Personal Stories

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In the Death with Dignity movement we all have experiences to share. These are our constituents' personal stories of courage, pain, joy, fear, sadness and hope.

To tell your story and help others understand why Death with Dignity laws are important please email Peter Korchnak.

Always remember: you are not alone.

Brittany Maynard's Decision to Die with Dignity

Brittany Maynard with her Great Dane, Charlie. Photo by Dan Diaz

A young woman named Brittany Maynard, like so many others, has a compelling story to share. She is bravely facing her death with dignity and control, and when the time is right, she may choose to hasten her own death. If you're not from Oregon, you might wonder how she can do that. In fact, our phones have been steadily ringing due to callers wanting to learn more about Death with Dignity.

In Oregon, Death with Dignity has been legal for 20 years. The Oregon Death with Dignity Act allows mentally competent, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the right to request medication to hasten their deaths. Once a person completes the request process and receives the prescribed medication, it's fully in the patient's hands to decide whether or when to take the medication, and about a third of the people who request the prescribed medication never take it.

Our hearts go out to Brittany and her family. She and her husband were trying for a family when the news came. After suffering from crippling headaches for months, she learned she had brain cancer in January, 2014. Hardly a year after getting married and 29 years old—her whole life ahead of her—her life was turned upside down in a moment.

Read more: Brittany Maynard's Decision to Die with Dignity

Goodbye to Jumpy: Lessons for the Health System

Hamster care of cdrussorusso on flicker

This article by Janice Lynch Schuster was originally published on American Society on Aging's Aging Today, and is republished with permission by the author. Janice hosted a discussion about this article during our #DWDchat on Thursday. All are welcome to join our weekly, one-hour Twitter chats each Thursday at 4:00pmPT/7:00pmET.

Janice Lynch Schuster is the co-author of Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). She is a senior writer for the Altarum Institute in Washington, D.C.

Read more: Goodbye to Jumpy: Lessons for the Health System

Barbara Coffin: Dedicated Advocate and Volunteer

Barbara Coffin and her daughter. Photo care of KOMO News.

In 2008, we worked with our local partners Compassion & Choices of Washington to pass Washington's Death with Dignity Act through a ballot initiative. With over 58% of voters approving I-1000, Washington became the second US state to enact a law emulating our model legislation which allows terminally ill adults the right to control the timing and manner of their own deaths.

This effort happened with the help of hundreds of hours of work by thousands of volunteers. One prominent, dedicated volunteer before and after the campaign was Barbara Coffin. On Tuesday this week, she said goodbye to her loved ones and exercised her right under Washington's Death with Dignity Act. She died in her daughter's arms.

In an interview with KOMO News she shared why she chose to plan her own death stating, "Right now everything hurts. It hurts to move, it hurts to get up and down, hurts to take a breath. I have no energy. It's hard to look at me on the outside and understand how bad I am on the inside. So it might be hard to understand how ready I am."

Read more: Barbara Coffin: Dedicated Advocate and Volunteer

Why Won't You Let Me Go?

Brian Smith lives in Oakland, California. His family's farm is in Stockton. This article was originally published on Medium and is republished with permission.

Dad was confused.

He was taking a combination of drugs that were keeping him alive and reducing his pain. His morphine dose was quite high.

The fact that he had even made it to 78 years old was amazing considering he survived California's polio crisis of the 1940s. But now it was coming back. Post-Polio Syndrome weakens muscles that were previously affected by the polio infection. This brilliant man was atrophying both mentally and physically before our eyes. Eventually, he would not be able to breathe. And there was no cure.

"When do we go?" he asked us. "Where are the other attorneys? This is an important deposition."

He was on a kind of mental auto-pilot, reliving 45 years of familiar work stress—not the way anyone wants to experience his final days.

"There are no more depositions," my wife explained in soothing tones. "Your job is done. You were one of California's finest lawyers and you helped build a respected firm in the Central Valley. You should be very proud of your legacy."

"Why won't you let me go?" he said with tears welling up in his eyes.

That cut straight to the issue at hand.

Read more: Why Won't You Let Me Go?

A Will for the Woods

A Will for the Woods

A Will for the Woods is an information-packed documentary about green burials. This relatively new concept in the US is starting to gain traction throughout the country, and the film explores how the Green Burial Council is working with land trusts and cemetery professionals to develop new ways to honor clients' requests and preserve natural areas.

But more than that, it's an intimate and unflinching look at the journey a couple takes in planning for imminent death. Throughout most of the documentary, Clark Wang lives with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He's a young psychiatrist who seeks aggressive treatment, but during the course of the film it becomes more and more apparent the cancer isn't responding to the treatments and is spreading with increased vigor. His wife, Jane Ezzard, is a psychiatric nurse, and perhaps because of their medical backgrounds, they both face his death head on and with plain frankness.

Read more: A Will for the Woods


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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