Thursday, October 29, 2015

Death with Dignity

Somebody passed this message on to me and I thought about how to write about it but instead decided I should just let it speak for itself with a small preamble from me.  Councilman Jon Weinstein’s father died last week, just two days after Councilman Weinstein had posted the message below on his facebook page.  I am reposting it for a couple of reasons.  One is that it seems like a small but important token of sympathy for an elected official who I do not know except for in passing but have respect for.  Secondly though, this is actually, to me, politics, at it’s greatest.  Councilman Weinstein is taking his very personal experience and translating it into his professional life as a politician in search of how we as a society can make policies that support and strengthen our humanity.  My thoughts go out to the entire Weinstein family.

I thought long and hard about posting the following. I talked with my mother about whether she was comfortable with this post and whether she thought my dad would be ok with it too. She encouraged me to go forward and share the following...

My dad is dying. He would say he's been dying since he was born in 1931 ... that's his sense of humor. Now, his death is on the horizon. Dad survived a triple bypass and heart valve replacement 16 months ago, but was diagnosed with "small cell" cancer earlier this year. Along with his doctors, the decision was made to stop his treatments in August... and now we wait.

For the past month or so he had good days and bad; now we’re measuring “good” differently - moment by moment and we’re thankful for any signs of my “old” dad. For the past few weeks, as his condition has worsened I have seen this once proud and stubborn (in a good way) man lose his identity to the disease. His corny jokes and sharp wit have faded. Weeks ago he lost the ability to take care of himself and my mother ... something they both have relied on for most of their 60 years of marriage. Now he struggles to speak, stay awake, and comprehend his surroundings.

We have attended to the practical things ... living wills, powers of attorney, disposing of his car, and other mundane, yet important actions. However, as his body fails and his mind slips away he is denied the power to exercise control over his own life as it reaches the end.

For the past couple of years my parents have been educating themselves about, and advocating for, death with dignity. We have engaged in academic, ethical, and practical discussions on the topic. Now the topic is personal and my father should have the right to a death with dignity. With an appropriate diagnosis, the guidance of physicians, and consultation with his family and his faith, he should have one more tool available to address his terminal condition. The Maryland House of Delegates started down this path in 2015 with HB1021 - the Death with Dignity Act; following the lead of states like Washington, Oregon, and Vermont. As a legislator myself, I know that every issue has many valid arguments for and against. This issue and this bill is a matter of basic human rights. I urge the Maryland House and Senate to take up this bill, put their full support behind it, and pass it in 2016 for people like my dad. I ask you consider contacting members of the Maryland House and Senate to add your voice too.

My dad's name is Jack and while he doesn’t resemble the man I love, he will be my dad forever. He has been the best dad and grandfather one could ever hope for and he deserves the right to die with the same level of dignity that he has lived his 84+ years.

[My father passed away, just two days after this post on October 24. I was at his side when the pain and distress of his condition ceased.]


  1. What is 'death with dignity'? Euthanasia? It's not at all clear to me what he is even talking about.

    May his father rest in peace.

  2. This is a quote I pulled from the Compassion and Choices website article on the Maryland Death with Dignity Act Councilman Weinstein mentions. The full article is here:

    The Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer Death With Dignity Act is modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which was implemented in 1998. It would allow a terminally ill adult who is mentally competent to request and obtain a prescription that can be self-administered to bring about a peaceful and humane death should suffering become unbearable. It is a patient-directed medical practice called aid in dying, an end-of-life option in addition to hospice and palliative care. The law has worked for 18 years without any cases of abuse, misuse or coercion in Oregon. Similar laws have been in effect in Washington State since 2009 and in Vermont since 2013.