Guest Opinion: My parents and Oregon’s Death with Dignity law: Who decides?

My family has personal experience with Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, so I’d like to respond to Pastor Dale Meador’s recent guest opinion saying that law violates his religious beliefs.

I don’t believe I should make end-of-life decisions for other people. I also don’t believe that any church or government should make those decisions for me.

When my father was in his ’90s, my mother died, and my dad, who lived in another state, moved in with my wife and me in Talent.

He had been diagnosed with a fatal disease that would make him less and less able to function. The news made him fearful, not so much of death but of spending an extended time confined to a chair or bed, enduring increasing pain, and being unable to do the things that, in his eyes, made life worth living.

His fears were eased when he learned about Oregon’s Death with Dignity law that has been approved twice by our state’s voters. When he had six months to live, he had the right to ask his doctors to prescribe a medication he could use, at his discretion, to end his life. He had to request it in writing twice, with a substantial waiting period in between.

He wondered how family members would feel, guessing that some would not make the same decision, and whether he would have the courage to go through with it.

But, mostly, he said it was a great comfort to know he could control his own choices as his disease progressed. It allowed him to focus on enjoying his final days instead of worrying about what was to come.

As it turned out, my father died before he had to use those rights. He was one of thousands who have gained peace of mind even though they never had to take that step.

My mother was not so lucky. When she was in her late ’80s, she was hospitalized after a risky surgery. When it became clear that she was not going to recover, she told her doctor and family that she wanted to spend her remaining time at home.

Under the laws of the state where she lived, she could not ask her doctor for end-of-life medication, so she took the only path she saw open. She refused to eat and spent her last days going through the devastating effects that causes.

As I enter old age, I don’t know what terminal condition I will someday face, but I too take comfort knowing that I live in a state where I might have some say over the terms and timing of my final days.

Meador’s column assumed that if some people don’t want to use the Death with Dignity law, others shouldn’t be allowed to either.

It also argued that if we allow adults who are dying to make decisions about how their own death occurs, that will lead to adults making decisions to kill other people, including children with Down syndrome.

As the uncle of a wonderful young man with Down syndrome, I was disappointed to see people like my nephew being used to make a political point about Death with Dignity that has nothing to do with them.

The use of fake news was also disappointing. The guest opinion said, “In Iceland, for example, babies with Down syndrome are being totally eradicated.” A simple Google search reveals that statement to be false.

According to the main hospital in Iceland, every pregnant woman is offered a screening test that would detect a variety of conditions. About 20 percent choose not to take the test. If a woman takes it and Down syndrome is identified, how to proceed is her decision — not the government’s.

The guest opinion also argued that letting dying people make their own end-of-life decisions could somehow lead to more atrocities like the Holocaust, in which one group’s lives were valued less than another’s.

As the son of an infantryman who helped liberate Germany’s concentration camps, I would love to see anyone concerned about the sanctity of life join community efforts to oppose growing anti-Semitism and white supremacist activity in the Rogue Valley.

It would also be great to see them join efforts to ensure quality, affordable health care (including mental health) and housing for all, not just through piecemeal charity but through effective and equitable public policies.

Those would be better ways to promote the sanctity of life than trying to dictate how dying people can handle their final days.

Matt Witt is a writer and photographer who lives in Talent.

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