In Defense of Death with Dignity

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This month’s Ethical Action Spotlight is turned on Em Sabatiuk, Chair of the BES Caring Committee, and her defense of death with dignity. I will let Em share her experience in her own words. I thank Em both for the article, and for her deep compassion and commitment to the members of BES.

I did not think about my death very much until my mother unexpectedly died when I was fifteen. It was a tremendous shock and brought a painful awareness of the reality of life. Because of my experience I had a deep concern that I might not live to see my children through their childhoods and was greatly relieved when all three were grown and secure in their lives as adults.

In later years I began to question the much extolled longevity of life versus the quality of life. The prospect of becoming a long-term physical or financial burden to my family began to weigh upon my mind, so I was very receptive to information offered by the Hemlock Society, which later evolved into Compassion and Choices and the Final Exit Network (FEN). Both of these organizations continue to fight for an individual’s basic human right to die at a time and in a way of his or her own choosing.

I read the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry and later attended a workshop of the Final Exit Network to know more about the right-to-die movement. I learned that FEN is dedicated to helping not only the terminally ill but also those suffering from an incurable condition such as might result from a stroke or be the case with emphysema or Parkinson’s. My own concern is the possible diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, which I consider to be a devastating illness because it tends to be very long-term, removes the victim from reality, and in many ways is a terrible drain on the family involved. That is why I was so determined to be knowledgeable about the possible ways of achieving self-deliverance.

I have devoted time and energy to working for FEN, an organization bound by strict protocols that permit self-deliverance information to be provided but not the physical or chemical means to actually achieve it. The group is all voluntary and composed of first responders who interview prospective clients, exit guides who usually develop a caring relationship with the individual, and a medical board that determines the eligibility of the applicant. The person is invariably relieved and secure in the knowledge that advice and comfort are available to them in their time of crisis. In some instances people do not follow through but rather choose to have a natural death with palliative care and/or hospice.

As recently stated by Dick Walter, president of Vermont’s Patient Choices at the End of Life, a not-for profit advocacy and political action organization, “Death with dignity is a cause I feel in my heart, soul and conscience. It’s worthy of every one of us who values life, treasures dignity, and wants never to be told by a stranger or bureaucrat that our life is not our own, or that suffering is the property of their law or morality…I am constantly encouraged and nourished by news of people’s struggles to help their loved ones die in a humane way.”

For those who wish to obtain more information about FEN, go to www.finalexitnetwork.org or write to FEN, PO Box 665, Pennington, NJ 08534. At org.opn.lists.right-to-die one may access news of the international movement made available through a moderated news list.

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