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Steve Lopez: After a 'barbaric death,' a call for change

August 6, 2012 |  3:33 pm


My Sunday column on the “barbaric death” of a terminally ill man near Sacramento, and his wife’s plea for an Oregon-like Death With Dignity law in California, brought responses from those wanting to know how to join such a cause.

Steve Lopez As I’ve reported before, there is no current campaign for such a change. The best place to get involved in the greater movement, though, and to check on legal developments around the country that could one day have an impact in California, is to visit www.compassionandchoices.org. The no-profit advocates for more end-of-life options and alternatives to often-futile, budget-busting medical procedures that can end up doing little more than prolonging the dying process.

Some readers made pitches for palliative and hospice care as good ways of managing terminal illness and pain and suffering, and as I’ve written before, those can indeed be better and less-expensive alternatives in some cases than extended hospitalization.

When you’re in hospice or palliative care, though, that doesn’t mean round-the-clock care. It means you’ll have short visits from medical professionals every day, or maybe every other day. A family member often becomes the primary caregiver and ends up, as Sandy Wester described in my Sunday column about her husband Donnie, being witness to an excruciating death.

Sure, medication is available to minimize pain. But there’s a different kind of suffering that’s common for terminally ill patients, as I learned earlier this year with the prolonged death of my father. Sometimes he was in pain, but the greater suffering was from his growing limitations, his loss of privacy, and the agonizing realization that he had no control over the pace of his demise.

I said then, and I’ll say again now, that if and when I’m in a similar situation, I’d want to have among other options the legal right to determine my own fate, end my misery, and relieve loved ones of the physically and emotionally exhausting burden of caring for me as I wither away.

In Oregon and Washington, those who register for physician-assisted aid in dying don’t always use it, in the end. And most people don’t register at all.

I’d be relieved, though, to know that I had such an option.

And you?


A barbaric death, and a plea for a change in the law

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 -- Steve Lopez

Photo: Donnie Wester was a pressman for a Bay Area newspaper before retiring. His long battle with cancer ended Thursday. Credit: Family photo