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  • Carrie Leljedal

Death with Dignity: What It Means, and Why It’s Important

Death with dignity is defined as “an end-of-life option that allows certain eligible individuals to legally request and obtain medications from their physician to end their life in a peaceful, humane and dignified manner.” Other accepted terms for this practice are “physician-assisted death,” “physician-assisted dying,” and “medical aid in dying.”


New York and Illinois are considering legislation that would allow terminally ill people to choose this option. In New York, it's S2445A/A995, the Medical Aid in Dying Act. In Illinois, it's SB3499, the End-of-Life Options Act.


Right now, 10 states, plus Washington, D.C., have equivalent laws in place.


These laws permit a terminally ill individual who wants to end their life peacefully to ask a doctor for assistance. To qualify, a doctor must examine the individual and come to the conclusion that they are mentally capable of making this decision on their own. Following the approval process, they can choose their time and place of death. They must be able to take the medication without assistance.


I've witnessed firsthand how crucial these laws are. My dad wished for a doctor’s help to end his life on his own terms. He suffered for many years because this option was not available to him. As a result, his death was much more painful for him and his family.


I also have a 36-year-old son who was born with a rare seizure disorder and a multitude of complex medical issues. I've always worried about what the end of his life might be like. When he was 6 years old, he almost died from seizures. During his recovery, I asked what his life would be like when he started to get better, but nobody could give me a clear answer. Luckily, he made a full recovery, but that experience made me realize that for me, his quality of life would always be more important than the quantity of his life.


As my son grew up and his health problems progressed, we discussed what would happen if he ever felt like he couldn't keep fighting. He's had so many surgeries that we have lost count, and he deals with seizures almost every day, along with diabetes and a multitude of health issues and physical limitations. I've told him that if he ever feels like he's had enough, there are options. He could stop taking his seizure medicine and insulin. Without those medications, he wouldn’t live much longer, but there is no guarantee that it wouldn’t be a painful death.


Death with dignity laws would give people like my son a choice. They could decide when they've had enough and be given the opportunity to die peacefully on their own terms. If my son ever reaches that point, I hope that there will be laws in place to help him, and others, have a comfortable death.


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