February 27, 2015
I have been diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer — a glioblastoma. Because of my diagnosis, I would likely be eligible for the state’s help to commit suicide under a bill before the General Assembly — and that is terrifying.
Like many Connecticut residents, I have wondered whether I would want my doctor to offer suicide as a treatment for deadly cancer. The out-of-state proponents of the bill regarding physician-assisted suicide suggest having the ability to end your life legally is comforting. But I can tell you from personal experience that it is nearly as troubling as the cancer itself.
You see, I get strength and comfort from the knowledge that nobody is going to give up on me — medically, psychologically or holistically. Right now, I have the firm support of the state and my fellow citizens in my desire to live — no matter the cost or burden. If that were to change, the tiny knowledge that I might be straining my family, friends, doctors or community resources unnecessarily would be a heavy burden. The constant “option” for suicide would wear at my resolve and I fear, become an unspoken “duty” for me and others.
In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, the top reasons people give for wanting a deadly prescription are fear of losing autonomy (91.5 percent), fear of being less able to engage in activities (88.7 percent) and fear of loss of dignity (79.3 percent). These are not good enough reasons to upend the medical axiom of “first, do no harm.”
I don’t dismiss anyone who has seen a relative or friend in fear of pain, or witnessed an uneasy or even uncomfortable death. Both sides have compassionate people. But fear of pain ranks near the bottom of reasons people access legal assisted suicide (24.7 percent). If we really want to help more people at the end of their lives in Connecticut, assisted suicide laws would be one of the riskiest, least effective and dishonest ideas. Not only are very few people able to navigate the necessary second opinions and referrals, or plan properly for waiting periods to obtain the drugs in time for their death, there is evidence of and ample opportunity for abuse.
In 2014, Connecticut legislators enacted a pilot program regarding medical orders at the end of life. These forms, given to medical and hospital personnel, declare in advance the level of intervention a person wants when receiving emergency or end of life care. To build on these efforts and provide laws that will actually help the most people, our legislators should increase awareness and access to hospice and palliative care, double funding for home health care and their aides (more jobs!) and require mandatory training for doctors on pain management techniques.
These measures would help many more hundreds and thousands of Connecticut people rather than undercutting the care and security of people like me who are fighting for their lives.
For me, this is a very personal fight. I find that my ongoing battle against aggressive glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer does not define who I am as a person, but instead provides me opportunities to share with others the innate value that every person can bring to society — whether infirm or able. My brain may be cancerous, but I still have lots to contribute to society as a strong woman, wife and mother while my family can daily learn the value of caring for me in my last days with compassion and dignity.
I encourage the caring voters of Connecticut to once again contact their state legislators and insist that assisted suicide has no place in our state of independent thinkers. Slogans of “right to die” are just words to people like me who need your constant and continued support to avoid a “duty to die.”