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Healthcare Political Organizing

End-of-life options an important civil rights issue


Commentary by Dawn Lentz, Green Party of Delaware

This spring the Green Party of Delaware declared support for a bill introduced in the Delaware legislature pertaining to the end-of-life options a terminal person may or may not decide to choose.

Under current law, a terminal patient is left with only two choices: either decide to suffer, expiring slowly, swimming in pain and uncertainty; or choose to end their life by suicide — a tragic decision that is often not made jointly with family members, to whom it may come as a terrible shock, leaving survivors traumatized. And suicide may cancel insurance policy benefits.

Delaware House Bill 160, the end-of-life options bill which will come to a vote after January 2018, will give terminal patients another choice. House Bill 160 will allow terminal patients to make their end-of-life decision with their doctor. This means that they might obtain prescriptions to send them into permanent sleep and eventually stop their hearts, allowing them to die with dignity.

Terminal patients’ inalienable civil rights need to be recognized by allowing them the freedom to choose their end-of-life options with the aid of their physician.

Opponents call this bill assisted suicide legislation, but this is not so. It provides for an educated decision to be made between a terminal patient, two doctors and the patient’s family. It informs insurance companies that these patients were terminal, meaning that they were definitely going to die. The question becomes when, and how.

Many tears will be shed, but they will be shed either way. This legislation will give terminal patients the opportunity to have a little bit of control, where now they have none. Why do I find this issue so important? I am a terminal patient.

I’ve been diagnosed with a rare disease called Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA). SCA is a hereditary, degenerative, neurological condition; I will eventually die from complications such as aspiration pneumonia. I will be completely aware of my body’s inability to perform the most basic functions, like bathing and eating. Ultimately, even talking will be impossible. I fear these final months the most, when I will watch my loved ones cry and listen to hushed conversations about me from a tomb-like body.

There’s no cure for what I have. No miracle will save me. My only hope of not having to endure months of distress and being a constant burden to my family is the possibility of having a doctor help me to safely and painlessly go to meet my creator.

This summer, GPDE collected 280 signatures on a petition explaining how terminal patients’ rights are being infringed. GPDE supports HB 160, and agrees that terminal patients’ inalienable civil rights need to be recognized by allowing them the freedom to choose their end-of-life options with the aid of their physician.

We recognize that advances in science have created medical interventions that often increase suffering and prolong the dying process. We believe in securing social justice for all people, and so believe that citizens have the right to choose their end-of-life options. Medical aid in dying enables a mentally competent, terminally ill adult other options in the face of unbearable, inevitable suffering. We recognize that the choices a person makes at the end of life are inalienably ground­ed in that individual’s life experience and values.

In summation, GPDE is committed to supporting civil rights, which are protected under our constitution. I urge other Greens to begin inquiring about adopting end-of-life options legislation in your state. This isn’t about what you personally agree with: It’s about addressing terminal patients’ civil rights.

Dawn Lentz is a member of the Green Party of Delaware and the founder of the MOT Lower Delaware Local of GPDE.

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