Ann Littlewood is a retired technical publications manager in Portland, Oregon.
I was treated for breast cancer in 2000. It was serious enough for two surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and follow up drugs. Though I am still on medications, I was lucky and I’m fine today.
The experience gave me ample time to ponder my own death. I don’t like the idea of dying, no matter how it’s phrased. Maybe the reason it’s so terrifying is that it’s beyond knowing, a black void. None of us have ever died before; we don’t know how it goes.
In 2006, my 91-year-old father broke his hip and decided he wanted to die. The doctors’ reaction was interesting: In an instant their demeanor changed from calm and professional to perky and upbeat, and they gave my dad a pep talk.
Though my dad wouldn’t have been eligible for Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, it was then that I realized many doctors don’t like the idea of assisted dying — it’s not what they signed up for. They see their mission as keeping death at bay, no matter how inevitable or how rationally sought. My father died the following year after a weeklong, painful struggle. He was on hospice care; my sisters and I were with him. Everything possible was done to ensure his comfort. Yet, it was awful for us and for him.
I’ve watched two dear friends die of ovarian cancer, a beloved cousin die of pneumonia, a friend’s father die of sepsis. Some were elderly, some far too young.
I’ve seen how the price of pain control is sedation. I’ve seen the labored breathing and rapid heartbeat of oxygen hunger, the inability to eat or drink, the despair and bewilderment of people waiting to die.
I want none of it.
Others can choose differently, but when treatment fails and I’m at the thin end of the survival curve, I want to acknowledge it and go out with some grace, not as a withered, unrecognizable body surrounded by exhausted and anguished relatives. I want a party, sweet farewells, and a swift and private end at my home.
I am lucky enough to live in Oregon, where none of the dire predictions about controlling your own death have come to pass. That’s why I want this option for every competent and qualified adult.