WEST BOOTHBAY HARBOR — On D-Day, he was in the thick of it as a gunner’s mate on the USS Harding, supporting the 2nd Ranger Battalion as it secured Pointe du Hoc on Omaha Beach.

Later in the Pacific campaign, he survived a kamikaze attack, witnessing the deaths of many shipmates.

Taylor Watson was a true American hero, one of the “greatest generation.” He was my uncle, and I watched him die.

When he was in his early 70s, he got a diagnosis of prostate cancer. The doctor reassured him that he’d never die from prostate cancer. It was slow-moving, and by the time it became life-threatening, there was a good chance he’d be dead from something else.

Taylor liked that. Doctors suggested and he had seed implant surgery, then went on with his life. Time passed, and his prostate-specific antigen blood level rose incrementally. Always, the doctors said, “Nothing to worry about.”

By the time Taylor was in his mid-80s, he began to face his mortality realistically. He made a will, had advanced directives in place and told friends and family what he wanted, how he wanted it and who he wanted around him.

Taylor believed the cancer was back. Doctors confirmed his fears and said it was on the move. The cancer had metastasized to his bones. They recommended aggressive radiation therapy. The good military hero and upholder of authority said, “OK.” He was 87.

After each treatment, he weakened. He developed a gray pallor, he became unsteady on his feet, he couldn’t eat. Later, he traveled by wheelchair because he couldn’t walk.

Family questioned the efficacy of these treatments. Wouldn’t it be better to forgo the therapy and allow him to spend his final days doing what he loved: being on the water or visiting with his family? Clearly, Taylor was dying, and the radiation was aggravating an already terrible situation.

“No,” his physician said. “It’s better to finish this round.” Taylor never had another good day.

Earlier this year, the Maine Medical Association voiced opposition to L.D. 1270, a bill regarding patient-directed care at the end of life. Their objection to the legislation was based on a professional ethical code that grew out of the Hippocratic Oath, which calls on doctors to “do no harm.” After watching the death of my uncle, I’m not sure what “do no harm” means in today’s world.

Medical ethics constantly change, and ethical lines aren’t always well-defined. Some examples of this conundrum can be found by studying the Tuskegee syphilis experiment or by reading about the tubal ligations done on some incarcerated women in California between 2006 and 2010.

Not so long ago, physicians often concealed a patient’s prognosis because they felt it to be in the best interests of the patient. A “Father Knows Best” mentality, for sure.

The concept of what is right, what is moral and what is ethical changes as society’s awareness does. Current research suggests many physicians submit patients to treatments more excessive than they would choose for themselves.

Every day, doctors are required to make difficult and complicated decisions regarding patients’ care in the “Sophie’s Choice” world of modern medical practices. There are always trade-offs. The patient should be the one to decide what his or her end-of-life care should entail. Good practitioners explain the ramifications of these trade-offs, so that the patient can make intelligent choices.

Aid in dying is not about a physician’s ever-changing concept of what is or is not medically ethical. It is about a patient’s choice to direct his or her own care at the end of life. It must be a patient’s right, a patient’s choice and solely a patient’s decision.

Near the end, my uncle looked at me and said, “I would never have believed you’d let this happen. Does my doctor know about this?”

The doctor did know, and he treated, and treated, and treated – seemingly uncaring about Taylor’s suffering. The outcome was always going to be the same, anyway.

Aid in dying was not available to my uncle. I don’t know what he would have chosen. But he would have wanted choices.

He wasn’t afraid to die, but he certainly wouldn’t have wanted the death he got. Equally difficult was knowing he felt betrayed at the end by those he trusted.

No one deserves to die like that, especially a hero.