My grandpa, William E. Whipple, a larger than life man, the father of seven girls, would now be an astonishing 90 years old. Even in his old age he had an unmistakably bold personality and always persevered. But in December of 2019, he reached one of life’s biggest challenges. Nearing his 89th birthday, already dealing with advanced Parkinson’s, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given less than six months to live. As his quality of life decreased rapidly we watched that bright person lose himself before our eyes. At a point, there were no options left other than to accept the dreaded inevitable.
But, thankfully we learned about “death with dignity”. As a Canadian resident he was fortunately able to opt into their advanced physician assisted death program. This decision was not taken lightly, but he insisted it was what he wanted; it was uncontestable. After a month of waiting he turned the day into a celebration full of love and laughter. My grandfather was able to die painlessly, in peace, at home, warmly surrounded by his family and friends.
Sadly, this option is not available to most terminally ill patients. My beloved grandmother’s passing shortly thereafter was a dispiriting, contrasting example.
Currently there are only nine states, including Washington D.C, that have a Death With Dignity Act. According to Pharmacy Times, one in six Americans live in a place where they are able to receive physician assisted death. That’s a very disheartening number considering as of 2015 the CDC says 1.4 million Americans are enrolled in hospice care.
The advantages to the patient are hard to put into words. According to the Death With Dignity National Center only 20% of Americans get to die at home, compared to 95% of Oregon patients in such a program.
An understandable hindrance to enacting these laws is the inevitable controversy over the ethics of it. But, terminally ill patients are already set to pass, most would probably rather do it without suffering. And, shouldn’t this be a choice for the patient not society? Seven in ten Americans agree that it’s the right thing to do. Existing law requires that the patient be of sound mind, have less than six months to live, and must be informed of all possible treatment plans before making this choice. There is indeed a significant process involved and not a single recorded case of abusage.
A peaceful death should be a protected basic human right; a civil or natural right. More than just eight states should be on board. Consider this, if it were the 1800s would you just be a follower? Or would you be an abolitionist?