It’s odd that Colorado became judicious in its attitudes about gay rights and marijuana before it came to grips with offering dignity to our terminally ill friends and family.
It would seem that out of a host of thorny social issues, offering assisted suicide for the terminally ill would essentially be politically low-hanging fruit.
I thought the weird controversy that clings to the issue was over when the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian was snuffing people in his car. As a nation, I thought we decided that offering a truly peaceful, dignified death to those in horrific pain and unable to end their own lives was a noble pursuit, whereas having people sort of gas themselves to death in the back of Kevorkian’s van was anything but dignified. His methodology was anything but compassionate. It was cruelly distracted.
But the discussion surrounding the wisdom of allowing someone dying to end their lives relatively comfortably and peacefully, to prevent a prolonged, agonizing and terrifying inevitable demise, was bulletproof. What clouded the issue is that fact that the drugs or substances that best achieve a comfortable, peaceful death must come from the very profession sworn and legally bound to never hurry it.
The mental acrobatics around that issue were solved in Oregon in 1997 when complicated rules were laid out for how a terminally ill patient could request a prescription for a lethal dose of medication to end their own lives.
It’s been almost 20 years since then. Only two other states, Vermont and Washington — the usual progressive suspects — have followed suit. And still, thousands of Americans each year suffer prolonged, agonizing, terrorizing deaths because lawmakers in most states don’t have the courage or the wisdom to confront and resolve something that’s difficult to deal with, but simple to solve. Colorado lawmakers have now stepped up to the plate with House Bill 1135, which would create a system for assisted suicide much like that in Oregon.
Proponents want us to be brave in confronting our fears about what is as natural as being born: dying. It’s the one thing on Earth that binds us all together, yet something that Americans, generally, give so little thought to.
Here’s the thing that makes the bill so uncomfortable. It rips the Band-Aid off the lie that most of us die a “peaceful” death, even those whose diseases bring our lives to unexpected, accelerated ends. Ask any health professional or loved one who’s been at the end of life with someone, terrified and gasping for breath until they’re finally robbed of it. It’s not peaceful, it’s cruel.
It’s so cruel, that we don’t even put our dogs and cats through such torture. We mercifully and compassionately end their suffering and life when it’s clear what the alternative is.
Why is something so natural and so easy to understand so difficult to accept, codify and talk about, prepare for?
The bill doesn’t force anyone to participate in asking for a dignified, easier death. It only helps those and their families who have arrived at a place where it all makes sense.
It makes sense to me. I relish almost every minute of what is truly a charmed life. I am one of the lucky that will reach the end and be able to say, “I did it all,” even though I could live for centuries and still not get enough. But I know, too, what inhumane pain is. I’m one of the unlucky few who suffer migraines that can rack your body with agony that knows no limits. It is consuming in a way I don’t think anything else could be. If I faced a life that was nothing but that unceasing pain, there is no doubt I would choose death. But to choose a quiet, easy inevitable death before the thrashing pain sets in for good? That takes a level of courage and acceptance that only the terminally ill can muster. The most difficult and important decision of their lives.
It’s cruel beyond comprehension that we would make such a decision even harder by complicating it with laws that leave people few options but to become outlaws or pursue violent suicides, This death-with-dignity bill is long overdue. It’s time to bring these changes to Colorado so we can talk about them, put them in place, and understand them for those who want or need them. Any else is inhumane.
Reach editor Dave Perry at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]