Laura Gibbs is an online college instructor in Timberlake, North Carolina.
I’ve been a supporter of Death with Dignity for a long time. But until I watched my mother (who lived in Texas) die a protracted death, I had not fully understood what is at stake. After years of debilitating illnesses, which her doctors were no longer able to treat effectively, my mother arranged for hospice care. Then she decided to stop eating.
She expected to die quickly but what followed was an ordeal that lasted 17 ravaging and painful days. We couldn’t do much for her, and I was shocked how long this kind of dying can take.* She was angry about what happened to her—every day she kept asking, “When am I going to die?”
In the precious few bright moments, we had some great conversations. But if she could have chosen the moment and manner of her dying, it would have looked much different.
She was brave enough to make the hard decision to end her life and to endure the consequences of her decision. But our society was not brave enough to stand by her in that decision and help her to die with dignity.
Therein lie the problems in moving ahead with much needed right-to-die legislation: our collective state of denial about end-of-life care, and the fact that our current medical system helps people to live but will not help them to die when they are dying.
To this day, I have mixed feelings when talking with people about my mother’s death: I feel that people need to know just what it really means to die from self-imposed starvation and, at the same time, I am hesitant to talk about it because of how painful it was.
I am encouraged there is a lot of legislative movement around Death with Dignity in many states, and dismayed by the lack of progress in both Texas and in North Carolina, where I live.
People should be able to choose when and how they go and to be with their loved ones when it happens. It’s so troubling to me that we can’t do right by our loved ones because the legal system is against us.
I know that not everyone would make the same choice that my mother did, but she was ready to die, and the choice she had to make was one that added to her suffering, and to our family’s suffering too. My mother was a brave and good-hearted woman who deserved better.
* I wrote an account of my mother’s final days at my blog Morituris Omnibus.