Even before my wife’s illness and death, I was in favor of “death with dignity” rights for those suffering from terminal illness. At this most important and terrifying time in a person’s life, we should be able to choose how and when our life will end — to have some control over a life that has been taken over by doctors, tests, treatment, sickness, pain, and loss of self.
Being able to know how you will die, where you will die, and who will be around you is important. Relieving suffering is important.
It allows a person to be able to LIVE their remaining days. It allows loved ones the chance to say goodbye, share intimate moments and feelings. We hold so much in when someone is facing the unknown date of death — not knowing how to act, what to say, unable to be intentional with our love and loss when it counts most.
If “death with dignity” legislation was approved in Minnesota — as it has in many other states — we could grow in awareness of how to help people during this difficult time of letting go.
My partner, Monica, had a Health Care Directive that was not much help in her last weeks. She had wanted to be able to manage the pain and have a quality of life until the end. Hospice did all they could. But no one could anticipate how difficult and uncontrollable her death would be. Battling the constant increase in pain led to her being unable to relate and converse with us. Extreme agitation filled her last days.
Monica was the most selfless person I ever met — kind and compassionate, always interested in how you were doing, a great listener. She lived her life as a Buddhist.
We were together for 12 years and married for almost 6. We both loved the outdoors, dogs and cats, biking, hiking, skiing, traveling, and spending time in Grand Marais, where she had built a home in 2003.
She loved teaching middle school health in Roseville. She was an accomplished runner in high school, with state championships in track and cross county, and continued running in college at Utah. Over the years, she ran many full and half marathons, as well as skiing the Birkebeiner. A few months prior to our plan to move permanently to Grand Marais in Fall 2019, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. We were lucky to be there for the last three months of her life.
We did not talk about a preferred way to die. Since there was not an option to pursue — and we were just trying to keep up with this new life of doctors, hospital, and lab work — we were in shock and simply trying to cope. We wanted to live in the moment, be positive, and focus on keeping her well with treatment.
We were connected with palliative care that was very helpful in medication management and helping us feel heard and real.
Monica lost her mother in 2015 after watching her linger for days. She knew then that a person should not have to suffer.
We don’t let our pets suffer when they are at their end of life, so why human beings, our loved ones?
My hope is that we are all able to explore our thoughts on death and what is important to us at that time in the closing months or weeks or days of life.
If a person wants to make the decision to choose the timing of their inevitable, impending death, I believe it is their right. It is not something to be decided by others.
A bill is being drafted to be presented soon in the House Health Committee for review and discussion. If passed there it would go to the House for their vote. It did not make it past the Health Committee last year. We need to continue moving forward and grow momentum. I will continue to actively pursue education about this legislation, and awareness of my wife’s story, to recognize this right for any human being who wants to make their own choice — which authorizes medication from a doctor to self-ingest when there are fewer than six months of life remaining.