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Dying the Way You Want: What’s Wrong With That?

Many people are willing to put up with prolonged, debilitating, sometimes painful ways to die because they think it’s sinful, selfish, or sacrilegious to choose the time and manner of their death. Or they think of hastening their inevitable death as suicide and they see that as wrong. Some believe that only God can take a life. In this day of medical miracles it is often difficult to know when a natural death has occurred. People who would have died years ago are saved with gene therapy, heroic surgeries, antibiotics, complex medications, and remarkable advances in emergency medicine. The signal that God is ready for you is so obscured that there is almost no such thing as dying naturally. People who would welcome an end to their misery often have no idea about their legal options. Many people are willing to put up with prolonged, debilitating, sometimes painful ways to die because they think it’s sinful, selfish, or sacrilegious to choose the time and manner of their death. Or they think of hastening their inevitable death as suicide and they see that as wrong. Some believe that only God can take a life. In this day of medical miracles it is often difficult to know when a natural death has occurred. People who would have died years ago are saved with gene therapy, heroic surgeries, antibiotics, complex medications, and remarkable advances in emergency medicine. The signal that God is ready for you is so obscured that there is almost no such thing as dying naturally. People who would welcome an end to their misery often have no idea about their legal options.

Humane ways to end suffering are a basic human right. Though death is inevitable, a bad death is not. We should be able to choose the way we die that is consistent with our values and beliefs. Knowing that a peaceful death is a choice can bring happiness and peace of mind. The reality is that often assistance is necessary to bring about a good death and doctors are the only ones that can prescribe medication to bring it about.

In the past 30 years we have won the right to state our wishes for medical care in an advance directive, to appoint a surrogate to speak for us if we can’t speak for ourselves, and to refuse unwanted treatment. Hospice and palliative care can soften the agonies of incurable conditions. People can end their lives by refusing food and fluids. Now California residents who are terminally ill and mentally competent may ask their doctor for a prescription for medication that will end their lives peacefully. Much end-of-life misery for patients and their families is avoidable when we have conversations about available choices and what family members would want. The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, an Episcopal bishop, spoke to a 2003 Hemlock Society national conference and said, “assisted dying should never be a requirement, but it should always be a legal and moral option. The decision to end one’s life needs to be faced openly, honestly, freely and in consultation with our loved ones, our doctors, and our spiritual advisors. When the decision on assisted dying is made this way, I am convinced that it is a life-affirming moral choice.” +

Ms. Faye Girsh is the president of the Hemlock Society of San Diego, which will host a day-long conference, Achieving a Peaceful Death, on Saturday, November 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Speakers will cover ways to protect yourself and your family from a difficult dying experience. Visit hemlocksocietysandiego.org for information. Ms. Girsh will also offer a workshop at diocesan convention on Friday, November 10 at St. Bartholomew’s, Poway.

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Category: #Advocacy, #Communications, #Sundays

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