The American Nurses Association’s Center For Ethics and Human Rights and the University of California,…
By Anne Haule, Member, Hemlock Society
It’s been almost 10 years, but I still cry when I think or talk about Larry’s death.
I can’t get the picture out of my mind of his deteriorating body, hooked to his catheter, lying on the floor after falling out of bed. He died 5 days later in a hospice facility because I couldn’t care for him by myself.
He wanted to die at home. I was there to make sure he had his last wish. I failed him; society failed him. He spent his life in public service but when it was his turn to be on the receiving end of public service, the system failed him.
Larry was my stepfather but I often refer to him as my father. He and my mom were married for twenty years. His life was one of those extreme “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of lives. His father worked for the railroad and was rarely home. The family moved frequently. Larry went to 8 schools in as many years and was bullied because he was slight of build and shy of demeanor. Notwithstanding receiving virtually no support from his family, he ultimately attended college and the FBI Academy and became the Assistant Sheriff in a rural community in central Michigan.
Larry was diagnosed with stage 4-lung cancer. He received radiation to shrink the tumor on his lung but he wasn’t a candidate for surgery or chemo. Basically, there was nothing to do but wait to die. I told him I’d come stay with him while nature took its course.
For almost a month, I sat with him, gave him pain medicine, chatted with him, watched TV, and read to him. Initially he could use the bathroom without assistance – then with some assistance – then with a toilet chair . . . and finally with a catheter.
I was as sleep deprived as a new mother. Around the clock, I tried to keep him comfortable, giving him morphine drops orally every couple hours and applying a new fentanyl patch to his withered shoulder every few days.
We were waiting for “the day”. We joked about him sending me a sign if in fact there is a great beyond. He was ready for his final reward and I was ready for sleep.
We never got to say a final goodbye. He died without me in a hospice facility.
The last few weeks of his life were anything but peaceful and dignified. They were also a waste of energy, time and resources.
After my experience, I’ve become an advocate for right to die laws – laws that would have allowed Larry to decide and me to carry out his wishes with a lethal injection – not unlike the injections the vet gives our beloved pets when their time has come.
People should have the right to end their lives peacefully by accessing the necessary drugs and by having the help of loved ones without fear of criminal prosecution.
Join the movement to avoid a “bad death” for those you love.