2008 Life Is Beautiful at the Hospice
posted by October 13 at 13:33 PMon
Opponents of I-1000, the death with dignity initiative, argue that physician-assisted suicide* is unnecessary because we have hospices. And everything is beautiful at the hospice—your pain is medicated away and there are lovely macrame wall-hangings to take your mind off your imminent demise. From the “NO I-1000” campaign’s website:
The people of Washington… can already choose to receive good end-of-life and hospice care, excellent pain control, and the relief of discomfort. The people of Washington need quality end-of-life care, not the lethal drug overdose I-1000 prescribes.
Death is always beautiful and peaceful at the hospice—and once you’re in a hospice, why, you won’t want or need the lethal dose of medication that I-1000 would allow your doctor to prescribe you (so long as you had less than six months to live, asked for it twice, once in writing, and a second doctor signed off on it), so what’s the point of voting for that silly death-with-dignity initiative anyway?
Because not everyone’s pain can be treated—not even in a hospice. From today’s front-page Seattle Times story on Oregon’s experience with physician-assisted suicide:
Annual state reports note that 85 percent of the physician-assisted deaths in Oregon have involved various forms of cancers. The most frequently cited end-of-life concerns were losing autonomy, dignity, control of body functions and the ability to enjoy life. The vast majority of the patients also are enrolled in hospice care.
[Tony] Miller is another independent soul who longs to be in Cuernvaca, Mexico, where he spent the last six years teaching history. There, he was diagnosed with severe prostate cancer and decided to leave friends behind to return to the United States for treatment in Maryland. He then made his move to Oregon.
Miller was deeply affected by the 1999 cancer death of his younger brother, who despite hospice care, still suffered through great pain at the end. Miller hopes that the Death with Dignity Act can help him avoid a similar fate.
Simply being in a hospice, or having access to hospice care (some people would rather die at home), won’t necessarily spare you an agonizing, protracted death. If it did, people living and dying in hospices in Oregon wouldn’t be asking for these drugs, and Tony Miller’s brother would not have died in agony in a hospice in 1999. Sometimes pain cannot be controlled; sometimes discomfort cannot be relieved. The option of self-administering a fatal dose of drugs as you lay dying is not antithetical to quality end-of-life care, it is quality end-of-life care.