My Turn: Death with dignity must not be denied

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Published: 2/26/2023 10:34:14 PM
Modified: 2/26/2023 10:33:11 PM

I was moved by Sidney Ko’s article “’Death with dignity push continues,” in the Feb. 21 Recorder in which she highlighted the End of Life Options Act supported by state Senators Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Jim O’Day D-Boylston, Ted Phillips, D-Sharon, and 77% of Massachusetts voters who now support the Legislature passing this act.

In the past year and a half, I was able to accompany my sister-in-law in her journey toward her end of life as she suffered from losing her speech and use of her hands due to a stroke, plus losing mobility and spatial orientation. A former artist, she couldn’t hear, speak, write or move. She was hospitalized four times in four months with broken bones from her frequent falls and was kicked out of various rehab facilities in nursing homes because she didn’t qualify as needing 24/7 nursing care, just assistance care — and neither Medicare nor her Medigap would pay for it.

Eventually she chose to die by VSED, stopping eating and drinking as a form of self-chosen death. She said she was more afraid of life in her useless body than of dying. She and I together researched her options and found that in Massachusetts only VSED was legal at this time. We found Dina Stander, a local death doula who helps people and their families plan for their end of life in responsible, conscious ways. She helped us and my sister-in-law consider her alternatives to living in a body that she could no longer trust to serve her life.

She chose to move to hospice at Fisher House in Amherst. I cannot praise this supportive, compassionate and comforting environment enough although I am aware that I and many others could not afford to live there while waiting to die. (Our medical insurance system doesn’t seem to support natural dying, only death and the medical industry that is invested in keeping a person alive at all costs, even their own comfort in the dying process.)

My sister-in-law’s death was a good death, peaceful, calm, connected with family, able to say goodbye, and putting her affairs in order to leave behind and pay them forward in her chosen ways. Stopping eating and drinking is hard work. There were moments when she’d cry out “I’d kill for a plum right now,” or “I’d love the taste of a strawberry,” but she persisted with a fierce will to achieve her goal of leaving her body.

She studied spiritual teachings and developed a solid belief in death being part of life, and sought to live each day aware that one day she would leave this Earth plane.

Not everyone has her strong will. I don’t. But I do hope that when my time comes there will be a legal way to obtain medical assistance in dying thanks to the wisdom of our legislators who understand that, like my sister-in-law, death and life are interwoven partners, not to be feared and not to be denied. As we choose how we live, so should we be able to choose how we die.

Becca King of Greenfield is a retired clinical social worker and hospice respite volunteer. 


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