Reading about New Mexico the other day, I was moved to deep gratitude that California found the wisdom and courage to enact an aid in dying law so its terminally ill citizens may have a peaceful death if that is their choice.
In this Albuquerque Journal editorial it is heartbreaking to see that two amazing people stepped forward, while suffering from their terminal diseases, to speak out for medical aid in dying.
Bill Johnson, diagnosed with ALS, was not only a Roman Catholic (I only mention this because the Catholic Church unequivocally opposes medical aid in dying) but he was a former CEO of University of New Mexico Hospital and a former secretary of the state Human Services Department. Quite a history for someone fighting for the right to end his life on his own terms with medical aid in dying.
They died, but not on their own terms.
The other individual, Elizabeth Whitefield, the 2nd Judicial District judge for whom an aid-in-dying bill was named but did NOT pass in New Mexico this spring, died last year. Whitefield battled multiple cancers over many years. She rebounded time and again but knew chances were great she would succumb to cancer in the end, so she lobbied legislators to support compassionate end-of-life legislation in 2017. She died, like Johnson, on lawmakers’ terms, not her own.
Don’t lose hope.
I hope New Mexicans do not lose hope because of this loss, along with all the other states trying to pass medical aid in dying laws. What I hear people who are opposed to medical aid in dying say is that they fear a slippery slope: that sick children, elderly people with no family, or the disabled with expensive medical needs will be “euthanized”. But these fears are ludicrous and not based on any factual information. One can look to Oregon state to see that in 25 years with the Death with Dignity law this has never occurred. Euthanasia is not legal in the United States, and these state laws have very strict guidelines to prevent exactly this kind of abuse.
I am grateful to have a choice.
What has happened however, not only in Oregon, but in California, Washington, Montana, Colorado, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine is that people who are struggling with a terminal disease now HAVE THE CHOICE to determine how and when they will die. No one is required to seek medical aid in dying if it does not reflect their own ethics, values or religious beliefs. The whole idea behind medical aid in dying legislation is to give people more humane choice at the end of life. And I, for one, am grateful that were I facing a terminal or debilitating disease with a known trajectory of pain and suffering, this choice is available to me should I wish it as a citizen of California.
As our esteemed former California Governor Jerry Brown stated when he signed the End of Life Option Act,
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
Thank you, Governor Brown.
If you or someone you know is facing a serious or terminal illness and would like to discuss end of life options, or discuss Advance Care Planning, please contact EOLCCA. We have compassionate, educated volunteers who will talk with you and answer your questions.
End of Life Choices California offers information and non-judgemental personal support to anyone seeking help managing end-of-life care planning or decision-making in California. Please visit www.endoflifechoicesca.org. To speak with one of our volunteers, please call 760-636-8009 or email us at email@example.com. All our services are free of charge.
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This is a wonderful opinion piece…thanks for your compassion and support for those of us who have not yet been successful in passing our medical aid in dying law. As a New Mexican working on the issue it was a pleasure to spend time last week at a CA continuing care community and see how a caring institution can support their residents to understand and take advantage of all of their end of life options. We’ll get in done; you all keep up the good work! Many thanks.
In 2019 New Jersey passed the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act.
Stephen, Thanks for catching that, and congratulations again, and again on NJ’s new law!
I am a New Mexican and we definitely have not lost hope to pass our Elizbeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act. I was also a Californiaian from age 5 to afer college. I’ve been passionate about this issue since 2002 when my mother experienced the use of Oregon’s Death with Diginty Act. Mom was 90 with terminal cancer and fortunately lived in Oregon. The fact that she had this option at end of life has given me much comfort for 17 years and most important it ended her suffering. Since the beginning of 2012 I have been active in New Mexico working on getting New Mexico to be a state which allows Medical Aid in Dying. I was so pleased when California passed their End of Life Option Act. I really apprecated Jerry Brown’s comment about not knowing what he might do if facing a terminall illness but he wouldn’t deny that right of choice to others.
Adrienne, Thank you so much for sharing your story, and New Mexico is very fortunate to have you in the effort to pass a law in your state. Hard and frustrating work, but we’re pulling for you all!