Update: District of Columbia’s Death with Dignity Act passed in 2017.
Mary Klein is a retired journalist and artist in Washington, DC.
A fundamental human right is control over our own bodies. That control is a critical aspect of freedom. All of us should be able to make our own path in life, including how we decide to end our journey.
That end is in sight for me. I do not know how much longer I have to live. I have advanced ovarian cancer that has spread throughout my abdomen despite aggressive surgery and the most aggressive chemotherapy possible. I cannot be cured. I do know that I will die either from the effects of additional treatments or from treatment side effects combined with the cancer. I will suffer, probably a lot, and I’m unlikely to have a peaceful death. I will lose control of my body as I did during my first five months of chemotherapy. During that time my life consisted of anemia and blood transfusions, IV feeding and hydration, large blood clots in my left leg that took away my ability to walk, nausea, painful nerve damage to my legs and hands, which I still have, a constant infectious disease because my immune system was compromised, an inability to eat or drink much, and other fun side effects.
If I had the option of a peaceful death, a death with dignity, I might not use it, but it would bring me great comfort to know it is there.
After a seven month remission, half of which I spent recovering from chemotherapy, I will soon start treatment again. Whatever treatment I choose—more chemo or experimental targeted drugs offered by National Institutes of Health—the treatment will be continuous for the rest of my life. Because of the drugs’ side effects, I will never feel completely well again.
If I had the option of a peaceful death, a death with dignity, I might not use it, but it would bring me great comfort to know it is there. By having that option, I would have control over my own body—the control to decide to use the option or the control to decide not to use it.
With this in mind, I urge the Washington, DC, Council to approve a Death with Dignity bill that was introduced this year to give terminally ill persons the choice of a peaceful death.