The "Death with Dignity" bill
To the Editor:
1. I am a Vermont mother and grandmother who will soon be 66 years old, and I am a cancer survivor.
2. After bearing three children, when my oldest was eight, I was told that I had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Stage 4, and less than a year to live. It turned out I had this cancer growing in me prior to the birth of my children, but I never showed any symptoms until it was too late.
3. I had forgotten that, in fact, I had presented symptoms and had brought these up to my primary physician more than 2 years before my first child was even born. I had been very active and a long distance bicyclist and when I came in with a little lump above my collar bone, my doctor, who knew I was healthy, told me not to worry, it's just a little (cyst? or whin? I don't remember the term) and these things go away on their own.. That little lump was the first thing to go away when I started treatment, ten years later. My doctor had been wrong. The oncologist who first diagnosed the non-Hodgkins Lymphoma told me that I probably was at Stage 1 when the lump first appeared, and at Stage 1 this cancer is very curable, but I was now at Stage 4, terminal, and incurable, and it was throughout my bone marrow and I had less than a year to live. But, he said, "We can keep you comfortable."
4. I could not believe that there was no hope, and I went about looking for anything. It turned out that there was an experimental protocol about to start at Dana Farber Cancer Treatment Center in Cambridge, MA. The only people eligible were those who had not yet had any remission (me) and had less than a year to live (again, me). The lead doctor told me, "If it doesn't kill you it might cure you." That was preferable to the, "We can keep you comfortable," that my oncologist at home could offer. That was 24 years ago. It cost a lot of money; my husband and I were in debt for a very long time. But I lived to raise our kids and to adopt another three, the youngest of whom is a happy freshman at St Johnsbury Academy now.
5. I want to live out every minute God has allotted to me, and when I am in the position of needing care, I don't want to be offered "assisted suicide" instead, and my fear is that, like so many others before me, "assisted suicide" might be on the death certificate, but I would not have been a willing participant, and who would ever know?
6. When I attended the Senate Health and Welfare Committee's Hearing on S77, it was the very experience of hearing, one after the other, and after the other, the veritable staccato of "we want a gentle death, we don't want our loved ones to linger on and suffer, we don't want them to live in pain, we want them to know an easier death is available..." that reminded me of the times I was confronted while out grocery shopping with my children, and asked, ever so kindly, and right in front of my children, didn't I care that my trips for treatment were such a burden on my husband, who was working at a paper mill to support our family, while taking me back and forth for treatments in Cambridge, MA, and taking care of our three young children alone while I was hospitalized? ... They were successful in making me feel shame and embarrassment, because I didn't have an answer to their charges. I didn't know I would be cured and maybe they were right... I didn't have the words then, that I have now, "It isn't me that's making my husband and kids suffer; it's cancer that's making us all suffer, but we're all fighting it together," so I could only turn my back and leave, hoping my kids hadn't heard.
7. Like my first doctor, who misdiagnosed my lump, and my first oncologist, who gave me such a fatal prognosis, and the sometimes very depressed me, who wondered if I was, indeed, putting myself and my family through unnecessary pain and suffering, and my neighbor, who was sure I certainly was, we all "don't know what we don't know".
8. It was during this same time that my oldest daughter (8 years old) saw a notice in the post office announcing the end of year school picnic for the Lunenburg School Children and families. She became very excited, considering herself a school child in Lunenburg, and wanted us to attend. When I explained to her that Lunenburg School Children meant children who attended the Lunenburg School, she was disconsolate. However, I told her I would see if we could have a school picnic with home schoolers (even though I didn't know any at the time). I phoned the company that provided us with our curriculum and just happened to get a receptionist who was substituting for the normal receptionist, and wasn't aware of privacy regulations (neither was I at the time). She sent me the names and addresses of all the home schooling families in New England who were using Our Lady of the Rosary's curriculum for our home schools, and I invited them to the "First All New England Catholic Home School Weekend" with free camping (tents and campers both) at our home in Lunenburg. We rented port-a-potties, cut the field, filled the pool and had the biggest, best weekend our kids had ever experienced in their lives. We made friends and our kids made friends who were a wonderful emotional support throughout this difficult period in our lives.
9. We got through it, struggled to pay the bills, got our kids on the path to college and adopted another three, the youngest of whom is a freshman at SJA now.
10. I had remembered this part of my past in bits and pieces, The Cancer, the Great Weekend, The Cure, The Bills, but I had managed to forget, and it took the hearing before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for me to remember, the pain and shame and humiliation of being told, ever so kindly, but still reproachfully, and COMING TO BELIEVE, that I was an unfair burden to everyone around me... that I was choosing to harm my husband and children in my almost certainly futile attempt to live.
11. Because I felt so personally threatened by the persons who were so adamant in their demands that physician assisted suicide is the "compassionate choice" despite the testimony from the medical professionals who described the actual application of this choice as such a cruel and torturous procedure, and one that they have seen demanded by those who do NOT have the patient's best interests in mind, I felt compelled to be present again for the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing of testimony on Feb 6, 2013.
12. I listened to a very well spoken lawyer from Oregon speak in support of "assistance on dying" or "aid in dying". She was asked by one of the committee members why this particular choice of wording. She was less than honest in her reply. She said that "aid in dying" more accurately describes what those on one extreme call "death with dignity" and those on the other extreme call "physician assisted suicide". She did not explain that the proponents of physician assisted suicide in Quebec, where both suicide and assisted suicide are illegal, are employing this term in order to subvert the government's ban on the procedure by expanding the terminology within medical care to include the very procedures that are banned under another name. If "aid in dying" passes in Quebec, it will be considered end of life medical care. This would change the meaning of end of life medical care from medical care AT the end of life to that of medical care THAT ENDS the life. So, too, in Vermont if S77 passes.
13. Now that I'm 24 years older than I was then, please don't let the voices that supported physician assisted suicide as some sort of "aid in dying" be the ones that seal my fate the next time I'm sick..
St Johnsbury, Vt.