Dr. Douglas Barnshaw is a retired physician from Springfield, Massachusetts.
I am fast approaching the end of my life and am in hospice care. The combination of a rare heart condition and a severe bout of pneumonia have left my body vulnerable.
Sooner Rather than Later
Last year, I received a diagnosis of amyloidosis of the heart. It is a rare condition in which an excessive amount of amyloid protein collects in the heart, preventing it from functioning correctly. There is no cure, and the medication I take to slow down the development of amyloid in my heart has stopped working. My disease will kill me sooner rather than later.
Currently, I am in Sedona, Arizona, where I go to escape the cold winters of my hometown in western Massachusetts. Neither state has a death with dignity law; even if I met all the qualifications to access medical aid in dying, I would not be able to do so.
To Die with Dignity Intact
I have known about death with dignity as an end-of-life option for many years. I am a retired physician and know well how pain and suffering can lead to emotional distress among patients and their family members. If one receives a terminal diagnosis, one should have the option to die with some dignity intact.
Peace of Mind
What’s more, giving individuals access to death with dignity can ease their anxiety. As we know from Oregon and other states with assisted-dying laws, a number of patients choose not to use the medication to hasten their death, but the knowledge that is available if the pain becomes unbearable provides great peace of mind.
When I learned last year that there was an advocacy organization near my hometown working to pass a death with dignity law in Massachusetts, I knew I wanted to get involved. I connected with John Berkowitz, the founder of Western Massachusetts Death with Dignity, and began attending community meetings and volunteering my time to support the group’s efforts.
John and I met with legislators, explaining our support for the bill under consideration and urging them to pass the legislation. I am glad I had the opportunity to advocate for passage of the End of Life Options Act before my health deteriorated.
Control and Agency
I feel passionately about empowering individuals to take charge of their lives. This also applies to giving people control and agency over their final days. I hope Massachusetts will agree to support assisted-dying legislation.