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Give terminally ill option beyond dying of thirst

How often have we said, “I am dying of thirst,” with little real sense of what that really means or what it looks like? Witnessing someone, especially a close friend, die slowly due to dehydration is hard enough to bear. Knowing what that fellow human being is going through, however, is simply wrenching. My friend Linda did exactly that when she voluntarily stopped eating and drinking (VSED) on Jan. 7 of this year. She died 20 days later. She did this because she was at the very end stage of her life from an incurable cancer, which caused her intractable pain and anguish.

Since her diagnosis in April 2020, Linda relished every day that she was alive and, despite COVID-19, continued to enjoy the outdoors, create art and enjoy the company of her many friends. During our walks together she would share her joy about FaceTiming with her grandsons and would say: “I feel so good today and hope I have many more days like this.” Our walks were special times for us both. She was as curious about me, my work in health care prior to my retirement, and then my work in retirement as a volunteer. In fact we met when we were both volunteering for a good cause, back in 2008. And I was just as eager to learn about her work as a child life specialist at UNMH and in retirement as a foster grandma for APS. Her time with the children was spent doing creative art projects in order to really engage them. It was something that I never tired of hearing about. Perhaps one of the biggest losses Linda felt, due to COVID-19, was her loss of contact with the children who called her Grandma Linda in the Head Start classroom.

Inevitably, Linda’s joy in being alive and being an active member of our community became progressively diminished by her disease. By early January, as her condition worsened, and she was aware that access to medical aid in dying (MAID) was not a legal choice for her, Linda turned to the legal option of VSED. Consider the cruelty this option poses: while MAID would have enabled my friend to end her life on her terms and within a short period of time, the VSED process took 20 days with her experiencing a vicious thirst. Having been by her bedside for many of those 20 days, I recall her telling me she would often awaken up to five to six times a night with a longing for water. It was only Linda’s will of steel that allowed her to avoid even a sip so that it would hasten her death.

I urge members of our Legislature to recognize the need for allowing citizens of our state to have access to MAID under the circumstances that have been so carefully defined in HB 47. Please do not make literally dying of thirst the only legal option for the terminally ill.

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