The Washington Post

Vermont’s choices for the dying

My best friend Cynthia Recupero has tried to get me to promise to help her die someday, if she’s terminally ill and can’t do it herself. My response? I’ll do what I can but will stop short of any actions that would inspire a Lifetime movie about me while I languish in prison.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian gained notoriety -- and served prison time -- for assisting patients who wanted to die. He was 79 in this March 24, 2008 file photo. (Bill Pugliano - GETTY IMAGES) Jack Kevorkian gained notoriety — and served prison time — for assisting patients who wanted to die. He was 79 in this March 24, 2008, photo. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Maybe it won’t come to that. Vermont will most likely become the fourth state to allow physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine to mentally competent terminally ill patients who are believed to have less than six months to live. Supporters call it “death with dignity,” while opponents blast it as “physician-assisted suicide.”

Oregon and Washington have such laws, passed by public referendum, and Montana, too, which was court-ordered. What makes Vermont distinctive is that the law has been passed by the state legislature. Late Monday night, the Vermont House approved the bill 75 to 65 by roll-call vote; the Senate vote was closer, 17 to 13, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is expected to sign the legislation into law.

According to the Associated Press:

For the first three years, Vermont’s law would closely follow the Oregon model, which allows for several safeguards, including requirements that patients state three times — once in writing — that they wish to die. Others include a concurring opinion from a second doctor that a patient has less than six months to live and a finding that the patient is of sound mind.

In 2016, those safeguards would be removed, with the decision becoming a private one between doctor and patient.

Recupero, who’s worked for a local veterinarian 10 years in Overland Park, Kan., has helped with the procedure euphemistically known as putting a pet “to sleep.” She finds it a kinder, gentler death than what we allow humans and says she doesn’t understand why animals deserve to die with dignity while we can’t.

“If you are sick and in pain and you know the end is coming, why is it wrong?” she asks. “If you treated an animal like that — letting it suffer while you just wait for it to die — that treatment would be considered cruel. It’s not morally right.”

I have to wonder what my father would have done if he had known the six weeks of hell he would endure in the hospital after his diagnosis of multiple myeloma.

But I believe medical professionals — at least some of them — already do what they can to relieve unnecessary suffering. My 70-year-old grandmother, dying of a rare blood cancer, relied on kidney dialysis to keep her alive. Her nephrologist suggested we discontinue the procedure, but death by kidney failure isn’t pretty and we argued against it. In the end, she died just a few days after our discussion.

At the time, I was angry that the doctor would even suggest what he did. Now I understand. We need to look at the choices in the process of dying.

We don’t want to talk about death. We try to deny it will even happen. And yet it’s inevitable. Whether you want every heroic measure possible to prolong life or you want to end it on your own terms rather than suffer through a lingering death, you need to consider your options.

And hope that the law in your state will give you the right to make your own choice.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The Democrats debate Thursday. Get caught up on the race.
The big questions after New Hampshire, from The Post's Dan Balz
Can Bernie Sanders cut into Hillary Clinton's strength in the minority community and turn his challenge into a genuine threat? And can any of the Republicans consolidate anti-Trump sentiment in the party in time to stop the billionaire developer and reality-TV star, whose unorthodox, nationalistic campaign has shaken the foundations of American politics?
Clinton in New Hampshire: 2008 vs. 2015
Hillary Clinton did about as well in N.H. this year as she did in 2008, percentage-wise. In the state's main counties, Clinton performed on average only about two percentage points worse than she did eight years ago (according to vote totals as of Wednesday morning) -- and in five of the 10 counties, she did as well or better.
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.