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Posted by Peg Sandeen, PhD, MSW on November 21, 2012
To bring Death with Dignity to Massachusetts, a tremendous network of supporters provided financial and vocal support, and many volunteers made a commitment to share their stories in public speaking venues all over the state. Two individuals in particular, Heather Clish and Jim Carberry, shared intimate personal stories about their loved ones' experiences with death, poignantly illustrating the need for Death with Dignity. We'd like to acknowledge their hard work and dedication. Please join us in thanking them.
Heather Clish shared her father's experience early in the state's effort to pass Death with Dignity. Back in May, their viewpoint on the initiative was featured in a Sunday Boston Globe Magazine story. During a visit in Boston, Heather's father learned he had terminal brain cancer. Being an Oregon resident, he had the option to request medication to decide the timing and manner of his death as allowed under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.
When his pain and suffering became too great for the doctors to relieve, he decided to take the medication. As reported in the Boston Globe feature, Heather and her sisters were able to travel to Oregon to be with their dad in his final moments:
Clish and her two sisters filled his ears with pleasant images. Mary Lou lay in his arms, as he'd wanted. He had earlier told her, "I hope I will be holding you when I take my last breath." Johnson slipped into what looked like a deep sleep. After about 15 minutes, his pulse stopped.
Jim Carberry's wife, Margie, wasn't so fortunate; she died after a long, painful, and protracted death. Margie didn't have the option to die on her own terms in the final stages of her terminal illness—something she so desperately wanted after her tumor aggressively returned in 2007.
She wanted to survive long enough to see their daughters graduate from high school and endured many invasive medical procedures to keep her body functional through those milestones. She was out of curative treatment options. Even after chemotherapy was no longer helping, she worked with her medical team to keep her body going.
Margie lived to see both of their daughters graduate, and through both graduations she was a radiant, proud mother who celebrated her daughters' achievements. A week after graduation, she spoke with her family, clergy, and medical team and decided to remove her feeding tube and meet death on her terms. Though she was ready, she suffered another five weeks before her body gave out.
Jim and Heather selflessly shared their stories with their fellow Commonwealth residents for the same reason—they both wanted their state to enact a law which would ensure an additional safeguarded option for a peaceful death. Jim wanted to make sure no one else would be forced to endure the long, difficult death Margie had, and Heather told her story to help Bay Staters see there can be more options when facing a terminal illness.
Recounting a loved one's death is never easy; it takes a person back to the sad farewells and tearful final days. To do so in the public eye on TV, in newspaper interviews, and through state-wide debates is even more emotionally draining. Heather and Jim not only donated their time and energy, they gave a piece of themselves to help the people of Massachusetts better understand the Death with Dignity initiative.
Their willingness to share their stories throughout the Massachusetts effort helped change the national conversation around death, dying, and assisted death, and that is a huge step forward for our entire movement. We'd like your help thanking Jim and Heather for everything they've done. Please take a moment to sign your name to our online thank you card.
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, non-profit organization, has been the leading advocate in the death with dignity movement. Member contributions helped us pass a new Death with Dignity law in Washington, defend the Oregon law, and provide education and outreach programs for the vitality of the death with dignity movement.