of the judge, Daniel Ottolia. As opponents of
the law cheer, she and her loved ones prepare for the anguish to come.
My children and I can empathize. In two weeks, we will mark the fourth
anniversary of the death of John Rehm, my husband. He, too, had under
six months to live and, he, too, was suffering to such a degree that he
begged for medical aid in dying. But that option was not available in
Maryland, where he was in an assisted living center. He ultimately chose
to end his life by refusing to eat, drink and take medications. It took
him 10 long and miserable days to die.
As in my friend’s case, my husband was already going to die. He had
Parkinson’s disease, which left him unable to feed himself or do
anything else without assistance. He did not choose what some insist
upon labeling “suicide.” Those who commit that act do not want to live.
Most terminally ill patients like John would choose life if they could.
So today my friend and many other Californians are staring death in the
face, without the degree of control over it that the End of Life Options
Act briefly granted them. Some people will say they should place their
faith in treatments to ease their pain. But despite the compassionate
work of hospice and palliative care personnel, those treatments have
their limits and cannot offer all patients the end-of-life experience
they seek. Furthermore, as my friend told me, “I am the only one who can
define when my suffering has become unbearable.”
John’s death reinforced my belief that medical aid in dying should be a
choice available to all Americans. That’s why I have been interviewing
patients and doctors for a documentary on the subject, “When My Time Comes.”
What’s happening in California now is an unnecessary tragedy. Judge
Ottolia’s decision is being appealed, and a hearing will be held later
this month. But it could take many months to play out in the courts —
months during which dying patients will be denied the option to mitigate
their pain and distress. The Legislature could reintroduce the measure
and pass it anew — but that process will also take time.
I believe that this must and will be remedied. My confidence comes from
the fact that individual Americans seeking autonomy are driving the
national movement for medical aid in dying. Nearly three-quarters of
Americans believe that terminally ill patients should have that option.
Let me be clear: I understand that many people believe that only God
should determine the time of their death, and I support them 100
percent. Others want every additional minute of life that medical
science can give them, and I support those people 100 percent. But the
end of life is an extremely personal experience. If, when my time comes,
I see only unbearable suffering ahead of me, then I want my preference
to have access to medical aid in dying to be supported 100 percent, as well.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written, “Regardless of what you might
choose for yourself, why should you deny others the right to make this
The California law was allowing patients that choice. Its nullification
is causing them cruel and unnecessary torment.
Diane Rehm, who hosted “The Diane Rehm Show” on NPR for 37 years, is a
producer of the forthcoming documentary “When My Time Comes” and host of
the podcast “On My Mind.”
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