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In life or death there’s no easy decision

This week, a Canadian friend chatted about the pending vote in Canada on the assisted dying bill. Another elderly friend, after I wished her a happy birthday, responded, “I hope this is my last! People are living too long!”

Hooked on the “House” television series, last night I watched the one about the research doctor who was going to slowly, painfully suffocate to death from a terminal illness unless someone gave him a strong dose of morphine to ease his pain.

Between the three, I started thinking about my own flagging health. At 19, doctors said I would die young. In 1985 I was introduced to advance directives. Then in 1990, I was given six months to live and my doctors and I discussed right-to-die issues and Jack Kevorkian.

Still around in 1996, I remarried. In 1998, another hospitalization and six-month decree, but new machines and dedicated doctors extended my life another 10 years. Then 2012 brought three hospitalizations plus a six-month decree. A friend once counted up my cat lives — I am up to 12. Close calls with crossing to the “other side” give a person opposing perspectives on the death with dignity controversy.

Beating “the odds,” I saw my daughter graduate from junior high and on to her master’s. This weighs heavily as I realize medical “aid in dying” is a risky choice. Close calls led to being terminal — over and over — and would have allowed me to choose the prescription for death.

If it had been available back then, would I have chosen it? And still the days go by. Yes, I long for the strength to go with my husband and friends to activities, but my morning routine and multiple breathing treatments is often all I have in me. Suffocating to death sucks!

There is much controversy on end-of-life issues. We can’t even agree on what to call it. Physician-assisted dying, right-to-die, aid in dying, compassionate dying. Whatever we call it, it is not euthanasia. There is a big difference.

Do I believe in euthanasia? No. Do I think aid in dying is a good thing? Yes. Very cautiously. The key difference between euthanasia and assisted dying is who administers the means of the end.

With euthanasia someone other than the dying person administers it. With assisted dying, the dying person self-administers the means, deciding if and when.

Oregon was the lead for peaceful dying when it passed its Death with Dignity Act in 1994. Five states and eight countries have followed. Canada’s Supreme Court recently reversed a 20-year ban on physician-assisted dying.

Tim Miller of the Intelligencer reports the court felt the earlier ruling “violates the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.” Grace Pastine, litigation director of B.C. Civil Liberties Association, stated “Physician-assisted dying is now recognized for what it is: a medical service that brings an end, for some individuals, to unbearable suffering.”

Rob Oliphant, co-chair of the committee, explained Canada’s assisted dying bill addresses that “… this is a part of life. It’s part of health-care more than … our legal system. … The more we made it … about how physicians and nurses cared for their patients … it became simpler.”

Each jurisdiction has its own rules. The best ones require a waiting period and a restatement of intent by the person. Some say it is radical. Is it any more radical than allowing an advance directive to forbid intravenous feeding or fluids? Are we willing to starve a person to death, but not ease their pain?

In Barber v. Superior Court, California determined it is moral and legal to stop a treatment, even if it means it will end the patient’s life. We seem willing to add misery to dying but are less willing to ease the suffering. According to the advocacy group Compassion and Choices, the issue for their clients is how “to reduce end-of-life suffering” and hasten death.

For me, I don’t want to “hasten” death, but rather pass without pain or the frightening sensation of prolonged suffocation. I want to live until the last fiber of my being no longer has the strength to function — at least function without making me aware that I can no longer draw that last breath. June 6 is Canada’s deadline for its required bill. They are lucky. None of us know our own deadline.

Hopefully, one of Nevada’s legislators will soon sponsor our own assistance in dying bill. I’d vote for that.

In the meantime, if you haven’t filled out your advance directive — do! With today’s technology it is your only protection to have your end-of-life desires followed.

Cat Trico has been a resident of Boulder City since 2003 and is a past president of the Senior Center of Boulder City and co-founder of the Decker Lake Wetlands Preserve. As an author and editor, she contributed to “Rights, Responsibilities, and Relationships” for youth. She can be reached at cat.circa1623@gmail.com.

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