Sunday, July 14, 2024

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Alan Chartock: We have a right to die with dignity

It seems absurd that we will have to use our collective might to lobby the legislature and the governor to give us the right to die. I have seen polls on the issue where support for an individual’s right to die with dignity is overwhelming.

I have a close relative who recently passed away after a battle with stomach cancer. My wife and I spent a lot of time with him before he died. The poor guy was in misery. He had come to grips with the fact that his life was at an end. He spent his last days in a humane palliative care unit where they kept him sedated and tried to manage his intense pain. Putting it simply, he was ready to go. He wanted to die with dignity. Dogs and cats who have reached the end stages are allowed to go with dignity but not humans.

Part of this is because our population has separated into tribes. Catholics, for example, believe in the sanctity of life. Suicide is a no-no. I can respect folks who adopt the tenets of a particular religion. But as with all other morality questions such as abortion, I believe that the Constitution as laid out by the founding fathers had it right: “Congress shall make no law …” But most of our state legislatures have made the sensible step of dying with dignity impossible. It is only legal in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Washington, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon and Vermont. At least a few places have gotten this right.

My own mother, a very intelligent lady, would walk around with a bottle of Seconal that she had saved and say, “THIS is my nursing home.” She knew what she wanted and she told us what she wanted, but by the time she would have needed that Seconal, she had pretty severe dementia.

In the past, Massachusetts has put up “right to die” legislation by referendum. The last time, it went down to defeat in a 51 to 49 squeaker. My bet is that it will eventually pass. Oh, there are surely folks who will argue that potential heirs or those children who don’t want to be bothered will “push momma from the train.” It is certainly possible but there are all kinds of failsafe mechanisms that could stop that from happening. You can require doctors to sign off and you can get it in writing from the people who want to go. You can also pass laws making it illegal to take your own life. That’s a laugher. What are they going to do, give you the death penalty? Look, we all know the stars like Marilyn Monroe and Robin Williams, to name just a few, who took their own lives. Suicide is not hard to do. If we pass right-to-die legislation, we have the possibility of helping people by ensuring that they see physicians or mental health professionals.

One day I was speaking with a doctor friend who has cancer that has been held in check. I told him the story of my mom and her Seconal and he said, “I guess I’ve got to start saving mine.”

Hey, I don’t want to die. I don’t know that many people who do. But as the sign held by the advocates says, “MY life, my choice.” That’s exactly right. It seems absurd that we will have to use our collective might to lobby the legislature and the governor to give us the right to die. I have seen polls on the issue where the support for an individual’s right to die with dignity is overwhelming.

We are living at a time when the rights of people to make their own decisions have been irrationally threatened. We have elections in which the one who got the most votes doesn’t win and we have a society in which the ultimate right to make our most important choices is denied us. The NRA is worried that they won’t have the guns to fight an out-of-control government. I’m not holding my breath to see whether they are with the people on this one.

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