My extraordinary larger-than-life mother, Cecile Weich, died on March 19, 2020, at the age of 85. Her last weeks were pointlessly painful. She wanted to die on her own terms but lacked the means to do so in Maryland.
Mom lived a full, active and eventful life. She graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1959, one of only a small number of women in her law school class. She took great pride in her work and fought hard for her clients. She had a flamboyant style and only wore white clothing — it was her “trademark” in court. After moving from New York City to the Eastern Shore in the 1990s, she became a member of the Maryland bar and continued to work from the home she and my father built on Kent Island. Altogether, she practiced law for nearly 60 years, until my father died and a stroke compelled mom to retire in Bethesda at the age of 82.
In the years after her retirement, mom’s health deteriorated steadily due to congestive heart disease, diabetes and other ailments. Her decline accelerated at the beginning of this year and she was hospitalized. The doctors there explained that they might be able to prolong her life but could not cure her. It was medically impossible to overcome the damage to her heart and other organs. She checked herself out of the hospital against medical advice. She said to everyone: “I want to go home. I want to die in my home.”
Mom was a fiercely independent and practical person. By the beginning of 2020, she was explicitly and affirmatively ready to die. She told us she had “had a good run” and that she accepted her life’s conclusion. She wished desperately to die peacefully, with my brother and I each holding one of her hands. Instead, she lost her dignity as her body continued to deteriorate.
My mom’s last weeks were torture for her and for us. She received hospice care at home and had kind healthcare aides with her around the clock, but nonetheless endured immense pain and suffering, despite receiving morphine. She couldn’t sleep. She struggled to breathe and gasped for air, grimacing, even with supplemental oxygen. She had cramps throughout her body and shooting pain in her legs.
She did not want to keep going. “Why are we doing this? When is this going to end?” she repeatedly asked. Days after she said goodbye to her children and grandchildren, days after she lost any quality of life, the agony continued.
My brother and I were horrified to watch her die this way, without control over the end of her life. It was utterly pointless and inhumane. It was an act of cruelty for the government to insist that she remain alive for those last few days.
In my view, no one facing imminent death with a clear mind should be made to endure such gratuitous pain and suffering. Individuals should have the right to seek medical aid in dying. As I see it, God has given us free agency and this is one of the ways we should be allowed to exercise it. When it is my time to die I don’t want to go through what my mother went through, and I certainly don’t want my children to experience what I experienced.