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Death with Dignity is a Life Choice

Death with Dignity is a Life Choice

Robin's final walk. Photo by Colleen.

I was with my brother, Robin, in Seattle often in the past five years as he came to terms with his T-Cell Lymphoma. It was one of my life's greatest gifts to share the last month of his life. He asked me to be his voice. I would like honor Robin's wishes.


(Colleen currently lives in Wisconsin and is sharing her brother's story as part of our "You Are Not Alone" series.)

After experiencing end of life with two very close family members, I embrace Death with Dignity. I was the primary caregiver to both my elderly father in Montana and my brother in Washington state. Washington state has Death with Dignity; Montana does not.

At the end of my father's life in Butte, Montana, he was begging for more pills, amazed he continued to awaken morning after morning while I changed his diapers, bathed him, fed him and tried to keep him comfortable day after day.

With his dignity gone; he was ready to die. There was no quality of life left in his 89-year-old leukemia stricken body, and he knew it. Without a Death with Dignity law in Montana, there was only palliative care, waiting, and promises the end was near. The end came in July of 2008.

My brother and I came to an agreement that July. When his life was at its end, I would assist him with his death with dignity choice. At the time, he was in remission from T-Cell Lymphoma. We both knew when the lymphoma returned for the third time, his quality of life would quickly be swept away.

It was not until May of 2010 when T-Cell Lymphoma silenced Robin's long-term goals. With organs ravaged by cancer, he had control over his death with Washington's Death with Dignity law.

Death with Dignity was exactly what it states. I stayed with my brother through the end of his life and his death. Robin was able to leave this world on his terms, complete with dignity and control over his final days, his consciousness, and his death before cancer silenced his world into a coma.

Posted on December 16, 2010 in Personal Stories


  • Posted by Elizabeth Zenk on Thursday, December 16 at 02:50 p.m.

    Thanks Colleen for sharing your experience. We need more advocates such as you, and Death with Diginity. Blessings. Liz

  • Posted by A on Thursday, January 27 at 08:10 p.m.

    I posted this in response to the DWD stats, but it's also relevant here.

    I am a lawyer and voted for the Death With Dignity Act in Washington, without knowing how profoundly important it was to terminally ill patients and their families. I just believed the safeguards built in were legally sufficient, and it is ultimately the patient's choice whether to live with the indignities and suffering that accompany a terminal disease.

    Only months later, I was in the position to personally understand the meaning of the act to the dying and their families. My younger sister suffocated to death from lung cancer in an Eastern state, while we, her family helplessly watched her greatest fear realized. Her death was anything but dignified. The suffering and humiliation as her organs shut down were inhumane. My dog had a better death only a few months earlier. I don't know if she would have chosen to use the act, but I wish she'd had the choice.

    Further, your data makes a striking and factual point: The medical and hospice care my sister had was sub-par because everyone was afraid they "might" over-medicate her and hasten her death. Instead, they under-medicated her, and she suffered tremendously as a result - especially her last night of life.

    You never know how you will feel about a situation until you experience it, but I prayed for her death. I even fantasized about expediting it myself while I watched her terror as she struggled for each breath, and I loved her so much. It still surprises me I was driven to that level of desperation - wishing I could end her suffering. I stood nothing to gain by her death and everything to lose, as did my family. Every one of us would have given anything to spare her that fate.

    I hope the Death With Dignity Act will progress to more states, especially those in the East, where it has not yet been adopted. I further hope it's available to me should I ever face this choice, even if I choose not to exercise it. At least I may be able to get quality palliative care during my last days.

    Thank you for the work you're doing. I intend to look into how I may become an advocate in the East, where I now live.

  • Posted by Roger Tourville on Saturday, January 29 at 12:12 p.m.

    Do you know where this kind of law stands in Texas. Or do we have one at all in Texas.

  • Posted by Melissa Barber on Tuesday, February 01 at 08:31 a.m.

    Thank you, A, for voting and helping to pass Washington's Death with Dignity law and for your courage to tell your sister's story. I am so sorry you had to watch her endure such a difficult death. We completely agree with you; all states need to adopt well-crafted Death with Dignity laws to ensure all citizens have the right to decide how to live the rest the rest of their lives when faced with a terminal illness.

    Many states were watching to see how Oregon's long legal battle played out, and at every turn the same held true: Death with Dignity laws work the way they're intended with no evidence of a slippery slope. Now that the courts at all levels have settled the issue, we're starting to see a growing movement nationwide to pass laws emulating the Oregon and Washington laws.

    In fact, we're currently working with our partner, Patient Choices Vermont, to pass the third Death with Dignity law this year and are looking forward to a ballot initiative effort in another eastern state in 2012.

    All my best,

    Melissa Barber
    Electronic Communications Specialist
    Death with Dignity National Center

  • Posted by Melissa Barber on Tuesday, February 01 at 08:36 a.m.

    Thank you for asking, Roger. At this time only Oregon and Washington have Death with Dignity laws on the books, and in 2009 the Montana Supreme Court found that nothing in their state law could be used to convict a physician if the doctor wrote a prescription to hasten an impending and inevitable death due to terminal illness.

    No law in Texas yet, but let me know if you would like help finding hospice or palliative care physicians who can help ease suffering.

    All my best,

    Melissa Barber
    Electronic Communications Specialist
    Death with Dignity National Center

  • Posted by Jenna on Thursday, March 31 at 02:00 p.m.

    very touching

  • Posted by Promise on Friday, June 03 at 01:12 p.m.

    This death by dignity act is not right. We did not give ourselves life and we do not have the right to take our lives. Please people don't do this to your loved ones. Suicide is suicide whether it be with dignity or not because if you really evaluate the act of suicide there is nothing dignified about it.

  • Posted by Melissa Barber on Friday, June 03 at 01:54 p.m.

    Thank you for joining the discussion, Promise, and for offering your opinion. A couple of things worth noting:

    - No one does this to others (that's euthanasia). Terminally-ill Oregonians and Washingtonians who opt to request the medication do so of their volition. They make the three requests for, self-administer and ingest the medication on their own. It's a personal decision into which no one else should interject themselves regardless of their religious views.

    - None of the moral, existential, or religious connotations of "suicide" apply when the patient's primary objective is not to end an otherwise open-ended span of life but to find dignity in an already impending exit from this world. You can read more here:


    Melissa Barber
    Electronic Communications Specialist
    Death with Dignity National Center

  • Posted by Donna on Wednesday, June 15 at 09:03 a.m.

    I agree with Melissa, this isn't suicide. We treat out animals better when they are dying than we do our loved ones. These people aren't wanting to end their life just because depressed over something, heck, in reality, most of them don't really want to die. But they know the end is near and the suffering will be unbearable. And yes I have wrestled with this because as a Catholic, I am totally against suicide, but after having loved ones die like this, this isn't suicide, it is humane.

  • Posted by Mike Martinez on Monday, July 11 at 11:47 a.m.

    What steps can my wife and I take to get this passed in Texas?

  • Posted by Melissa Barber on Monday, July 11 at 03:15 p.m.

    Thank you for your enthusiasm for our cause in Texas, Mike. After careful research and polling, we've found the next likely state to pass a Death with Dignity law will be in New England, and that's where we're currently focusing our efforts. As we work to pass more and more Death with Dignity laws throughout the US, our hope is enough states will tip the scales and states which have been resistant in the past will finally listen to the will of the people. Please let me know if you'd like me to add you to our email list to keep you apprised of our efforts.

    To get the ball rolling in Texas, I'd recommend contacting your lawmakers with personal letters and/or phone calls on why they need to address the need for expanded life options for the terminally ill like Death with Dignity. You can also help raise awareness about Death with Dignity by hosting viewing parties of "How to Die in Oregon" after it becomes available on DVD this fall.

    Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have further questions at

    Melissa Barber
    Electronic Communications Specialist
    Death with Dignity National Center

Defend dignity. Take action.

You are the key to ensuring well-crafted Death with Dignity laws for all Americans. With your financial and volunteer help, the Death with Dignity National Center, a 501(c)(3), non-partisan, nonprofit organization, has been the leading advocate in the Death with Dignity movement. Individual contributions helped us pass new Death with Dignity laws in Washington and Vermont, defend the Oregon law, and provide education and outreach programs for the vitality of the Death with Dignity movement.

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