Liza Passade is fighting for Death with Dignity in New York, in her dad’s honor.
My father, Stephen Dunn, was passionate about the mission of Death with Dignity. He watched his own father die a slow and painful death in the early 1970s. This cemented in him a realization that it is inhumane for people with terminal illness not to be able to legally end their own suffering.
My dad fiercely believed in his right to control his own destiny. He felt this right belongs to all people and that’s why he joined the Death with Dignity Board in 2016 to help pass sensible medical aid in dying laws. He was loved by their organization and contributed to this vital movement during his three-year tenure with them.
A Passion for Living
My dad not only had a passion for increasing autonomy for patients making end-of-life decisions, but also for life. After marrying his college sweetheart in New York, he moved to California and raised two kids. He built several businesses (some booms, some busts) and, in his retirement years, traveled the world and enjoyed art, music, and food. Retirement also brought my folks back to New York City, to fully immerse themselves in all of the cultural offerings that it boasts.
He loved life. He loved his life. He delighted in his four grandkids. He poured himself into his passions.
His enthusiasm for living and enjoying all moments, big and small, spread to all of those around him.
BEGINNING OF THE END
In June 2019, my parents went to Paris. My dad came home complaining of a backache. An MRI showed lesions on his spine. Subsequent scans quickly revealed metastatic lung cancer, which had spread to his spinal column, brain, and liver.
His quality of life went off a cliff. He went from cane to walker to wheelchair in a few weeks. Lesions spread from spine to hip. He could no longer lie down in bed and resorted to sleeping in his wheelchair, slumped over the dining room table.
There was a glimmer of hope along the way that his type of cancer would respond well to a targeted medication. It did not. He started chemotherapy but called it off after a couple of rounds as the pain was just getting worse and the drugs were making him ill and exhausted.
AN UNACCEPTABLE DEATH
Toward the end, my father’s quality of life was awful. His suffering was extreme. My dad died on October 16th, 2019, at the age of 79. It is hard to say this out loud, but he was lucky. He didn’t have to suffer years with pain, only months. He was ready to die before he did, though. While he only suffered for a period of months, a lot of people suffer for much longer.
Many people know they are ready to die but must wait for every part of their body to fail.
That is excruciating for the patient to experience and for loved ones to witness.
My dad had one last lesson to teach me in his dying days and upon his death: this cause is worthy. My wish for myself, friends, family and really everyone is to be lucky enough to live a life like his: filled with love, music, travel, friends, family–and then to die on their own terms. Unnecessary suffering at the end of life is cruel.
The Time is Now
We cannot keep expecting people to suffer needlessly at the end of life. I will keep sharing my father’s story and honor his legacy as a valued board member of Death with Dignity, until all patients with terminal illness have the vital right that he never got.
Death with Dignity needs to pass in New York right now—and everywhere else, too. If you are in New York, please send an email to your state legislator, urging them to support New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act.