Yesterday I attended a memorial service for my friend that died from ALS. I have never known anyone with this disease. My friend was also my lawyer and we saw each other everyday for 20 years as we worked in the same building. He was diagnosed with this disease back in November. It was hard for me not to want to say, "oh I am sure there will be some drug that they can give you to make you better." I think he kept hoping for the miracle, but none came. Over a five month period I watched as he lost a little bit of himself each week until he could not eat, speak or move a finger. It was more than I could bare to see my friend trapped in his body, still with eyes that recognized you but no ability to tell you.
I thought during these moments when I would visit him, there was not much I could say to him to comfort him. Even reporting the news, or talking about some real estate problem seemed ridiculous when I am sure these worldly problems seemed trivial to him. But what I mostly thought about was Vermont's struggle to bring about the " Death with Dignity Law." If ever there was a time where this law would have been a blessing for my friend, this was it.
I thought often about my own death in these past months and what I would want if I were faced with ALS. As long as I could speak or had a means to communicate, if I could engage in life around me. I would want to continue.Once I was no longer able to communicate I would want to die on my own terms with my family and friends with me. I would no more want to be trapped in my own body, not being able to move a muscle, not being able to tell anyone that I hurt, not being able to bend my leg, than I would want to jump off a cliff. There are times when we should be able to choose our death.
There are people who argue that older people would feel pressure to take their own life because they would not want to be a burden on their families. The people that think this way do not understand the laws surrounding the Death with Dignity law. You are only allowed to request to die after you have been diagnosed with a disease from which you will never recover, you must only have three months left to live, and you must have a doctor's certificate stating so. Why, people feel that something like this would be forced on you is beyond me. It is a decision that is just not made by you, but a team of people. And it is a personal decision, with professional advise. Many people would not care if they could not move a muscle, eat or communicate, they woudl continue until they died. But for those of us that could not bare to be in the condition that my friend was in, we should have our choice.
When the "Death with Dignity" law comes before the Vermont legislature the next time, think about what you would want to do if you were in the same position as my friend. Call your legislator up and encourage him or her to vote for the law. Then, perhaps you will be able to decide how you would like to die. You would not have to suffer as my friend did.
I wish that he were here. I wish that I could go up to his office and listen to his advise, pet his dog who laid under his feet in his office or juts past the time of day as we often did. His light was on in his office last night when I went by, as it was so many nights for so many years, but I know he is not there, he is somewhere else joining his friends and relatives, leaving us to continue to fight the fight. I will miss him.