My father, David, passed away at age 98 from squamous cell skin cancer. He was enrolled in hospice, covered in skin cancer lesions and expressed many times his desire for medical aid in dying but at the time that was not an option in his home state. Just having that option available would have brought him immense comfort knowing he was in control.
When my father was well, he was a very social person with many friends. My father was the life of the party and everybody enjoyed his company. He was an avid reader, loved traveling and golf. When he could no longer golf he still thoroughly enjoyed watching golf tournaments, especially when Tiger Woods was playing. Watching Tiger play golf was practically my father’s religion. He would never miss a televised golf tournament that Tiger was in.
He had lived with skin cancer for nearly 35 years. Except for his last few days, pain was not the biggest issue, it was his quality of life and total loss of autonomy. He couldn’t do anything for himself and had lost all joy in living.
Life became a drudgery. My father had suffered a couple of falls, his vision was so poor he could no longer enjoy reading, and the only time he would go out was to see a doctor. He didn’t even watch televised tournaments Tiger Woods was in – something he would have never missed.
Once, at his doctor’s office, he expressed his desire to die peacefully like people could do in Oregon. The doctor asked: David, are you suicidal? His response: I wouldn’t do that to my loved ones. He clearly understood medical aid in dying was not suicide.
There was no “getting better.” He knew he was terminal and expressed clearly his desire for a peaceful death. During his last three years of life, from time to time my father would ask me, “Can you take me to Oregon?” Making the move was not an option. Medical aid in dying was a possibility elsewhere for other people, but not for him at home.
In the end, he was choking on fluid filling his lungs and he was horribly uncomfortable and clearly in pain, even with morphine. This was the death he dreaded. It would have been so helpful if he could have accessed medical aid in dying and said goodbye to his loved ones.
Watching what my father went through has motivated me to work for passage of a medical aid-in-dying bill here in Minnesota. Dying is not optional. This most intimate journey, that we all must make, should be met with the autonomy to make one’s own decisions. Government or any institution should not stand in the way of this most personal decision.