If you had the choice to die peacefully in your sleep – would you take it?
This is the option offered by Compassion & Choices, an organization that gives mentally sound adults with a terminal illness the option to request a prescription medication that will allow them to die gently in their sleep if suffering becomes intolerable at the end of life.
Dr. Jan Strickland is the team action leader for the organization’s Texas chapter. She says she gained a different perspective on death when her own grandfather passed away in 1980. After chemotherapy and radiotherapy failed to help him, he was left with a lot of pain and few options.
“At that time not a lot of people were thinking in terms of even hospice or palliative care, so he ended up having to die in the hospital,” Strickland says “which would not have been his choice, I am quite certain.”
This is not a suicide pill, Strickland says. In fact, the organization stays away from the term “assisted suicide” entirely.
“Suicide basically involves a person who no longer wants to live and is taking his life, in spite of the fact that he may have a problem that is curable or treatable,” she says. “With medical aid in dying, the patient is already dying. The option for them is to be able to choose when and how and where. This is simply a way of helping their fear, their powerlessness and promoting a gentle, peaceful death.”
While Strickland acknowledges that opposition exists to the practice, particularly among those whose religious beliefs are against it, she says that the choice is deeply personal for someone reconciling their faith and their suffering.
“There are going to be some people who oppose this on religious grounds, and I understand, I am not going to say that everybody would need to either participate as a physician or as a patient,” she says. “What I would say is that each of us approaches God on our own terms in life, and we should be able to approach Him also in our own terms in death.”
Written by Lila Weatherly.