Update: the California End of Life Options Act passed in 2016.
Anne Lower is a filmmaker in Hollywood, California.
My parents brought me up in an environment in which I was encouraged to make and own my choices in life. This attitude extended to death, too; death with dignity was literally a dinner-table subject in my family. I like to say that death with dignity has been my life’s journey.
My father was an architect and member of the Hemlock Society. After he saw his mother, friends, and family die, he said that, if it came to the point where he couldn’t manage his own affairs, he wanted to die. He lobbied for death with dignity in Oklahoma.
One day, my mother found him in the driveway, unable to move—he’d had a stroke. He went into a coma and after he came out of it, he could not speak. He only mouthed the words, “I want to die.”
I sat by his side at the hospital, feeling guilty for having to tell him, “I can’t help you, Daddy.”
Doctors said he had 18 months to live. He suffered from multiple strokes before he died a week before the deadline. I don’t want anyone to go through what he had to go through.
That includes me.
Last year I bumped my head on a cabinet at an equestrian center where I work. When I heard the crunching sound, I realized I’d broken my neck. I woke up at an ICU. It turned out a tumor on my spine had eaten a part of my vertebrae. I knew I was going to have to face some decisions. You can’t go through cancer without your life being changed forever.
The cancer is treatable but incurable. I went through radiation and am now watchfully waiting. Everything is fine now; it will be five or six years before something else happens. But when my time does come, I want to have the choice to die with dignity. It simply means having the choice on how I wish to end my journey. It’s about having a good death, a peaceful and serene one where I can say goodbye to those I love, it’s about grace. We spend so much time having joyful lives, why can’t we have a joyful death.
We used to bring bodies of our loved ones home. We don’t do that anymore; we’ve had that choice removed from us. I don’t know why or when we lost the knowledge that death is an everyday part of life. Somehow we’re convinced we can live forever.
When my time does come, I want to have the choice to die with dignity. It simply means having the choice on how I wish to end my journey.
And as for my Dad, he’d have gotten a great kick about being included on this site. Somewhere, the Universe is smiling.