Carrol Krause continues to astonish with her clear-sighted, open-hearted, and deeply generous approach to her own dying process. You might also read the comments to her original article. And, for a larger context, see this:
One thing still puzzles me: why do we automatically assume that “the state” is in control of our dying process? I realize that if we still have our mental faculties, and if we want to be around others when we die, then we need to make sure they are not liable for our death; thus the need for new laws. However, if again, we have our mental faculties, and we wish to simply go off into the wilderness, or to stop eating and drinking at home, what’s to stop us? I think of Scott Nearing, who told his wife Helen that it was time for him to lie down to die:
A month or two before he died he was sitting at table with us at a meal. Watching us eat he said, “I think I won’t eat anymore.” “Alright,” said I. “I understand. I think I would do that too. Animals know when to stop. They go off in a corner and leave off food.”
So I put Scott on juices: carrot juice, apple juice, banana juice, pineapple, grape – any kind. I kept him full of liquids as often as he was thirsty. He got weaker, of course, and he was as gaunt and thin as Gandhi.
Came a day he said, “I think I’ll go on water. Nothing more.” From then on, for about ten days, he only had water. He was bed-ridden and had little strength but spoke with me daily. In the morning of August 24, 1983, two weeks after his 100th birthday, when it seemed he was slipping away, I sat beside him on his bed.
We were quiet together; no interruptions, no doctors or hospitals. I said “It’s alright, Scott. Go right along. You’ve lived a good life and are finished with things here. Go on and up – up into the light. We love you and let you go. It’s alright.”
In a soft voice, with no quiver or pain or disturbance he said “All…right,” and breathed slower and slower and slower till there was no movement anymore and he was gone out of his body as easily as a leaf drops from the tree in autumn, slowly twisting and falling to the ground.
DOCTOR ASSISTED DYING
August 21, 2014
by Carrol Krause
Doctor-assisted dying is not a choice for ill people in my state. Nor is it an option nationally, as it is in Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and several other more enlightened countries.
Many people will immediately protest: “But obviously, suicide should never be legalized or encouraged.” To which I reply, as a person with terminal cancer, “My desire to take an early exit is a completely different thing than a healthy person who commits suicide.” I want only to hasten the inevitable and painful death that already looms on my horizon; I do not seek to end a healthy life filled with possibilities.
Speaking rationally and without depression, and after a lifetime of considering the ethics of the question, I would choose physician-assisted dying in a heartbeat, knowing what I am soon to endure. But it’s not legal here.
(Warning: skip the following single paragraph if you are easily horrified.)
I have carcinosarcoma, also called Malignant Mixed Mullerian Tumor, which is so rare that there is little research being done on it, and no cure. After living with it for a year and a half and enduring major surgery and various chemotherapies, I’m now in the terminal stage of the disease. The cancer has spread throughout my abdomen and into my liver and lymph glands, but this won’t be what kills me. A large inoperable tumor is embedded low down between my intestines and is impinging painfully upon my bladder and rectum. The rapid growth of this tumor will soon pinch off these vital systems and leave me completely blocked, unable to urinate or defecate. The tumor is growing so fast that my belly already resembles that of a woman five or six months pregnant; this distension will increase swiftly in the weeks to come. Any surgical attempt to correct the blockage would only temporarily extend my life while exposing me to even more continued suffering.
Quite calmly and rationally I ask you: why is it against the law for a physician to help me make a dignified early exit with my head held high? Why should control over the end of my own life be dictated by other people’s emotional and religious scruples? An assisted death with dignity would spare me horrible suffering and would prevent my family and friends from seeing me waste away to a skeletal form with a hugely distended belly. Why do lawmakers feel so certain that dying people should have to endure their full quota of pain?
In this country it’s legal to put down a dying pet. In fact, it’s considered to be the most humane solution to ongoing pain. So why does our government compel human beings to go through the kind of suffering that we would never allow in our own cats and dogs?
Perhaps you happen to believe that human life has a sanctity that must not be tampered with. That’s fine, and I respect your religious values (although I must point out that the Bible nowhere contains the phrase “sanctity of life”). But an enlightened society should not allow followers of a single religion to enforce their religious beliefs upon others, nor should those religious tenets be encoded into the default government over all Americans. I believe that subjecting me and my family to extended suffering serves no useful governmental purpose and displays a profound lack of compassion.
I seek only peace, and a quick end to my suffering. And this is exactly what’s being denied me. I believe that the Swiss, the Belgians and the Dutch have it exactly right when it comes to compassion for the suffering: after a waiting period of several months, and a close vetting of the medical records, patients are allowed to gently and painlessly pass away in the presence of their family and friends. We need this option in the United States.
Please share this text with your legislators and your governor.