I have always been a supporter of the right-to-die and Death with Dignity legislation, but now it has acquired a very real and personal urgency. Here is a link to the FAQs at the Death with Dignity National Center website; one of those questions addresses exactly the situation in which my mother finds herself:
Can't people simply hasten death through overdoses or by refusing medication, nutrition or hydration?
Ironically, such measures can take several weeks before resulting in death and may include unanticipated and agonizing effects — effects that often can only be palliated through days or weeks of deep sedation. In contrast, the purpose of the Oregon and Washington laws is to provide dying patients with the control, predictability and peace of mind that comes with knowing the how and when of death.
My mother chose to stop eating in order to assert one last act of control over her life and her death, but I don't think she realized that this would lead to an ordeal that is now in its third week; I certainly had no idea that someone in such extremely poor health could survive so long without food and now, for almost a week, with no fluids. She began arranging hospice care earlier this year before embarking on this path, and the hospice nurses and doctors have been wonderful. Yet these dedicated and skilled medical professionals are not able to change the fact that dying of starvation and dehydration can prove to be a long and painful way to die.
I spent ten days with my mother, Day 5 through Day 15 of the ordeal. My aunt (her sister) arrived on Day 11 and is there now. If the ordeal goes on, my aunt will have to go home this week, and I will go back again, and so we will continue to trade places until the end. One of the hospice nurses told us that her mother lived for a month like this; I can only hope my mother will not have to endure such suffering.
She deserved better than this. Much better.
For now, I will just keep hoping that the end will come soon. Then, over time, I will use this blog to reflect on what this means and also on what I can do to help make sure that all of us have the right to choose a better end to our lives when that end comes.
I will begin by learning everything I can from the DeathwithDignity.org website.