- This Week
DEATH ISSUE: Unlike in Oregon, Death with Dignity is not legal in California. Why not?
10.29.13 - 3:57 pm |
By Brian Smith
Dad was confused.
He was taking a combination of drugs that were keeping him alive and reducing his pain. His morphine dose was quite high.
The fact that he had even made it to 78 years old was amazing considering he survived California's polio crisis of the 1940s. But now it was coming back. Post-Polio Syndrome weakens muscles that were previously affected by the polio infection. This brilliant man was atrophying both mentally and physically before our eyes. Eventually, he would not be able to breathe. And there was no cure.
"When do we go?" he asked us. "Where are the other attorneys? This is an important deposition."
He was on a kind of mental auto-pilot, reliving 45 years of familiar work stress — not the way anyone wants to experience his final days.
"There are no more depositions," my wife explained in soothing tones. "Your job is done. You were one of California's finest lawyers and you helped build a respected firm in the Central Valley. You should be very proud of your legacy."
"Why won't you let me go?" he said with tears welling up in his eyes.
That cut straight to the issue at hand.
For months, father had been telling everyone who would listen that he was "done." He wanted to die. His quality of life had become so bad (a collection of pills, oxygen machines, and bad cable TV he could no longer understand) that he had nothing left to live for and wanted to die peacefully in his own home, surrounded by loved ones.
But choosing when one dies is not an option in California. The law is quite clear. California Penal Code §401 says: "Every person who deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide, is guilty of a felony."
The circle of family taking care of Dad felt overwhelmed.
The visits by Medicare-supported home hospice nurses were welcome. They were heroic in their one clear mission: to reduce suffering. But hospice nurses are not in the business of ethically assisting someone to die. That remains controversial and illegal in California.
The local "death with dignity" group recommended the only method legally allowed in the state: The dying patient simply quits eating or drinking. In a few days, they slip into a coma and never wake up. But isn't dehydration and starvation really a form of torture? For this to work quickly, not even slivers of ice to cool the mouth are allowed.
There must be a better way.
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