Yesterday, we took a look at the contributions flowing to both sides of Question 2, the measure on assisted suicide that is on next month's Massachusetts ballot.
As I noted, I was struck by the hundreds of small individual contributors to support Question 2, also known as Death With Dignity — about 500, by my rough count. Several dozen contributed to the opposition as well.
And here's what I thought: I bet just about every one of the people on either side of the issue has a story. They've witnessed a death, and that experience influenced their opinion. So here's an open invitation: Won't you share your story in the Comments section below?
As I've written here before, my mother was in a terrible accident that left her in a persistent vegetative state, and when all hope was gone, we brought her home to die in accordance with her very clear wishes.
We couldn’t just give her an overdose. But we could “withhold care,” so we stopped her tube feedings to let her effectively starve to death. She lay in a hospital bed at home for nine days, slowly fading. Even knowing her wishes, and with support from the most saintly and sensitive hospice workers, it was a nightmare.
At one point, a hospice doctor told us that if my mother showed any signs of discomfort, her morphine dose could be increased. I remember snapping at him something like: “Why in the world would we wait for her to show ‘signs of discomfort’? Crank the morphine all the way up now! Why let there be even a chance of pain? The point here is for her to die, and if the morphine depresses her breathing and hastens that along, so much the better!”
As a journalist, my aim is to inform, and both sides of the debate over Question 2 make very important points that I gladly help spread more widely. As a person, though, my experience with my mother left such an indelible imprint that when I hear concerns about doctors taking a more active role in ending life rather than healing patients, part of me wants to cheer.
Yes, it is a slippery slope and the best of safeguards are needed, but a medical situation like my mother's struck me as simply hypocritical: "We are going to end this patient's life — kill her, in effect — but in such a way that we can call it 'letting her die,' even if that might cause more pain to her."
Question 2 would not be applicable in a situation like hers; a patient must be fully competent to request life-ending medication, and take the pills themselves. But I'll still vote in favor, as a step toward broader acceptance that in certain very specific situations, medicine can help more by ending life than by extending it.
As a journalist, I wouldn't normally share my personal voting plans, but it seemed important to be transparent. And I hope you will be, too. How will you vote on Question 2 and what story lies behind your decision?
This program aired on October 25, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.