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My Turn: Life and death matters

By ALAN OWSEICHIK

There is an upcoming ballot question asking to allow controlled assisted suicide in Massachusetts. Well, my Dad’s story is the perfect example of why such a law should be passed.

I was born in Greenfield in 1949 and I went to UMass Engineering after high school. I graduated in 1971. There was a recession and no jobs were to be had. So after college, I moved back home and lived with my parents. I was later hired locally. Mom died in 1993 and, after that, nearly every night Dad and I watched TV together and discussed all sorts of things. Sports, news, TV, politics, cars and whatever.

His mind remained sharp throughout his life and the discussions were often long and usually enjoyable. While this is probably superfluous information, it shows we were close as father and son.

One day in early 2005, he called me to say he had terminal prostate cancer. In a few days, with great reluctance, he let me tell my sister who lived in California and she came out to do whatever. Dad did not want to be a bother to anyone and was extremely self-reliant.

Sis and I were at a total loss as to what to do. Dad was very clear that he wanted no outside organizations helping him and he absolutely did not want any sort of life support. Some may remember Terri Schiavo’s life-support controversy, which was national news at the time, and he wanted nothing of any of it. In addition, our 54-year-old neighbor had just died of bone cancer in March.

We suspected things were getting worse and he really said nothing about it. His prostate cancer grew into bone cancer. Sis and I wondered what to do to no avail. His stubbornness prevailed.

Then on April 14, 2005, my sister went off with Dad’s car to visit some old high school buddies. And I was working. This was the opportunity he waited for. When I arrived home around 5 p.m., I found a note on the table. It said “I love you both. I can’t stand the pain any longer. I shot myself in the cellar.”

I went down cellar, found nothing and then went upstairs and searched the whole house. I went down again to a little closed room on the far end of the cellar. He was in there lying down having put a shotgun in his mouth. The sight was horrible.

Obviously, the mental torment and physical pain of his situation prevented him from dealing with any of the things that need to be done before death. Deeds, inheritances, heirlooms and all of that stuff were ignored because of the pain and overwhelming fear of life support against his will.

So I lost my Dad, living partner and best friend and then had to deal with mountains of new problems. I will never recover from it all.

Had assisted suicide been an option, Dad’s last few months would have been much more tolerable. His biggest fear thusly prevented and the horrible event on April 14 would have never happened.

And, this sort of law would undoubtedly provide counseling to the sick person. Such counseling would have pointed out to him the realities of death as far as inheritances, taxes and so forth. He was still smart and alert and a little knowledge from an outsider would have prevented most of his lifetime earnings going into lawyers’ fees, probate rules and inheritance taxes.

So try and appreciate the fear, pain and horror he had to go through and the results on me, his friends and family when you vote.

Please vote to allow Question 2, doctor-assisted suicide.

Alan Owseichik lives in Greenfield.

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