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It’s an Individual Choice

Sarah Witte is a landscape architect in Yarmouth, Maine.

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Five years ago, on May 19, 2010, my 27-year old son Andrew Nicholas Marshall died from an aggressive form of malignant brain tumor known as glioblastoma metaforme. We knew the day of his diagnosis that his odds of survival were slim. As we navigated through surgery, chemo, and radiation, we made quality of life a high priority. When we ran out of treatment options, Andy and I flew across the country on a last love tour, and then he returned to Maine to die.

As a planner by nature, I planned the caregiving and hospice arrangements to the best of my mothering ability. The one thing I could not provide, in Maine, was something that Andy wanted: the option to go when the end was near. So we went to the end. He was terrified.

Death with Dignity advocate Sarah Witte with her son Andrew

Andy received amazing care at the Gosnell Hospice in Scarborough. When the cancer was taking over his brain and the pain became uncontrollable even with all the medication they have, I asked the doctor to give Andy a little more and help him to leave. The doctor looked me in the eyes and said very clearly, one word at a time, “I. Cannot. Cross. The. Line. Do you understand?” Sadly, I did. And a while later, Andy died. I know that he would have availed himself of a less painful end if he could have.

Today I have two dear ones in my life who are facing terminal illness. They would find peace knowing they had a choice. Someday I and each of us will be there too.

I have always believed people should have this choice; my parents of 87 and 90 do, too. We were all very disappointed that LD 1270, a proposed Maine Death with Dignity bill, didn’t pass earlier this year. I read the language of the proposed legislation in full, and I think it is what we need: It would provide peace (and peace of mind) and choice, and it would compel or pressure no one, neither patient or doctor, to act in any way other than their conscience would guide them. It’s an individual choice at an extremely personal time of one’s life.

Death with Dignity advocate Sarah Witte with her son Andrew

(August 2015)

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