Death with dignity

My wife, Penny is a very smart and worldly person.

One of the things she shared with me was that, when people would comment, “If I die …,” we both would be perplexed, in that there is no “if.” Death is a natural part of life’s cycle.

Being in the health care profession for over three decades, I have experienced and viewed multiple levels of people passing. That is reflective of dear family members, friends, and patients.

One of the most memorable instances occurred when I worked in administration at a northern Virginia medical center. A Fairfax County woman opted to take her life by starting the family’s Mercedes station wagon in a closed garage. The home’s furnace was located in that garage, which directed fumes into the residence. It took the lives of her husband and two children.

It was a major media story, in that her husband was a U.S. naval officer working at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Their residence was taped off, having CIA representatives and Fairfax County police inspect the crime scene.

The youngest child, a son, was still alive and rushed to the medical center where I worked. He was on full life support.

The boy had an older brother who was at a West Coast university. We located him and flew him into Baltimore-Washington International Airport. As we entered the medical center, heading toward Medical ICU, the brother was preparing to reach a decision on his brother.

The brother coded and passed.

A decision on ceasing life support did not need to be made by Andy’s sole living sibling.

The reason I bring that unpopular topic up is to encourage Michigan and other American residents to research and complete a Right of Self Determination document. That document offers the signatory ability to offer family members, loved ones, and medical providers specific guidelines on their quality of life and and personal health desires.

Creation of that documentation can help family members and loved ones avoid nasty arguments amongst each other.

Information on Right of Self Determination can be found on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ website as well as with health care providers and legal counsel.

Currently, across America, nine states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation for physician end of life (death with dignity) assistance. In general, it is designed for those 18 or older who are mentally competent. In addition, two physicians review the patient’s residency, diagnosis, prognosis, their competence, and voluntariness of their request. In general, the patient’s life expectancy is six months or less. The termination of life is self-administered by oral prescriptions.

Michigan has not enacted legislation like that.

Retired National Public Radio host and commentator Diane Rehm recently published a book, “When My Time Comes”. The book, in part, is based upon the loss of her husband, John, to Parkinson’s disease. The book’s premise is based upon national research, religious, legal, and political challenges, along with the patient’s dignity and life’s quality, and numerous other high-level and relevant factors.

Penny and I have established our framework for a dignified end of life,

I encourage my fellow Michiganders to reflect and research on preparing for death.

Indeed, life has a conclusion.

Jeffrey D. Brasie is a retired health care CEO and frequently writes historic feature stories and op-eds. He is a former Alpena resident and resides in suburban Detroit.


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