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Why Death with Dignity is Important to Me

View from DeVida's home in Jeffersonville, VT
View from DeVida's home in Jeffersonville, VT

News from New England is so exciting, particularly for me because I happened to live in Massachusetts and Vermont before moving to Oregon and working with the Death with Dignity National Center. So, I'm doubly invested in their success.

It's a thrill and a privilege to play any part in these efforts to pass Death with Dignity laws! It'd be wonderful to know places I've called home have made Death with Dignity a legal option for qualifying patients.

As I've shared through our blog before, I lost both my parents at a young age. My mom died a "good death" at home surrounded by those whom she loved; my dad on the other hand, died suddenly and alone. The lessons learned from their deaths led me to be a full-fledged supporter of Death with Dignity.

Since coming on board here in 2008, amidst the historic Washington 'Yes on I-1000' effort, I've witnessed and learned what works and doesn't seem to work as well. It's clear: success of our ever growing Death with Dignity movement relies on partnerships between us, as a national organization, local grassroots groups, and people who support our efforts. There's no way we could do our work without the assistance and enthusiasm of dedicated advocates and supporters.

The Death with Dignity National Center definitely has proven itself to be the go-to organization for local groups interested in passing Death with Dignity laws. Daily, people from all over the US contact us through phone calls, letters, emails, and even Facebook and Twitter, expressing their interest in the law, asking how to get involved, or to learn how they can get a Death with Dignity law passed where they live. They know we have the legal and political experience and expertise to successfully pass Death with Dignity laws.

Since our founding board member, Eli Stutsman, wrote the Oregon Death with Dignity Act in 1994, and our predecessor political organization successfully worked to pass the first Death with Dignity law in the nation, we've been leading the way to advocate for Death with Dignity laws.

2008 was an exciting time to join the Death with Dignity National Center. The effort in Washington was in full swing, and I got a behind-the-scenes look at the process.  We partnered with folks in Washington in their effort to pass the second Death with Dignity law. Since then, we've continued to partner with local groups, working with Patient Choices Vermont in 2011 and 2012, and most recently with Dignity 2012 in Massachusetts.  Through our partnerships with these local, grassroots groups we've been able to share the Oregon and Washington stories, educate thousands of people, improve understanding of the law, change minds, and move the Death with Dignity movement forward.

As a former Vermonter and Bay Stater, I'm proud to work for the organization which demonstrates a commitment to educating, promoting, and advancing Death with Dignity laws. We provide legal, educational, and financial support (to the degree possible for us as a nonprofit) as well.

Just like anything worthwhile, it takes time, energy, and determination to build the foundation for the successful passage of a new law. We stand by our local partners, lending our support in any way we can the entire way. That's what partnerships are all about and why we count on supporters like you to partner with us.

One of our supporters, Duane Lueders, recently wrote a guest post for our blog about why he supports our work. What he expressed resonates with me and so many advocates of our work:

When, for example, a Death with Dignity law passes in any state, I'll know I helped fellow human beings have more options at the end of their lives so they can choose not to suffer needlessly. I'll have helped the world become a more merciful place, and that gives my life value. That's why I donate.

Each local group we partner with deserves our full support. If you've given recently, thank you. If you haven't (shameless plug here), please consider making a gift today.

Your financial support will help ensure our partners succeed. With you as our partners, we'll be able to continue to provide the fundamental resources necessary to help these groups in Vermont and Massachusetts, states I used to call home, win their local fights. From my own selfish perspective, I hope we can count on you to help make sure we all have the right to die with dignity.

Posted on August 30, 2012 in Massachusetts, New England, Personal Stories, Vermont

Comments

Posted by Lise (not verified) on September 4, 2012 at 07:31 p.m.

So what lessons did you learn from your mom's " good death" and your fathers " sudden death that would lead you to feel it would be good for them to plan their death?

Posted by DeVida (not verified) on September 5, 2012 at 05:06 p.m.

Hi Lise. Thank you for your question. I guess the best way to answer it is to encourage you to read my two previous blog posts, especially the first one where I talk about my experiences coping with both of my parents' deaths. You can find it at http://www.deathwithdignity.org/2011/11/15/facing-death-how-loved-one-di....

In both cases, we as family members had very little to go on as to what they would have wanted in terms of medical intervention, and quite frankly how they would like to be buried, etc. Because we never spoke of my father's illness or his wishes, his death was particularly hard to handle. Yes, he died suddenly and that may have not been avoidable, but having no idea he was as ill as he was made it that much more shocking when he died.

My mother had always talked to us and given us tidbits of information about what she'd want, etc. Because we talked about her death, albeit in the far future, I was more mentally prepared in life and after she died to deal with her absence.

I wouldn't say it would have been "good for them to plan their death" per se, but rather to plan for it, and if circumstances necessitated, good for them to have the option to decide for themselves when they'd had enough. My mom suffered a lot of pain her last week, more intense than she had the entire previous year. I know as much as she didn't want to die, she was ready to go. She was "lucky" in that she died at home, surrounded by loved ones-the way most of us hope we die.

We will all die, and when faced with a terminal illness, time to make plans and communicate them, we should have a choice. Having an existing Death with Dignity law would have opened the door to important conversations when my mom received her terminal diagnosis. Conversations we never had. For families who live where there is a Death with Dignity law, these types of conversations are encouraged between patient and doctor and patient and their family. Fear of death can be lessened as family members honestly acknowledge the truth about a terminally ill loved one. All are free to openly share their feelings, fears, and have the opportunity to say goodbye in their own way and in their own time.

These are the lessons I learned. Death will come to each of us. I believe it is a stage of life, like any other, that we should all be prepared for.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

-DeVida

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