My Right to Die: Assisted Suicide, My Family, and Me

Kevin Drum, writer for the website and magazine Mother Jones, has penned an excellent article for the January /February 2016 issue on physician assisted dying which has been posted online:

EVERY STORY HAS A BEGINNING. This one starts in late 2001, when my father-in-law fractured three of his ribs. Harry was a retired physician, and after a thorough workup that he insisted on, it turned out that his bone density was severely compromised for no immediately apparent reason. Further tests eventually revealed the cause: He had multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

Harry’s cancer was caught early, and it progressed slowly. By 2007, however, it had taken over his body. When my wife saw him in early 2008, she remarked that he looked like someone in a lot of pain but trying not to show it—despite the fact that he was taking oxycodone, a powerful opiate.

During a career that lasted more than three decades, he had watched all too many of his patients struggle with their final months, and this experience had persuaded him that he would take his own life if he found himself dying of an agonizing and clearly terminal illness. Now he was. Finally, on the evening of January 29, he stumbled and fell during the night, and decided his time had come: He was afraid if he delayed any longer he’d become physically unable to remain in control of his own destiny.

This was important. Since Harry lived in California, where assisted suicide was illegal, he had to be able to take his life without help. Because of this, he initially intended not to tell either of his daughters about his decision. He wanted to run absolutely no risk that merely by being with him in his final moments, or even knowing of his plans, they’d be held responsible for his death.

Luckily, neither my wife nor her sister had to learn of their father’s death via a call from the morgue. A friend persuaded him to call both of them, and on January 30 we all drove out to Palm Springs to say our last goodbyes. After that, Harry wrote a note explaining that he was about to take his own life and that no one else had provided any assistance. It was time. He categorically forbade any of us from so much as taking his arm. He walked into his bedroom, put a plastic bag over his head, and opened up a tank of helium. A few minutes later he was dead.

You can read the full article here.