I’d like to share a tale of two ladies with you.
The first lady was a retired teacher. She was incredibly bright, engaged and active. She and her sister, also a retired teacher, lived together in a little house that was crammed with mementos and reminders of the many relationships and activities they enjoyed. They mentored students, were very active church members and volunteered for a multitude of good causes, but then she was diagnosed with brain cancer that was inoperable. Soon, this vital septuagenarian was hospitalized and began a drastic downward course. She lost her ability to communicate and soon her face was so distorted she was hardly recognizable. Her pain was difficult to manage, and it was clear that there was absolutely no hope for recovery or a reasonable quality of life. However, there was no alternative to her suffering an agonizingly slow death, the anguish for her grieving sister, or the mounting cost of care. Unfortunately, most of us will remember her in this final desperate phase of her life rather than as the smiling gracious lady we otherwise would remember.
Now let me tell you about the second lady. She was Pearl, my beloved mixed-breed black Labrador. She had personality plus! She was lively, loved people of all ages and sizes and could play for hours. When she was about 8 years old, we noticed changes. She didn’t want to play anymore. Soon she was much less interested in going for a walk and her voracious appetite diminished. Our veterinarian did several tests and tried several medications, but he ultimately determined that she had an immune system problem that was incurable. She did reasonably well for a while, but when it was clear that she was increasingly uncomfortable and couldn’t recover, we made the difficult decision to have her euthanized. We remember her as a beautiful dog, happy and unsuffering.
There’s a message in the tale of these two ladies. As a society, we currently treat our pets more mercifully than we treat humans. Isn’t it time to change that? Legislation that would do so was introduced in the 2017 session of the Indiana General Assembly, but the chairman of the committee to which it was referred refused to allow a hearing. It is expected to be introduced again in the 2018 session and grass roots support is needed to make sure it gets a hearing. Here are key components:
The patient requesting aid-in-dying medication must:
• Be an Indiana resident, at least 18 years old.
• Be mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions.
• Have been diagnosed with a terminal disease that will result in death within six months.
• Give two written requests to his or her physician doctor, signed in front of two qualified, adult witnesses.
The prescribing physician and one other physician must:
• Confirm the patient’s diagnosis and prognosis.
• Determine that the patient can make medical decisions.
• The patient must have a psychological examination if either physician feels the patient’s judgment is impaired.
The prescribing physician must then:
• Confirm that the patient is not being coerced or unduly influenced by others when making the request.
• Inform the patient of any feasible alternatives to the medication, including care to relieve pain and keep the patient comfortable.
• Ask the patient to notify their next of kin of the prescription request.
• Offer the patient the opportunity to withdraw the request for aid-in-dying medication before granting the prescription.
• To use the medication, the patient must be able to ingest it on their own.
This legislation will be challenged by those who sincerely feel no one has the right to determine how or when their lives should end. I believe that decision should be made by the person involved and not by the government.
If you agree, please contact your representatives in the Indiana General Assembly and ask them to support legislation to provide patients with the right to make their own decisions. Your speaking out could help Indiana join Oregon, Washington, Colorado, California, Montana and Vermont in allowing terminally ill patients with no hope of recovery or a tolerable quality of life to make their own decision to end their lives with dignity rather than being forced by government to endure an agonizing end to an otherwise glorious life.
Life is precious and should be celebrated, not subjected to unnecessary suffering and anguish.
Leigh Morris is former President and CEO of La Porte Hospital and former Mayor of La Porte.