Update: the California End of Life Options Act passed in 2016.
Jordan Zweigoron is a business broker in San Jose, California.
In 2012, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I almost died in the treatment process, but thankfully I made a full recovery. During the time I was suffering and contemplating the very possible reality of dying, I was very troubled that there was not a peaceful way to make that happen.
I’ve been a small business owner—I’m the founder of Psycho Donuts, “the world’s craziest donut shop”—and also a business broker focusing on helping business owners to sell their business. In both cases, I’ve directly experienced and have seen first hand how physical illness affects an entrepreneur’s ability to effectively run a company.
The typical entrepreneurial mindset is one of infallibility. Challenges are opportunities to overcome obstacles. Mind over matter is a recurring mantra. However, what happens when an entrepreneur is diagnosed with an incurable illness?
An unprecedented 7.7 million businesses will change hands in the coming years as their baby-boomer owners retire. What happens to a business when an owner is too sick to continue running day-to-day operations? Or when a business owner is faced with a diagnosis which defies their entrepreneurial strength and willpower? When an entrepreneur becomes gravely ill, a business can suddenly take a turn for the worse.
My own mentality was to hire management and remotely stay involved in my business, even if from a hospital bed. Although I spent over 30 days in the hospital, endured several surgeries, and lost 20% of my body weight, I still had the benefit of hope.
I’m convinced that every entrepreneur will want the option of choosing death with dignity, when faced with the stark realities of a painful death.
In retrospect, a business owner, when faced with an untenable prognosis must face the situation responsibly, bravely, and head-on; much as they have always faced challenges in their lives and in their businesses. But even Steve Jobs was unable to defy gravity forever.
If an entrepreneur can move mountains to achieve success, what kinds of decisions might he desire to make when faced with an undeniable diagnosis? My bet is that aging entrepreneurs will want to choose between the most logical and equitable options available to them. They will research the pros and cons, the risks of every approach. Ultimately, they will want to choose the path that makes the most sense rationally. In this way, the entrepreneur is no different than anyone else, when faced with certain death and a painful demise. While these decisions are intensely personal, I’m convinced that every entrepreneur will want the option of choosing death with dignity, when faced with the stark realities of a painful death.
We are a modern society, and California is a leader in cultural change for the future. Such a decision should absolutely be the right of the patient. With a doctor’s approval, I can see no reason why the beliefs of others, whether religious or otherwise, should override a dying patient’s rational right to speed up the inevitable, and avoid senseless pain, suffering, and even hospital expense to family or society.
Anyone can find themselves with a life threatening disease, at any time in life. Having been close to that path in life, I know that if my time comes, I want to have all reasonable options available to me. The challenging alternative of picking up and moving to another state—with more progressive policies—is no consolation to a very sick and dying patient.