Friday, October 17, 2014

Death With Dignity? Timshel.

"...the Hebrew word, the word timshel - 'Thou mayest' - that gives a choice.  It might be the most important word in the world.  That says the way is open.  That throws it right back on man.  For if - 'Thou mayest' - it is also true that 'Thou mayest not'." ~ John Steinbeck.  East of Eden

The concept of death with dignity, in all its permutations, is something I've given a good deal of a health care a patient.  I have witnessed patients and their families endure horrible indignity and pain that make it clear...there ARE fates worse than death.  I have experienced enough suffering and seen first hand the potentially devastating effect my own diagnosis could carry such that I know I intend to keep my options open.  I have experienced the loss of friends, by their own hands, in sad, lonely circumstances...making me achingly wish that they had felt they had had better options available.  My decisions are mine.  They are not to be dictated by anyone other than myself.  Likewise, choices made by others are theirs alone.  I have no right to make their lives, or deaths, more difficult than need be.

The links below attach the the incredible stories of three amazing women.  All links include audio and written versions.  I encourage you to peruse both, but the audio brings their voices and the voices of their family your heart.

Brittany, a 29 year old with Stage IV glioblastoma, moved with her family to Oregon in order to legally utilize the Death with Dignity Act which allows voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, prescribed by a physician, expressly for that purpose.  Here is her story, her family's thoughts, her reasons.....
Brittany-Maynard-death-with-dignity-compassion-choices via People

Kara was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36, now Stage IV.  She is profoundly religious, views her struggles as a gift from God in order to draw nearer to him and share his love with others and strenuously opposes the act of suicide even when a disease process is obviously no longer compatible with life.  Her story....
A response from Kara Tippetts, mother of 4 dx'd with breast cancer at 36

This NPR report shares the story of Sandra Bem, psychologist and professor at Cornell, as well as prior volunteer for a suicide hotline.  She enacted her plan to self-administer a lethal dose of medication once her diagnosis of Alzheimers had rendered her unable to remember much of her own life or follow a movie plot more complicated than Mary Poppins...but BEFORE she lost the ability to recognize and communicate with her family.  Here is her story....told by her husband and adult daughter...with their thoughts and love...before, during, and after... - how-a-womans-plan-to-kill-herself-helped-her-family-grieve

It is interesting that included in the report above are the study findings noting families dealt with the death of a loved one who chose death by assisted suicide slightly better than families whose loved ones died of natural disease progression.  The investigator notes that the cause of death was most likely NOT the determining factor....but rather "because the dying person prepared their family for the inevitability of their death."

Timshel. - c


  1. I fear I shall never be prepared for your death. I will hold you and be there no matter what you mayest choose. I will share the "winding road" no matter what it brings because I mayest.

  2. My heart goes out to all of those in this situation. Of course, it is hard to know what I would do if in their shoes. But, I think the key is as you said, "My decisions are mine. They are not to be dictated by anyone other than myself. Likewise, choices made by others are theirs alone. I have no right to make their lives, or deaths, more difficult than need be." Kara's circumstances are so heartbreaking. However, I don't believe it gives her the right to judge the choices of others. In fact, the following statement does not even make sense to me, "In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths." Brittany is planning on having all her loved ones present at the time of her death. It could be argued that without this planning, some of those would miss this opportunity should nature be allowed to take its course. I also have problems comprehending this comment, "As I sat on the bed of my young daughter praying for you, I wondered over the impossibility of understanding that one day the story of my young daughter will be made beautiful in her living because she witnessed my dying." It is wonderful that Kara is at peace with her decision, but why question the decision of others in similar circumstances?

  3. Those were many of my thoughts exactly. It seems that Kara is comfortable and certain in how she wishes to live her life and death. That is fine. I hope it all works out exactly as she hopes. I would never dream of challenging her, admonishing her, or berating her in order to have her do a single thing differently from what she feels is best for her and her family. I just don't know why anyone would be compelled to admonish another for the decisions they feel will work best for them.