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Dying with Dignity

Dr. Death (Jack Kevorkian) made headlines in the 1980s with his beliefs about euthanasia. In a 1998 article, he admitted to helping more than 130 people to end their lives. Not everyone was appalled by Kevorkian’s thoughts about assisted suicide, though.

In the early 1990s, I was a reporter for a small-town newspaper and interviewed Derek Humphry, who founded the Hemlock Society. His book, Final Exit, provided information to dying people to aid them in dying. His society and his book also supported legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide. It was an interesting interview and a subsequent article — showing both sides of the debate.

Since 1994, three states have enacted Death with Dignity laws: Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. These laws allow mentally competent, terminally-ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to hasten their death.

Mom and I used to talk that when her time came to die, and she was suffering with no hope for recovery, that I would assist her in dying. It was just talk and we didn’t really believe it was possible. But there is a way to legally let health-care workers know a person’s wishes when they are beyond the ability to verbalize those wishes. My mother had an Advance Health Care Directive (aka Living Will), that she had prepared long before she became terminally ill, enabling my brother to “pull the plug” when she was put on life-support — her wish, all legal.

An Advance Health Care Directive provides a clear statement of wishes about your choice to prolong your life or to withhold or withdraw treatment. “Pull the plug” sounds harsh, but we were so clear about her wishes, that we knew we were doing the compassionate act.

She also had an updated will, a durable power of attorney for finances, and had fully paid for cremation services. A pre-nuptial agreement with my step-father left no question of her wishes. We children were, of course, saddened by her passing, but we were never confused about final arrangements.

Planning for end of life — even if you believe there’s no need — is what I consider “dying with dignity.” It also makes your mourning family grateful for your foresight.

For additional information about end-of-life decisions, visit here. Also, if you’re concerned about the cost of these documents, I got mine at a reasonable cost from LegalZoom.com.

Dixie Litten Whited writes from Virginia.

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About Dee Litten Whited

Dee Litten Whited

Dee Litten Whited

writes from Virginia.

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