Update: Deborah died on June 5, 2016.
Deborah Dempesy is a Doctor of Audiology in Plymouth, Massachusetts
I have Stage IV pancreatic cancer. This is the same disease that killed my little sister Kimberly nine years ago.
Kimberly received her diagnosis in December 2005 along with a four to six-month prognosis. For the next four months, she was dying in agony, partly because she was unable to get her pain medications in a timely manner.
I was Kimberly’s primary caretaker at night, staying up to help her get the morphine she needed. When she was alert, we had the most wonderful conversations. The rest of the time, she begged me to release her from pain. I watched her suffer and knew I didn’t want to ever suffer like that.
Kimberly was only 46 when she died; she had no say in how she died. There wasn’t even a semblance of dignity in the horrific way she had to go.
I voted Yes on Question 2 in the 2012 ballot initiative here in Massachusetts, which would have established Death with Dignity as an end-of-life option. I was very disappointed the initiative failed.
I am an educated, professional woman, and I wish to die in a way that exemplifies how I have lived my life.
All the more so that just the following year, in January 2013, I received the same diagnosis as Kimberly. The love and support of my family, good medical care, and the fact I was very healthy prior to my diagnosis helped extend my life. But I am now on the last possible regimen of chemotherapy.
I am trying to be very realistic about the future. I will survive and struggle with this disease as long as I can. But I am also making preparations for my life’s end.
When it’s time, I want to be with my loved ones. It is unfortunate I cannot give myself or my family the relief of dying in a more humane, gentler way than Kimberly did. Therein lies the disrespect and disregard for the sanctity of human life and dignity.
I am an educated, professional woman, and I wish to die in a way that exemplifies how I have lived my life. In many cultures, death is a transition, a journey one takes. I believe that when you know you’re on your deathbed you should have the option of taking that journey in a way that’s meaningful and sensible to you. The words “Death with Dignity” say it so clearly.