By Neil Skjoldal
Into the genre of news reports about physician assisted suicide comes a powerful piece from The Washington Post. It is the story of J. J. Hanson who was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme. It traces his difficult journey as it relates to PAS. Because of the poor prognosis, treatments at times seemed too difficult. His wife Kristen reported that “he told her that if he had had the lethal dose of medication on his bedside during his darkest of days, he might have used it and then missed out on three more years with his family.” Her hopes now, since her husband’s death last year, are that lawmakers will “work to improve hospice and palliative care for patients” and “to encourage terminally ill patients to have hope and families to enjoy every moment they have together.”
I am aware that a story such as the Hanson’s will not convince those who are strongly committed to PAS. The argument would be something like, “That’s ok for him. He died his way, just give me the freedom to die in my way.” But, at the very least, this story provides a counter-narrative to some PAS advocates, who almost by default go to “I know a person who died very poorly and I want to stop that by helping them end their suffering.”
My observation in talking to people about this subject is that their greatest fear is dying with horrible suffering. Almost everyone can re-tell the story of a friend or loved one that died in this way. For those of us who think that PAS creates many more ethical problems than it solves, our focus needs to be, as Kristen Hanson suggests, to continue to improve hospice and palliative care. I am grateful for her courage in telling her story and am reminded that every moment of life should be precious to us.