Ann Keller, from Texas, was one of the first patients to access Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act as a non-resident. She reached out to us days before her death to share her story – to advocate for Death with Dignity access for all terminally ill patients, regardless of location.
My grandmother was wheeled out of her home feet first at 83, having died peacefully in her sleep. A coronary event was the cause of death of my father at the age of 50. It was an unknown genetic blood disorder that caused the unexpected death of my veterinarian brother at the age of 36; A lifetime of smoking caused the eventual demise of my mother at 67; And, a combination of avoidance and incompetence led to a stage IV diagnosis of cervical cancer for my sister at the age of 59.
Death sometimes gives advance warning, and sometimes it does not. One thing is guaranteed. It comes for all of us. And, for some diagnoses, it can be an agonizing and lengthy ordeal.
I was diagnosed with Stage IV peritoneal carcinomatosis on 8/3/22, at the age of 70. The odds I had beaten for the past six years, as a pancreatic cancer survivor, had finally caught up with me. As a well-informed patient, I not only knew what my prognosis was, but also what my family would be facing (that is, cruel and inhumane punishment).
Despite the obstacles that stood in the way of taking advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (i.e. logistics of travel from Texas and paperwork ad nauseam), the alternative seemed even worse. The support and synchronicity I have encountered from the folks at Death with Dignity, OHSU, Partners IN Care, and End of Life Choices Oregon have assured me I am in the right place. Their support has made this difficult decision more bearable.
The option to choose my exit, and under what circumstances, has provided me with a peace I didn’t know was possible. Knowing I will have my family by my side, that I will call the shots, and only I can say “when” is a privilege and a right everyone should have. Ultimately, this option allows for the inevitability of my death to be serene, rather than tormented.
I have never feared death. I understand it is part of the cycle of life.
Perhaps, if we gave death a valued place alongside birth, there would be far less resistance to everyone being entitled to Death with Dignity.
This healthcare option should NOT be limited to those with the “right zip code,” or the resources to travel out of state. I am sharing my story, just days before I die, to make it clear this option is not for everyone, nor should everyone have to choose it. But we should all have the right to make that decision for ourselves. And for me, this is the right call.
Ann’s family continues to share her story and advocate for medical aid in dying across the country. They so strongly believe in the power of storytelling and have been working alongside us to bring Ann’s story to the forefront since her death. Be part of the movement that creates options for patients to die in the way they lived. Share your story today.