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Wayne Post
  • Joel Freedman: Those who are suffering need choices at end of life

  • There are honest differences of opinion regarding what should be available to help people with painful terminal illnesses. For myself, however, I’d choose even the guillotine or firing squad as an alternative to a terminal illness that forced me to endure as I called it in my living will, “the indignity of deterioration, dependence, hopeless pain and useless extravagance.”

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  • In my dream, I was on death row awaiting execution, but this was no ordinary death row. I was housed in a large, eloquent mansion. The other death row inmates were men and women attired in the clothing of 18th-century nobility. No cells. No guards. No walls or fences. We were all at liberty to roam the mansion and adjacent bucolic lawns and gardens. Although escape would have been easy, none of us attempted it.
    We were told we could choose between beheading by guillotine or shooting by firing squad for our execution. Whatever our choice, we were always allowed to change our minds about when or how we would die.
    We weren’t told why we were sentenced to death, but we were assured that both methods of execution, while messy, were painless.
    We regularly received automated telephone calls regarding our choices: “If you prefer the guillotine, please press 1 and then the pound key. If you prefer the firing squad, please press 2 and then press the pound key.” I was trying to decide which number to press when my alarm clock rang and I awoke from this strange dream.
    What was its meaning? I have been attending an interesting FLCC history class that covers the French Revolution in which 50,000 men and women of the nobility social class were guillotined. Perhaps this influenced my dream. My dream may also have been influenced by a letter written by Nancy Nardone of Walworth that said in part that “we should have the right to die with dignity. We don’t deserve pain, agony, hopelessness. We deserve compassion.”
    At age 67, I have lived in Canandaigua for 44 years, during which I have attended funeral home calling hours for hundreds of people. Prior to their deaths, many of these people suffered from terminal illnesses that call to mind Nardone’s observations. In my dream, none of us awaiting execution had to worry about that. Consequently, we didn’t try to escape. But during our waking hours, the older we become the more we may worry that we may have to experience irreversible misery as a result of a debilitating, terminal illness. If that happened, would it be proper if physician-assisted suicide or medical euthanasia were options we could select?
    Medical euthanasia is illegal throughout the United States. Physician-assisted suicide, with stringent safeguards, is legal in three states, Oregon, Washington and Montana. Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion and Choices, prefers “aid in dying” instead of “physician-assisted suicide” as the proper term for this practice.
    Several years ago, I gave my primary care physician a copy of my New York Living Will directing my doctors to withhold or withdraw treatment that merely prolongs my dying, if I should be in an incurable or irreversible mental or physical condition with no reasonable expectation of recovery. I also directed that “I be given medical treatment to relieve pain or to provide comfort, even if such treatment might shorten my life, suppress my appetite or my breathing, or be habit-forming.”
    Page 2 of 2 - A living will addresses some but not all of the concerns people have about death and dying. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 ruled in Washington vs. Glucksberg that although the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to refuse medical treatment, it doesn’t give patients the right to physician-assisted suicide. But in 2006, the Supreme Court, in Gonzales vs. Oregon, rejected the U.S. Attorney General’s attempt to use a federal drug law to stop physicians in Oregon from prescribing lethal drug doses to terminally ill patients under Oregon’s Death with Dignity law.
    There are honest differences of opinion regarding what should be available to help people with painful terminal illnesses. For myself, however, I’d choose even the guillotine or firing squad as an alternative to a terminal illness that forced me to endure as I called it in my living will, “the indignity of deterioration, dependence, hopeless pain and useless extravagance.”
    Joel Freedman of Canandaigua is a frequent Messenger Post contributor and a member of the Daily Messenger’s Reader Advisory Board. His opinions do not reflect those of the Advisory Board.

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