Dr. Michelle Abadir is a dermatologist in Rye Brook, New York.
I was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in August of 2013. After years of normal mammograms and an ultrasound that was deemed normal, this came as quite a shock.
My cancer is lobular, not ductal. It grows like lace, not in clumps like most cancers. Because of this, it’s very difficult to detect. But an MRI and a PET scan finally found it, along with an enlarged lymph node and metastatic cancer in my ovaries. My oncologist told me that because my cancer had not shown up on mammograms, it was possible it had been in my body for seven or eight years.
I am currently stable and managing my illness through targeted therapies and a number of different treatments. But I know that eventually, my breast cancer will most likely kill me.
An Uncertain Prognosis
Nobody can do an accurate prognosis when you’re Stage 4. The doctor doesn’t know how you are going to respond to a particular medication or treatment regimen. Things are changing so rapidly at this point in time in terms of medical advances that one’s prognosis can change from minute to minute.
Reading up on the latest advances in cancer treatment can be a full-time job. As a doctor, I am at an advantage, because I can reach out to people in the medical community and ask them if they know about any new treatments or clinical trials. I know not all patients are so fortunate.
I am a dermatologist, not an oncologist; I do not work regularly with the terminally ill. But from my perspective and my professional experience as a doctor, I understand that each and every one of us will die, and that without a way to ease the suffering that so often accompanies a terminal illness, many will die painfully. This is one reason I support death with dignity. It is a choice I believe everyone should be able to make at the end of life.
If you know that you may have an illness that will leave you debilitated, and you don’t want to have to suffer or put the burden of your physical decline on your loved ones, you should have the decision-making power to utilize an assisted-dying law.
Autonomy at the End of Life
I started thinking about what I would do if I found myself facing unbearable suffering and loss of autonomy near the end of my life. What would I have to do to access death with dignity? Where would I have to go?
I learned that, like the majority of Americans, I would have to leave my home state and take up residence in a state where death with dignity is authorized. That would be a true hardship for me and for my husband and two children. I don’t think that that should be necessary.
Death with dignity is not legal in New York. I want that to change. That is why I am supporting Death with Dignity National Center’s efforts to bring this essential end-of-life option to residents of the Empire State.
The New York State Legislature is once again considering an assisted-dying law. In partnership with local and national organizations, Death with Dignity is a founding member of the New York Alliance for Medical Aid in Dying, leading the movement to achieve policy reform that would make medical aid in dying available to more than 20 million Americans. Earlier this month, Death with Dignity’s Executive Director, Peg Sandeen, provided testimony before the New York State Assembly in support of the Medical Aid in Dying Act. I am proud to be a part of these efforts.
To me, death with dignity means unburdening the people around you. If you’ve gotten past a point where reasonable recovery can be expected, then you should be able to make the choice not to be a source of pain for other people. I don’t think that is a choice that can be made by any one person by anyone else.
Death with dignity is about having control over your body. It is about having your final wishes honored. It is about leaving the world on your own terms.
I am not yet in need of medically assisted death, but I know that there are many people who are in need immediately. I fervently support others’ right to assisted dying and I will do everything I can to ensure that, someday soon, Death with Dignity is an option for qualified terminally ill New Yorkers.