Recently, you have published opinions of your readers concerning those dying of a terminal illness with months to live.

My own son, Ethan, contracted a virulent form of cancer at age 41 that was untreatable and terminal. He was born and raised in Maine and a graduate of Yale in the sciences, with a doctorate from Stanford.

After a career in Silicon Valley, he entered academia at Western Washington State. He was the center of the wheel of many friends, and at the time of his death, he had two small children whom he dearly loved. Living in Washington state, he had a “death with dignity” option, which he chose after studied reflection.

In many ways, Ethan is more typical of the type of person who chooses to use “death with dignity.” At his side, when he died, were his wife, his closest friend from Maine and both his parents. His last days with all of them are considered a gift – though he was in substantial physical pain, he was still himself, lucid and funny – not semi-comatose and in great distress.

I think the best response is his comment, published shortly before his death on his blog at Psychology Today: “I do not view (‘death with dignity’) as ‘suicide’ (although that is a convenient term), because I would not really be choosing between living and dying. I would be choosing between different ways of dying. If someone wishes to deny me that choice, it sounds to me like they are saying: I am willing to risk that your death will be slow and painful. Well, thanks a lot, that’s brave of you.”

Charles Remmel


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