Marcy Lehman

An extremely clear-thinking and positive individual, Marcy Lehman’s father, Ted Rubenstein, availed himself of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act after two years of living with stomach cancer. At 91 years old, he died peacefully at home on October 1, 2023, with his loved ones at his side.
Marcy Lehman Seated in a blue chair wearing a black dress

“I feel sadness and peace, yet I have no regrets. When a loved one passes on their own terms, it doesn’t weigh heavily on the heart.”

Marcy Lehman shared her story in March of 2024.

After my father passed away, I’ve been careful about sharing my experience because I don’t want to face judgment or have others criticize his decision. However, I believe people must understand that choosing medical aid in dying is a valid option for mentally sound adults facing a terminal illness. 

Above all, I am inspired by my father’s courage and conviction. He knew medical aid in dying was the right choice for him, and that sparked my determination to raise awareness about this option for those nearing the end of their lives. It’s worth noting that in Oregon (and Vermont), one doesn’t even need to be a resident to access medical aid in dying.

Ted Rubenstein wearing a tuxedo sitting on a table

Ted Rubenstein

I was privileged to be my father’s healthcare advocate and pillar of support throughout his two-year battle with stomach cancer. I played a

crucial role in helping him understand the legal aspects of medical aid in dying, navigating the complexities of the healthcare system, and reconciling varying religious and family values and opinions. 

Dad had a profound love for life and an unwavering commitment to his family and friends. His wife — my mom — was his best friend, and they shared 69 years together, building a life full of travel and community. Dad always made each of his daughters feel like they were his “favorite,” a sentiment he expressed consistently throughout his life. Even now, we each hold onto that belief. Dad’s community of friendships was second only to his love of family, regularly meeting with a close-knit group for lunch every week, a tradition he maintained even during his final months.

Our goal was to maintain Dad’s health and alleviate his pain so that he could attend his granddaughter’s wedding in November 2023. Despite undergoing treatments for stomach cancer, such as radiation, immunotherapy and iron transfusions, he remained optimistic and went along with everything. However, in his mind he had a firm limit. He made it clear to all his doctors, saying, “The moment I start resembling or feeling anything like a Holocaust survivor, that’s it for me.” The thought of looking emaciated, losing autonomy over bodily functions or being unable to attend to basic needs frightened him profoundly.

By late summer 2023, my father faced difficulty eating. Even a small amount of food made him cough, and he described a sensation of obstruction in his throat. The oncologist proposed another cycle of immunotherapy. Despite his weakness, Dad consented to proceed with the treatment. As my mother and I sat beside him in the doctor’s office that September morning, watching as the nurse prepared the IV for the immunotherapy session, I could sense Dad’s contemplation. He expressed with determination that he was weary of it all. It was unlike him to voice complaints.

When his oncologist entered the room, Dad demanded, “Get this thing out of me! I want assisted suicide.” Those were his words and what he had known about medical aid in dying since its legalization in Oregon back in 1997.

Up until that moment, my dad had never mentioned wanting to avail himself of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act. Shocked by his request, I asked what he was talking about. He said he had been reading about the option, and that was what he wanted. The cancer doctor was phenomenal, “Ted, I can now talk to you about medical aid in dying.” Unbeknownst to me, hospital policies often restrict doctors from bringing it up to patients; patients must state their interests first. 

I sat there quietly as Dad’s oncologist informed him that, given his clear mental faculties and a prognosis of two months (the law mandates a prognosis of six months or less), he met the criteria for medical aid in dying. The doctor outlined the procedure: Dad would need to make two formal requests to his physician, have a second doctor confirm his eligibility, fill out the Request for Medication form witnessed by two individuals (one of whom must be a nonrelative) and then he could receive his prescription. I was at a loss for words, but the doctor was calm and reassuring. Seeing Dad’s certainty and confidence in his decision, I felt the right thing to do was hug him and promise to do whatever it took to honor his wish.

The first thing Dad asked me to do was notify my two sisters of his decision. So when I left the hospital, I phoned my sisters from the car and was surprised by their reaction. Neither of them fully agreed with Dad’s choice, and while they didn’t plan to dissuade him, they were reluctant to assist in fulfilling his wish. Despite my 91-year-old mom’s support for Dad’s decision, I felt alone in guiding him through the process. The weight of it all was overwhelming. I needed direction on whom to seek for advice. I wanted to speak to someone who had gone through supporting a loved one in this end-of-life journey, but to no avail.

Dad and I thought that hospice, which had been providing in-home care for several weeks, would be instrumental in organizing and administering his medication, delivering each dose at the appropriate time — starting with anti-nausea and antiemetic medications, followed by the aid-in-dying medication — on his final day. Much to our dismay and astonishment, they informed us they couldn’t assist in that capacity. Fortunately, Dad’s second doctor introduced us to a local volunteer organization that could provide the assistance we needed.

When we met with the second doctor and discovered she was Jewish, we talked about the implications of Dad’s choice within Judaism. I hadn’t even considered the religious aspects; I had just been trying to get through the logistical hoops of helping Dad attain a prescription.

Subsequently I reached out to our rabbi, and Dad engaged in a four-hour conversation with her about his life and this decision. She provided incredible support. While acknowledging that it was considered a sin, she emphasized the importance of honoring my father’s wish over strict religious doctrine. Dad had thoroughly contemplated his decision and felt at peace with it, having reached a personal understanding with God that this was the right path for him.

Dad, a lifelong Oregon Ducks fan, initially chose October 9 as the planned day for his decision because it was right after football season. However, this plan changed on October 1 when Dad suffered a fall in the middle of the night. At 3 a.m., Mom called to tell me she had dialed 911 and the paramedics had helped him back in bed. Knowing he was now resting, I decided it would be best to call them back later that morning. Dad had made a new plan; he no longer wanted to wait to take his aid-in-dying prescription — today was the day.

When I talked to my mom a few hours later, I hoped that Dad would feel differently with some sleep and stick with the October 9 plan. While on the phone with her, I heard my dad saying, “Make it happen today. I cannot be like this. This is it.”

I headed to my parents’ home, and when I got there I found my dad lying in bed, visibly frail. He reiterated that the plan needed to happen today. Since it was a Sunday, I wasn’t sure if I could contact the volunteers, let alone arrange for them to come to my parents’ home on such short notice. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to try. Bless their hearts. Two volunteers agreed to join us that evening after I explained the urgency of the situation.

Dad’s home care aide got him dressed and placed him into an office chair with wheels to help move him to his favorite chair in the TV room so that we could sit together while we waited. Nearby relatives came to the house to say goodbye and tell him they loved him, and family from out of state said goodbye over the phone.

At 6 p.m., the two volunteers arrived, and everyone left except for me, my mom, my 29-year-old son, who was very close to my Dad, and my best friend (who considered my dad like a second father). To start the process, the volunteers gave Dad the anti-nausea medicine and the antiemetic, and then they stepped into another room. We remained in the TV room talking about this and that for the next 45 minutes as Dad waited for the next medicine. The atmosphere was surreal, but Dad’s calm demeanor and evident peace brought me comfort.

Then it was time. The volunteers returned to give Dad the last round of meds reassuring him that he could reconsider at any time. With unwavering certainty, Dad affirmed, “No, this is the path I’ve chosen.” In the comfort of his own bedroom, Dad consumed the aid-in-dying medication. My mom, my son and I gathered by his bedside. His parting words to me were, “Thank you. You made this plan a reality.”

We saw his body gradually shut down; it was like he had gone into a deep sleep. Surprisingly, it was a more tranquil experience than I expected. We had been told we might witness irregular and heavy breathing, so we weren’t alarmed.  Being prepared for what was to come helped alleviate our anxieties.

Around 9:30 p.m., Dad passed away. We called hospice, and they promptly sent the funeral home to get his body. When they got to the house, my wise son told me, “Mom, don’t go in there when they take Poppy out. You don’t want that to be your last memory of him.” I followed my son’s advice and am so grateful that my most vivid memory is sitting at my dad’s bedside, holding his hand while he peacefully lay there. It was a serene moment. People often ask me what it’s like after the medication is given. I explain that Dad drifted into sleep and breathed deeply. I believe it’s important for others to understand that aspect.

I feel sadness and peace, yet I have no regrets. While I dearly miss Dad, I find comfort in respecting his wishes, a small token of appreciation for such an extraordinary father.

When a loved one passes on their own terms, it doesn’t weigh heavily on the heart. Offer your support and assistance in making the journey as beautiful and peaceful as possible.

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VICTORY: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the improved End-of-Life Options Act.

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