On his terms

A few days ago, at the end of the Pilates class I teach, one of my Dutch students came up to me to say she wouldn’t be in class for three weeks. This is normal; my students are mostly expats and are always coming and going. Or they have family visiting, or someone is having a grandchild, etc.

And then she said, “I’m going home because my father is entering euthanasia.”

Which is not the sort of thing one is accustomed to hearing in casual after-class conversation. But one of the things I love about living in Europe is the intersection of different cultures and national laws/ways of doing things. So I asked, and learned that her father is 94 years old and has been slowly dying of a broken heart since her mother passed away in January.

“He can still do everything,” she said, “but every step is just so hard for him. It’s all so hard. He’s ready.”

The whole family is gathering from all over the continent for a massive, multi-week reunion and party. Her father will be able to see all the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and there will be food and drink and conversation, and then he will leave on a high note.

I told her that my home state was the first in the US to legalize euthanasia, and we discussed what a gift it is for those who want to go on their terms. She is happy for her father, who has been buoyed by the knowledge that he will never lose control of his life. He will get to say good-bye on his terms, and she will be able to say it as well. It is not only a gift for him.

She’ll be back at the end of the month. I expect she’ll have quite a story to tell.

4 thoughts on “On his terms”

  • Dear Fletcher
    Some months ago I looked up the Swiss Dignitas website. This opened my eyes to how the Swiss have enacted in law, the fundamental human right to end one’s life in the face of unbearable circumstances. They do not speak of euthanasia- that’s illegal in Switzerland. The correct term is “accompanied suicide”. There are strict legal and medical conditions to meet before Dignitas will give a “green light” to allow an individual to go forward to take their own life. At no point does any representative of Dignitas nor any medic “press any button or push any hypodermic”. The individual takes that final step by their own hand. They are often together with family and loved ones to say their farewells with love. If the individual is physically unable to move their hand or swallow, then infrareds or motion sensors can be set up so it is ALWAYS the individual who takes (or does not take) the final steps. Swiss law believes denying this right to someone because they are not Swiss citizens would also be a breach of human rights.
    Sorry to go on at such length, but to my partner and I (I have Multiple Sclerosis) this has come as a huge relief. I’m fortunate that we could afford the expense of going to Dignitas- I wish that this was available in my own country too.
    One last note is that Dignitas keeps statistics of those they “green light”. The vast majority do not go ahead, but knowing they can, that I could, would be an enormous blessing.
    So, thank you for making this post. Yes it’s a right worth fighting for. Yes, let’s hope your Dutch friend can return from a loving family farewell with her 94 year old loved one.
    Best wishes

    • My mother would opt for euthanasia over the life she has now: currently bedridden, taking 14 prescriptions a day, sleeping most of the time. It’s barely living, by her standards. The only bright light is the fact that she’s at home with her daughter, not a stranger, caring for her. She has a DNR in place, but has not had cardiac arrest or any other life threatening emergency. We’ve joked about me “helping her along” but I tell her I’d have to off myself as well or risk prison time.

      • I’m so sorry that you are both in this situation. California does have an assisted suicide law, but I’m sure you’ve checked into it — it can’t be invoked until the patient is terminally ill with six months left to live. Still, that door may open for her eventually.

    • Annie,

      I can well imagine what a relief this was to you. It is absolutely about human dignity and a fundamental right. I have always been proud of my home state for lighting the way in this. (By the way, we don’t call it euthanasia either — it’s PAS, or Physician Assisted Suicide.)

      Some individuals have moved to Oregon solely for this reason: to have a choice. That they still have it is due to the Supreme Court upholding that right — opponents sued, then some members of Congress tried to prosecute doctors, and after a bunch of legal maneuvering stopped by then-Attorney-General Janet Reno, President Bush appointed a new Atty General (John Ashcroft) who went after the doctors and chased the case all the way to the Supreme Court. And lost.

      Given your interest in this, you might like to read/watch a wonderful series in my home newspaper, the Oregonian, which covered the journey of one of its retired employees through her decision to use PAS, her final weeks, and then her last hours. The last video in the series is beautiful and heartbreaking.

      You can find that here: https://projects.oregonlive.com/lovelle/

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