As of Tuesday, August 27, an appeals court in New Jersey overturned the restraining order mentioned in this post, which halted New Jersey’s “Aid in Dying” law, now making it lawful for terminally ill individuals to request a prescription from their physician to end their lives.  This is great news!

This post, originally written with New Jersey’s law still in limbo, presents pertinent information regarding another end-of-life option for a peaceful death, should medical aid in dying either not be available or the 15-day wait process not be realistic.  

This news story was posted on August 23, 2019 and is a very sad, but important, read.  It explains why having access to life-ending medication for an individual with a terminal disease needs to be a viable, accessible option for all decisionally capable adults.  It is so sad that this woman in New Jersey, where a death with dignity law was just passed, cannot fulfill her wish to obtain the medication promised to her by her physician, in accordance with the new law, because one person is contesting the law and it is now “on hold” until it goes through the legal process.  

I wish End of Life Choices California could reach across the country and help her.  Perhaps this blog will find it’s way to her and her husband.  Because the truth is, there is more than one way to achieve a lawful, peaceful death in the face of an agonizing and incurable illness.  If Katie were in California and called us, one of our trained volunteers would meet with her and her husband to discuss her situation and all legal end-of-life-options.  We would explain that without medical aid in dying available, she might want to know more about using Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED) as an option. Many people shrink back from this idea often because of a misunderstanding about the actual process and what it entails, even though it can result in a peaceful death.

Voluntarily stopping eating and drinking is the legal right of any person anywhere. There is no law that states you have to eat and drink fluids to stay alive.  That being said, it is absolutely NOT for everyone. And the best scenario of its use is for those unfortunate people who have arrived at a place in their lives where they find that the burdens of living with a terminal or painful disease far outweigh the benefits of living: when they have lost all control over their life, are suffering from intractable pain and know there is no hope of recovery.  

 It takes a strong and dedicated decision by an adult to choose to stop ALL food and ALL fluids.  It is not starving oneself to death. It is stopping all forms of nourishment, including water and other fluids, that pushes the body into a dehydrated state that leads to the kidneys shutting down and results in a coma and death.  Depending on the strength of the person and the strength of their heart, it can take from five days to three weeks. Some people have described an almost euphoric state in going through this process. In a person weakened by disease, basically bed-bound and already at a much lower weight than is usual for them due to their  illness, it is a shorter rather than longer process. But they have to be determined through the early symptoms of hunger and thirst which eventually pass.

At End of Life Choices California, when supporting a person choosing VSED, we always suggest the person and their caregiving team have their physician on board to prescribe hospice care for them if they are not already on hospice.  A person pursuing VSED can benefit from medical support with gentle anti-anxiety medication and other clinical practices to ease their symptoms, and hospice nurses are excellent in providing oral care to alleviate dry mouth and lips.  A simple swab of coconut or some other oil does the trick. Quiet favorite music, aromatherapy, massage and careful medical support all can contribute to achieving a peaceful death. 

Even though the California End of Life Option Act has made medical aid in dying available to terminally ill, decisionally capable adults, not all those individuals who wish to obtain it will be able to or they may run out of time trying to find doctors who will participate in their medical wishes.  At End of Life Choices California, we discuss all end-of-life options with our clients, as well as support them in their effort to access medical aid in dying or VSED even when the barriers seem overwhelming. We provide factual information and personal support.  You can find many resources and learn more about our services on our website.  If you are interested in learning more about VSED, feel free to give us a call, or go to this page on our website and read more.