Lisa Vigil Schattinger is the co-founder of Ohio End of Life Options in Cleveland, Ohio.
To everyone outside my family, my stepfather was Dr. Melvin John Rowe III, a neurologist, author, lecturer, and epilepsy researcher. But to us he was always Grandpa Jack. We enjoyed lots of family dinners around our table since my parents came to visit us every winter in Cleveland, Ohio. Grandpa Jack would recruit my son for various projects: One year they built a crystal radio in the attic, stringing wires around the house and trees for better reception; another year they built a clock with what seemed like millions of gears. They tinkered until everything worked as planned.
In September of last year, just before his 73rd birthday, Grandpa Jack was diagnosed with a bone marrow disorder that would kill him within six months. As he fought a losing battle with his illness, he informed his family and friends that he would request medication under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. The decision did not come quickly or easily to him as he considered what he would be missing, how he would suffer, what he would be putting his family through. He decided to die free of what the illness would bring, free of losing his autonomy, and free of concern over how his dying would affect his loved ones.
The morning of his death, on a crisp November day in Oregon, some of the family sat with Grandpa Jack around the breakfast table. We talked about how strange and surreal that moment was and we all expressed our love and respect for him and his decision. Then he said, “Well, it’s time,” walked into his bedroom and got into bed as his favorite classical guitar music played. My mother and his son each held one of his hands while my brother and I sat nearby. After he drank the medication, Grandpa Jack talked for a while, then became drowsy and fell asleep. Ten minutes or so later his body stopped working. It was that painless and very peaceful. Grandpa Jack died exactly the way he had planned.
Grandpa Jack / Dr. Rowe was adamant that, in the face of a life-ending medical diagnosis, it was his right to choose his own fate. He believed, as do I, that every terminally ill person should have that option. The opportunity to die at his own time of choice, with medication prescribed under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act gave him great peace of mind. For those who value control and choice in the face of a terminal illness, the peace that Death with Dignity brings is invaluable.