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Meg's Death with Dignity

Meg's Death with Dignity

Meg, 8 months after diagnosis and surgery

Meg Holmes was diagnosed with brain cancer on Dec. 12, 2009. Andrew Taylor, Meg's husband, began publishing a blog to keep friends up to date on Meg's illness and treatment. On October 6, Andrew posted the following piece about Meg's decision to take medication prescribed to her under Washington's Death with Dignity Act. You can read the entire journey on Meg's blog.

My wife Meg died on Saturday morning in the loving company of her brother, sister, son, daughter and husband.

Suffering from a disease that robs one of intellect and dignity, she had the option, as a Washington resident, to choose the time of her death. She used the provisions of Washington's Death with Dignity Act to hasten her death while she was still able to converse with and understand her family members. (Oregon has long had a very similar Death with Dignity Act; Vermont  and Massachusetts are also considering similar laws.)

Her family gathered on Friday and spent the day with her. She was much more alert and animated than of late and visited with each of us. Despite knowing that her death was the next day, we all slept well that night (I slept much better than for many weeks), showing us that we were prepared for her passing.

Social workers (she met privately with one from hospice and one from Swedish Hospital to affirm her decision) and the volunteer from Compassion and Choices of Washington all remarked on her readiness (and that she had not been ready the previous week).

The volunteer from Compassion and Choices of Washington showed immense skill and empathy in helping Meg and in caring for us.

Meg died peacefully and quickly, with no signs of discomfort. It was a remarkable end to a long struggle, and released Meg from what we all knew could be a long, distressing, undignified and inevitable end. Our preparations, the company of relatives, Meg's peaceful passing and the knowledge of her command of the situation all served to make her passing much easier for us all.

Thank you all for your advice and encouragement over these last almost two years.

Anyone interested in learning more about Washington's Death with Dignity Act could consult Compassion and Choices of Washington, could watch the documentary How to die in Oregon (HBO Go through November 29th) or could ask me.

Posted on October 18, 2011 in Personal Stories

Comments

  • Posted by Nora Miller on Tuesday, October 18 at 12:13 p.m.

    Andrew, I know that telling this kind of story comes with a price. Thank you for finding the strength in the midst of grief to share Meg's experience. It validates everything that death with dignity stands for.

  • Posted by Michael on Sunday, October 23 at 06:06 a.m.

    My father is in hospice right now in the State of Illinois. I only wish we had this law in the state. Watching my father has been extremely painful over the past few days. I wish he could go out with dignity and not suffer. Hospice has been wonderful and I can't say enough about the staff. However I only wish he could take something so he wouldn't need to be going through this unnecessarily. Not only is this important for the patient but the family as well.

  • Posted by julie on Thursday, November 03 at 10:13 a.m.

    how can a person exercise his/her right to die with dignity when suffering from Alzheimer's--can they name someone else to make the decision?

  • Posted by chipsmom on Friday, November 04 at 06:57 p.m.

    No Julie, people with Alzheimer's cannot name someone else to request Death with Dignity for them. To use the law, the person must be competent at the time of the request for medication and at the time of taking the medication. This makes it all the more important that everyone complete a Living Will and designate a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOA). It is important that the person making the Living Will and DPOA be very clear about his or her wishes should they suffer later from Alzheimer's. The DPOA will be responsible for making medical decisions for the individual if they lose their competency to make such decisions. If the DPOA has a clear understanding of the patient's wishes and can back that up with the patient's Living Will, the DPOA can direct that no life prolonging treatment be given the patient, including not treating such things as pneumonia with antibiotics. The DPOA should also be able to direct that nutrition and hydration be stopped, particularly if the patient has specfied so in their Living Will. (Voluntarily stopping eating and drinking is a common, accepted, and not uncomfortable way to have control over the timing of one's death.) For an excellent document which combines the Living Will with DPOA and allows great detail about end-of-life wishes (including a dementia provision), see the Website of Clompassion and Choices of Washington - www.compassionwa.org

  • Posted by Melissa Barber on Tuesday, November 08 at 04:30 p.m.

    Thanks for chiming in, chipsmom! You're exactly right about the necessity for mental competency at the time of request under the Oregon and Washington Death with Dignity Acts.

    Best,
    Melissa
    -----------
    Melissa Barber
    Electronic Communications Specialist
    Death with Dignity National Center

  • Posted by Philip Monroe on Friday, November 25 at 10:44 a.m.

    What a nice looking lady. There is much to be said for the Dignity part of dying. There are lines in the sand that lots of people don't want to cross, when things become inevitable. I live in California, and we are supposed to be a progressive State. Yet, all attempts to formulate a Death with Dignity law have fallen to the wayside in legislative committees. No one has tried to get a law into the books by Initiative, either. I find these facts hard to understand. This issue was my mother's top political priority. She was denied having this option "on the table" when her time came, due to the inexplicable lack of action in California.

  • Posted by Kathleen Delaney on Friday, November 25 at 02:26 p.m.

    Here in Australia there have been a number of attempts in several States to enact a Bill to provide dying with dignity, but to no avail. Both the State and Federal Governments are terrified of the backlash from the religious Right and the attempts go nowhere. Some years ago, the Northern Territory (not a State) enacted such a law and a small number of people took advantage of it. However, a member of the then John Howard Conservative (Liberal) Government brought in a Private Member's Bill to overturn this law in the NT and the Parliament passed it into law. The particular parliamentarian, Kevin Andrews, is a Catholic! Because the NT was not a State it was possible for the Federal Government to do this. Had the NT been a State,legislatively this would not have been possible. Nevertheless, many polls of members of the public indicate that around 70% of the populace are in favour of this type of legislation yet the Federal and State Governments refuse to promote such a Bill. It will eventually happen, but for many people it will be too late to prevent an unpleasant and undignified death.

  • Posted by JL on Thursday, January 12 at 11:19 a.m.

    I have Huntington's Disease. An inherited neuro-degenerative disease that's (1) incurable, and (2) horribly debilitating. Many peple with HD KILL themselves rather than go thru the degradation (wheel-chairs, loss of speech and inability to swallow) that characterizes Huntington's. BOTH my father and uncle shot themselves in the head. I do NOT consider that a "death with dignity"! I want to take some pills!

    I live in Oregon. We've had a DWD law for over 10 years. I fought hard for it. Ironically, it's useless for HD victims. The "likely-to-die in 2 months" clause reders it useless for HD victims. HD is just as deadly - it just takes a lot more time to kill you off! A lot more indignity!

  • Posted by JB on Thursday, January 12 at 03:44 p.m.

    When my 89-year old father was ill and paralyzed with a stroke, I asked him if he 'wanted out' to move his right hand.I did this 3 times. The nurses continued to strap his hands down while shoving tubes into his nose, which was painful. He had no living will, and my pleading did no good. Keep up the efforts for free choice for the dying.

  • Posted by Melissa Barber on Friday, January 20 at 01:15 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for your support, JL and JB.

    JL, I'm so sorry you are suffering. The safeguard in the Oregon and Washington Death with Dignity Acts which stipulate a terminal diagnosis with six months or fewer to live mirrors the qualification to enroll in another end-of-life care option, hospice.

    JB, you point out another important part of end-of-life planning--Advance Directives. A tragedy such as a stroke or auto accident can happen at any time in life; documenting your care wishes is a critical part of making sure your loved ones and the medical staff honor your preferences. This site is a great resource for downloading and printing your state's Advance Directive: http://www.caringinfo.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3289

    Best,
    Melissa
    -----------
    Melissa Barber
    Electronic Communications Specialist
    Death with Dignity National Center

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