Medical Aid in Dying

As most of you know, I retired in January 2017 and my wife Nancy passed away in March 2017.  In preparation for recovering from both of these events, in 2016 I decided that I would become more involved with local political campaigns and local progressive organizations. And I did. Those activities have helped me to look to the future, and not brood over what could have been if colon cancer had not entered our lives in April 2013.

Since the fall of 2017, I have been active in three political campaigns. I’m also currently on the Board of Directors for NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota and am active with my church, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church. (Yes, a church can be a progressive organization.) I’ve been busy, but not too busy to prevent me from getting involved with another progressive issue.

It looks like my next issue will be Medical Aid in Dying. My interest in this issue has grown over the past year and a half as I have had time to reflect on the last few months of Nancy’s life.

In November of 2016, our oncologist broke the terrible news that Nancy’s latest chemo treatment had stopped killing the cancer cells. He stated that there was not another chemo treatment available, and suggested we should consider hospice care. After all of the bad news we had heard in the past three and a half years, this was the worst. Personally, I was not prepared to deal with the hospice decision.

Thankfully, we had a great support team including an Oncology Psychotherapist, a Palliative Physician, my daughter Kimberly (age 35), my son Kevin (age 33), and Nancy’s sister (a retired pathologist). All of these people were helpful in planning and preparing Nancy and me for hospice care and the end of Nancy’s life.

The decision was quickly made that Nancy would remain in our house until her death. Nancy started hospice care in early January, so she was in hospice care for over two months.

It was a difficult two months, especially the last two weeks. The worst memories in my marriage to Nancy were in those last two weeks, and unfortunately, since those memories are the most recent memories, they are the easiest to remember. One disturbing memory from that time is Nancy waking up in the night and wanting to go to the bathroom. At that point, she could not walk and she had a catheter installed. As I held her down, she repeatedly yelled at me for a long time “Jerry, why won’t you let me get up!” It was heartbreaking. These were some of the last words Nancy said to me. Then in the last three days, I watched her (under intense medications) sleep away the end of her life with no response to her family.

When Nancy took her last breath, only Kevin and I were with her. Kimberly was teaching, and I had to drive to her school to tell her in a high school hallway that her mother had died.

I know that this is not the way Nancy wanted her life to end. She would have preferred a medical aided death, where she would have been surrounded by her family and close friends. Unfortunately, that option is not available in Minnesota.

Compassion and Choices is the nation’s largest organization committed to expanding options for the end of life.

The End-of-Life Option Act (SF1572, HF1885) was introduced in the 2017 Minnesota legislative session, but it was never heard during the session.

Let me end with some talking points from Compassion and Choices:

  • Every person should be able to make end-of-life decisions that are consistent with their values and best for them and their families
  • Medical aid in dying commands majority bipartisan support among American voters. A 2017 Gallup poll puts support at 73%
  • Medical aid in dying has been practiced for over 20 years in Oregon without a single instance of abuse, coercion or disciplinary action of a provider.
  • Medical aid in dying is entirely optional. No individual, including doctors or other healthcare professionals, has to participate.

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