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Steve Lopez talks about how we die (Google+ Hangout)

August 9, 2012 | 11:40 am

Times columnist Steve Lopez has been writing for the last year about the debate over how we die.

Lopez will host a Google+ Hangout at noon Thursday PDT. You can submit questions at Twitter using the hashtag #asklatimes or by adding a comment below.

His guests will be Dr. Judy Epstein, clinical director of the Compassion & Choices organization's End-of-Life Consultation Program, and Kathryn Tucker, director of legal affairs for Compassion & Choices, which advocates for patients' rights on end-of-life issues.

Lopez discussed the issue in his Sunday column:

"My husband has repeatedly asked me to give him a gun, he has asked me to shoot him, and he repeatedly begs to die."

This came to me Wednesday afternoon in an email from a Northern California woman.

"All I can do is give him the prescribed doses of morphine provided and hope it's enough to enable him to let go," said Sandy Wester, whose 71-year-old husband, Donald — Donnie she called him — was in hospice care, with cancer spreading through his body. His dignity was gone, he had many of the same needs as an infant, and the long days brought nothing but anguish.

Wester wrote to say she had followed my accounts of my father's death and was incensed by my July 22 column about the arrest of an 87-year-old Palm Springs man. Bill Bentinck was locked up for three days on suspicion of murder after his terminally ill wife removed her nasal oxygen catheter to speed death along. Bentinck, who quietly allowed her to pass, was held on $1-million bail but was later released without charges.

I called Wester as soon as I got the email, and she described the scene playing out in her cabin in the Sierra foothills. Donnie, who hadn't eaten in days, was trying to lift himself off the bed, angry that death was making him wait so long.

"He's flipping a chair," Sandy said, describing a light, plastic lawn chair next to the bed. "He's saying, 'Why can't I just die?' "