Karen M lives in Oregon, where Death with Dignity has been an option for over 20 years. She continues to advocate for medical aid in dying by sharing her sister’s story, who used the California End of Life Option Act in 2021.

Everyone deserves to die as they lived – with the ability to freely make choices and maintain bodily autonomy. 

My younger sister Debbie was the most amazing person, always taking the “glass half full” approach to everything. She never wavered in this commitment to positivity, even when her world was shattered. 

Despite her five-foot tall and 105-pound frame, she was a force to be reckoned with, and everyone’s micromanager. She usually got what she wanted (not in a bad way) and accomplished whatever she set her mind and heart to. She graduated early. She always had a good job. She traveled. She took dance lessons. She enjoyed life thoroughly. She was a phenomenal single mother. She lived – and died – exactly how she wanted.

The Dreaded ‘C’ Word

Shortly after her daughter Brit was born, Deb became a single mother. Despite the challenges, she had a very successful career with Wells Fargo. She eventually met a lovely man, Charlie, who she became engaged to in 2014. 

Deb and her husband, Charlie, at a local Oregon winery in 2016

Not long after this joyous event, she started having some unusual symptoms, including stomach bloating and not feeling “like herself.” This was just before an upcoming trip to Canada. Assuming it was just indigestion or something minor, she agreed to see a doctor before they left. When the results came in, she called to tell me she had stage 3b ovarian cancer. I could not have been more shocked. 

Deb immediately started treatment – a painful surgery, and rounds of chemotherapy. She remained positive throughout the entire thing, constantly repeating the mantra, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” I don’t know how she did it.

Her positivity paid off – not only did she marry Charlie, but for over four years her cancer was in remission.

Then, the cancer came back. And metastasized to her lungs. During this whole repeated ordeal of doctor visits, chemotherapy, lab work, and drainage, she remained the bravest, most hopeful person – trying every treatment possible with the hope of reprieve and some additional time.

Difficult Conversations

As fate would have it, buying extra time was a short-lived endeavor, and she knew difficult choices needed to be made. Debbie resolved very early in these end-of-life discussions that she wanted control over her death. 

When she told us she was completing the Death with Dignity approval process and would be receiving the medications from her pharmacy, we accepted it. But, we thought we would have more time with her once she obtained the prescription.

The Final Days

We were wrong about the extended timeline, as the day she received the aid-in-dying medications, Deb let us know she would be taking them the following morning. 

Deb asked that we be with her when she was ready – Brit, Charlie, my husband Andy, and myself. Of course, we all agreed. We were prepared to do whatever she needed.

On May 1, 2021, at 8am, as promised, Deb ended her life peacefully. After finishing the medications, she slowly went into a deep sleep, all the while hearing us whisper to her how much she meant to us. Death didn’t happen instantly, but slowly – about 45 minutes later, her breathing became shallower and finally stopped. She was gone. No more misery, no more pain.

Controlling our Death

Deb felt so strongly that every person should have the option and choice to decide what is best for them, including how they die. It is appalling that so many states choose to control a person’s destiny during the last moments of life by keeping this option unavailable to them. Stories like Debbie’s pass Death with Dignity laws. They demonstrate how important this healthcare option is for patients like my sister – when there are no more treatments, and only pain and suffering. Will you join me in sharing yours too? Share your story now.

Deb and Karen in Miami together in 2017.