By Chris de Boinville (subheadings are ours)
Chris is our constituent and supporter in Maryland. This article is an edited transcript of her testimony to the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee at its March 6, 2015 hearing, in support of the pending Death with Dignity bill.
This introduced legislation has been a very long time in coming. In my 30+ years of providing holistic and palliative hospice care, I have seen people die in intractable pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Everyone envisions a “good death” for their loved ones, when they are at peace and pain-free.
There are two stories of patient deaths that are on my mind, one which haunts me and one which brings me joy when I think of it.
A Story That Haunts Me
In the first death, a prominent DC businessman with end-stage Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, had been profoundly physically disabled for an extended period. His dignity and quality of life had long been compromised and he communicated by an alphabetized signboard and a fluttering of his eyes when the appropriate letter or phrase was deciphered. I saw daily the fear, anguish, frustration, and desperation this brilliant man and his family experienced, and became fully aware of his suicidal thoughts and wishes.
Despite all best efforts to make this man comfortable in his final days, he continued to suffer intractable pain. He finally succumbed to aspiration pneumonia, choking on his own saliva, with a look of agonizing terror on his face, and a bewildered sobbing family at his bedside.
A Story That Brings Me Joy
The second story involves a patient with end-stage renal failure who was receiving daily, lengthy dialysis treatments. After she realized that her quality of life was diminishing rapidly and she could not continue dialysis forever, the patient courageously chose to stop the dialysis. She knew she would only have a few days to live beyond the last treatment.
We were able to place her in an inpatient hospice facility just a few days before New Year’s 2000. She had always wanted to be at “the big party” for the new millennium. She died at peace, with grace, and pain-free at 3:00 a.m. on January 1, 2000 after spending the night with her entire immediate family gathered around celebrating with her.
This is the kind of death we all want for our loved ones. It can be possible with the passing of this legislation.
Featured image by Richard Martin.