Initiative 1000 allowing terminally ill competent adults to obtain lethal prescriptions

This measure would permit terminally ill, competent, adult Washington residents, who are medically predicted to have six months or less to live, to request and self-administer lethal medication prescribed by a physician.

I just spent 19 months watching my mom slowly die of A.L.S.

I visited her daily. I took care of her. I was present for every doctor visit for the final year, and many before that. I am pretty damn familiar with Whatcom County hospice now. Mom’s decline was not pretty.

My mom would never make use of this law were it on the books. I’m pretty certain she would have voted no had she lived another few weeks (her absentee ballot arrived the day she died). Mom was a devout Catholic. She believed in the sanctity of life. I understand believing that it isn’t right to take one’s life. I think that’s perfectly legitimate, even for religious reasons.

But having seen what mom went through means I do not want to go through it, at least not the last couple of months. So I am voting YES. I don’t have mom’s religious convictions.

Unfortunately, if the initiative passes and I get the same form of A.L.S. mom had and progress similarly, it won’t help me. Mom did not have the use of her hands or mouth the last six months she was alive. I wouldn’t be able to self-administer a lethal prescription.

It’s still a good first step.

I write this even knowing that I would be pretty happy even in a paralyzed body. Give me a computer with an internet connection that I can operate and I would get by as far as intellectual stimulation. Once I was certain my breathing had taken it’s final turn for the worse though, I’d want to avoid the final weeks of pain and discomfort.

One of the arguments I’ve read against the initiative is that palliative care has advanced to the place where pain is no longer an issue. This is not true. Pain management comes with a cost that some people may find even more unpalatable: being mentally slowed. Even with the best morphine drip management around (and according to Whatcom County Hospice, pain management is accomplished essentially through morphine), a person’s intellectual and emotional well being is affected. Mom did not want to be drugged. I don’t think I would be so averse to it, but there are still limits to what I would accept. After that, my choice is still pain or early death.

One other argument is that it opens the door to pressure from family members and others to commit suicide. A terminal patient does not want to be a burden. According to this argument, while it might be acceptable (for the sake of argument) to commit suicide to avoid pain, it isn’t okay to avoid being a burden. The thing is, it’s not so black and white. On one end you could have family members actively trying to convince someone to off themselves so they’d get more money, and a vulnerable person might agree where they wouldn’t absent the pressure. And on the other end I think it’s perfectly legitimate for a person to factor being a burden into their decision, provided that the patient makes the decision without duress. There’s a big gray area where distinguishing discussions between family members from duress by people who have something to gain (time, money, other lovers, etc.) could be really tough. The only sure solution is to not enact the initiative. Which is, of course, the argument. However, that’s throwing out the good that giving the choice to people will accomplish. I think that outweighs the mostly theoretical bad. I’m pretty certain at some point someone will kill themselves under duress. We don’t decide to avoid war because one person dies. We weigh the gains against the losses. One life is not so precious as to be invaluable. I’m a pragmatist. Life is very valuable, but it’s not infinite. Plus, this doesn’t change the situation from the way it is right now. A person could kill themselves right now. They could do it under duress from a family member, under current law. The initiative doesn’t change that.

There’s also slippery slope arguments. If we do this, we are on the road to wanton euthanasia. I doubt it, but if it comes to that, we can reverse the law. All it takes is political will.

The law doesn’t give me as a terminally ill person additional options. I can already kill myself or choose extended palliative care. What it does is make it easier for me to make that painless, to assure that my family and doctors are protected, and to preserve my heirs insurance money.

I wish it allowed for a person to actually assist, but that can be done later if we have the will.

An emphatic, if regretful for the necessity, YES.

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