To Gently Leave This Life is in its
second printing with 2018 Updates.
In 2014, the front-page story of Brittany Maynard – who was dying from brain cancer and forced to relocate to Oregon for a merciful death – seemed to reaffirm the public dialogue regarding an individual’s right to die. How can it be, in 2018, so many voices near and away, crying into the night in unbearable pain – pleading for a good death, a peaceful death, a compassionate death. When I wrote about Karen Quinlan, I could not have fathomed watching my own brother being attached to a respirator, as tears flowed down my cheeks, not knowing if I’d ever hear his voice again. All I could think of was Karen Quinlan trapped to that gurgling respirator in 1975. My tears were for her, as well. I invite you to read To Gently Leave This Life’s 2018 Updates Edition to learn what you need to know about end-of-life decisions.
“His pain was too great. He begged me for the simple mercy of death. I could do nothing else but help him leave a world that had become a sleepless, tortured nightmare to him.”
Robert D. Andrews
The concept of a “good death” has been debated since the beginning of civilization. In the 21st century, longer lifespans and advances in medicine have resulted in new legislation regarding an individual’s “right to die.” The option to end one’s own life, when pain becomes intolerable or the quality of life is nonexistent, is an issue at the forefront of modern society. Who among us would trade places with a patient, dependent on machines and other people, for every aspect of their life? Who among us wouldn’t choose doctor-assisted death, if that option were available?
During the last two decades, the states* of Oregon, Washington, and Montana have passed Death With Dignity legislation, and in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, voluntary euthanasia laws were approved. However, in 2012, two court cases examining physician aid in dying could lead to new international precedents: Gloria Taylor, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, became the first person in Canada to be granted the “right to die” via a “personal exemption” by British Columbia’s Supreme Court; in Britain, Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from “locked-in syndrome” and could only communicate by blinking, died from pneumonia after refusing food and fluids subsequent to a High Court decision that refused to grant him assisted death.
In this age of medical technology, of machines sustaining lives irrespective of quality of life and dignity, we often discount the concept of a “good death.” Allowing terminally ill people to pass on quickly and peacefully does not encroach on the civil liberties of others. Aid in dying legislation allows patients to operate within the medical system and ease their anxiety, while giving friends and family peace of mind. Assessing the quality of life, and allowing patients who suffer from debilitating pain and dependence on others to gently leave this life, gives people a dignified alternative.
In a democratic society, the right to choose, the option of free will, is tantamount for survival. In the United States, we value our freedom above all else. We value the right to self-determination and opposing viewpoints. We value life, and we are all mortal.
Since the first printing of this book, the District of Columbia and three more states have legalized assisted dying: Vermont in 2013; Colorado in 2016; California and the District of Columbia in 2017. Canadian Parliament legislated “medically assisted dying” in 2016.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN PREVIEW
Tony Nicklinson: The Trapped Man
In 2005, Tony Nicklinson suffered a catastrophic stroke that left him with “locked-in syndrome.” Although his intellect remained intact, he was paralyzed from the neck down, trapped inside his own body.
Prior to his stroke, Tony had enjoyed a full life, working as an engineer in Hong Kong and Dubai, playing rugby, skydiving, and spending time with his wife and daughters.
Gezz Higgins, a friend and former rugby club teammate, described Tony as a “happy-go-lucky” man:
“He was an exceptionally good and sociable guy,” he said. “The sort of fella who, when he walked into a room, you knew things would liven up a bit.”
BBC Journalist Lee Stone, who knew Nicklinson before his stroke, was stunned to see a slumped, “twisted and broken” man in a wheel chair.
When Stone attempted to talk to Tony, he could only answer by blinking letters to his wife, Jane. As she tried to interpret what he was saying, Tony drooled and coughed incessantly and Stone began to comprehend what it was like to be “locked-in.” Tony had decided to campaign for the “right to die” via Britain’s court system, and he shared his opinions and legal documents with Stone, who observed, “His life was the stuff of nightmares.”
Faye Girsh, President
World Federation of Right to Die Societies
To Gently Leave This Life: The Right to Die is an excellent handbook for those who are living through the struggle now, and those new to the fight who are just realizing what could be in store for them when there is no way out of a prolonged, agonizing death. Elaine Feuer has succeeded in compiling the progress of the right-to-die movement in her carefully researched, helpfully illustrated, easily read short volume. This overview explains, especially to the naive reader, what the human tragedies were that precipitated changes in the law toward further control by patients to control their own deaths. She presents the safeguards and the modest use of these laws to reduce suffering at the end of life and the arguments against these changes. Right-to-die advocates around the world are moving fast, making it hard to keep such a book up-to-date, but Feuer has worked assiduously to make her information as accurate as possible, to demonstrate the importance of people being able to have more say about when and how the end will come.
EG’s Reality Press
To Gently Leave This Life is an excellent representation of a huge crisis, leaving me with an understanding and urgency to take action, or to somehow make end-of-life decisions more visible to humanity. A very powerful and moving book. At times I had tears and could feel the pain and the plea for compassion from these people, who are either terminally ill or suffering from an incurable disease. All of these voices not heard from, but crying in anguish all the same. Elaine Feuer thoroughly covers the facts and situations of real people, expressed objectively yet profoundly, with information anyone can relate to and understand. It is time to help humanity with this heartfelt book, which needs to be brought into the light and to readers all over the world.
Sean Crowley, Media Relations Manager
Compassion & Choices
Elaine Feuer’s book, To Gently Leave This Life: The Right To Die, is a quick, must read for anyone who wants to understand the history of the movement. People like Elaine who have watched a loved one die a painful, slow death do not want anyone else to suffer a similar fate. But the fight to secure the legal Right-To-Die with dignity, peacefully, in every state requires that we all get educated and motivated to ensure it happens. Reading To Gently Leave This Life is a crucial first step in that education and motivation process.
Ken Leonard, Final Exit Network
An excellent way to help spread the word about the Right-To-Die movement. Another good way is to join the Final Exit Network and get involved. The few of us that feel strongly about having a free choice in determining how much suffering we are willing to tolerate, should be writing letters to the media and doing everything we can to fight the religious right who wish to impose their beliefs on us.
Cafoxxyy, Amazon/Kindle Review
To Gently Leave This Life is a very compassionate and relevant book for the 21st Century. I could feel the agony of the terminally ill, forced to live in pain and without dignity until their very last second. All of us will be faced with end-of-life decisions, and after reading this book I know that I want the right to decide on how I leave this life.