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Mares: Death with Dignity

03/22/12 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(Host) In the first of Two Views on the Right To Die debate, we hear from writer and commentator Bill Mares, a former teacher and state legislator who supports Vermont Senate Bill-103, or the Death with Dignity bill, because of his own mother’s self-deliverance.

(Mares) A number of years ago, I helped precipitate an amusing fight over who was a Real Vermonter and who was a Flatlander. The battle went on until Bob Sherman, a journalist-turned-lobbyist, ended the debate with the common-sensical suggestion that a Real Vermonter was someone who planned to die here.

This session the legislature has debated an equally common-sensical bill called Death With Dignity, which would help Vermonters say how and when they will die. Alas! the bill may not receive a vote - in part because the Senate president pro tem promised his dying mother that it wouldn't. And I think that’s a pity.

With appropriate safeguards, the Death with Dignity bill proposes to allow a mentally competent person diagnosed as having less than six months to live to request a prescription, which, if taken, would hasten the dying process. The crucial part of this concept is that patients are in control over the timing and manner of dying, if they wish to exercise this choice.

This is free will at its most fundamental.

Twenty years ago, my own terminally ill 83 year old mother took her own life. In this act she had the approval of her family and her doctor. For twenty years before that, she had told her family that when “I cease to appreciate the gift of life, I’m leaving on my terms, not yours or the doctors’ or God forbid, the lawyers'.”

She was determined that her life would not be prolonged in pain and suffering because of a medical or legal stranglehold.

My mother was one tough woman. Because she lived life to the fullest she said she was always ready to check out when the time came. And she was.

For twenty years she stockpiled prescription sleeping pills on the second shelf of the drug cabinet. She renewed the prescription regularly, in the same way that she had the fire extinguishers re-charged.

The Death with Dignity bill would legalize and encourage open and informed conversation about end-of-life choices between the doctor and a terminally ill, mentally competent patient, like my mother.

I firmly believe that we should take this conversation out of the guilt-shrouded darkness and into the open, where it can be supervised, regulated, and available to all who qualify. I support having a law which protects merciful doctors who follow the prescribed protocols and safeguards already shown to function well in the state of Oregon.

My mother liked to say she didn’t have much of a sense of humor, but near the end she delivered one memorable line. When I asked her how she was going to do the deed, she said she would put the pills into a bowl of ice cream, “but it will be Häagen-Dazs,” she said, “and not, I’m afraid, Ben and Jerry’s.”
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