• Talk about facts — not fear
     | March 24,2012

    A rebuttal to Edward Mahoney’s commentary, or perhaps more accurately, his fear mongering.

    At the end of my brother’s life, ravaged by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) he was only able to move one finger on one hand. He was reduced to unintelligible utterances, (it once took me 10 minutes to decipher a simple request for a damp washcloth to moisten his mouth). He was terrorized, having lost control of his swallowing and experienced choking attacks regularly, often in the middle of the night with no way to alert us. He had blinding phantom nerve pain in his limbs which even morphine could not touch. He was trapped in an abject hell beyond anything most of us will ever experience. Throughout the process of his disease, Tom fought hard to live life as fully as he could — he was in no way or by any measure a quitter or deluded by depression.

    However, he didn’t find wisdom in hanging on to the bitter end which in all likelihood would have found him choking to death. He wanted a peaceful and dignified passing from a life lived fully to a state of grace. Yes, he had hospice care, he had palliative care options — all of which failed to ameliorate his symptoms. It happens, and a lot more often than medical ethicists like to admit to; he was one among many who fall through the cracks of the medical system despite the best intentions of the best of us. So, what then is the fate of those terminally ill patients at the end of life who cannot be helped by medical intervention? Do they have no say in how they will pass from this life with dignity and peace?

    My brother was able to find that peace with the help of Dr. Kevorkian, who was the doctor’s last patient for which he was tried, convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for second-degree murder.

    While I am thankful for Dr. Kevorkian’s help, I will forever regret that I wasn’t able to share in that sacred moment with my brother as he slipped into the grace he so rightly deserved. He forbade me and his wife, Melody, to be at his side as we would have been criminally culpable had we been present. This is a deep wound that I shall carry for the rest of my life knowing that he did not have the comfort of his loved ones around him as he made that journey. This is a burden, thankfully, families in Oregon will not have to carry with them.

    Say what you will about Dr. Kevorkian, but I have never met another person who was as unflinching and steadfast in standing up for his belief that we all have the unalienable right to choose the manner in which we live and die and he put his own life and freedom on the line to fight for those very rights.

    I am outraged by Mr. Mahoney’s distortion of the facts in his attempt to sling the all too familiar “slippery slope” argument. In reading his list of potential abuses, Mr. Mahoney is clever in insinuating there have been abuses in Oregon or that somehow this highly regulated service might be available to anyone who might be having a bad day. I can only surmise he engages in this fiction with the intent of instilling fear amongst our citizens, especially the elderly. Here the facts are absolutely and unequivocally clear — there have been no abuses of this law in Oregon, Washington state or Montana.

    Let’s also be clear that this medical service is intended for terminally ill patients only who have been screened thoroughly by an independent panel of doctors and psychiatrists to determine eligibility.

    The service, should one apply for it and be granted eligibility, is completely elective and remains your choice to use it or not. It is not mandatory.

    To Mr. Mahoney and members of the VAEH, if we are going to engage in dialogue around this debate, let us do so with integrity and honesty, not by spreading innuendo, erroneous factoids and fear. Let us talk about the facts and embrace fears by shining the light of transparency on the process.

    There is one thing that I am in complete agreement with Mr. Mahoney upon — that our best action as citizens is to engage our legislators and contact them to let them know our thoughts and concerns.

    Again the number to leave messages for state senators during working hours is (802)-828-2228

    The writer is a filmmaker who has made award-winning films on hospice and palliative care. He is also the owner of the Savoy Theater in Montpelier.

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