IAMA person that helped my (then) terminally ill best friend die via physician assisted suicide earlier this year. AMA.
Oct 21st 2012 by Patricia_Batema • 54 Questions • 956 Points
My friend had a terminal brain tumor, and elected for a physician assisted suicide. I live in Washington State, which is one of only three states in the US that has made this process legal. She died in my living room, holding my hand, while we watched Shaun of the Dead. I haven't talked about it much since she died. Ask me anything.
Yes. I don't regret anything, other than having to watch someone I loved deteriorate so dramatically. Her death itself was very peaceful, and I knew she was 100% ready. It's what she wanted, so if I had to, then yes. I just hope I never have to again.
Any reason for Shaun of the Dead? (Apart from it being awesome)
We watched Shaun of the Dead together for the very first time back when she was taking care of me after an awful breakup. We laughed our asses off, and when she came to my house that day, it's what she chose. She had a very difficult time speaking her last few months of life due to her tumor, but I got the clear impression she wanted something to remind us all of happier times. :)
I honestly don't know. I feel some comfort knowing I live in a state where this is an option, but I don't know if I'd have the sack to do it. Watching her drink the medication that would end her life was definitely a "holy shit" moment for me. She was incredibly strong and brave, and I feel like a pansy. But honestly, since the day she was diagnosed, I felt like there was no way I would be able to deal as gracefully as she did. Great question. I realize I haven't answered it, and it's because I don't honestly know what I would do unless I was actually in her shoes.
That's really strange! I always imagined otherwise. Do you happen to know why?
My best guess is because of the hippocratic oath to do no harm, but I'm probably not the best person to answer that. I know there was at least one physician on this thread, so maybe her or she can answer.
How long had you two known each other before they were diagnosed and you two were friends in general?
We'd been friends for 6 years when she was diagnosed, 11 years by the time she passed away. It had never occurred to me before now that 1/2 of the time we were friends, she had cancer. Wow.
Does the person being assisted have to reach a certain point of deterioration before AS is allowed? Or could I choose, if I had a terminal illness, at which point I would like to exit?
Great question. Yes, in Washington, a person has to:
- be diagnosed as terminal, with fewer than 6 months to live
- Request verbally to her physician to become a candidate
- Request in writing to a different physician to become a candidate
- Undergo an intense psych screening
- Have two witnesses sign a notarized intent (one of which cannot be a family member)
- Self-administer the lethal dose.
(edited because I forgot #5)
Do you know what they do if someone has become so ill they could not take the dose by their self?
It's not legal for someone to help them take it so I imagine someone could be charged with a crime if they did.
If someone requests to die via this manner but for some reason would not be able to self administer, they are out of luck and will be denied. At least that is the case here in Washington and I believe Oregon as well.
If it is so much trouble, why does one go through it to do it legally?
That's a really good question.
I think in Oregon, who has had legal assisted suicide since 1994, it's not nearly as difficult as what my friend experienced trying to navigate through the process. Here in Washington, our law is much more new and there are more details that need to be ironed out.
In the end, I think people desire to go through the legal channels because it's much less scary to consider taking a lethal dose of medication that has a proven track record of being effective. The thought of swallowing a bottle of pills chased by a fifth of vodka has a much higher likelihood of being vomited back up, and other more violent methods are, well...much more violent.
There is also a stigma associated with SUICIDE, as opposed to a physician attended suicide. I think it's probably easier on loved ones when a professional is overseeing the process. I don't know. Just my thoughts.
How long did it take her to past and what were her last words?
After taking the medication, she was able to keep her eyes open for 9 minutes, which I'm told is extraordinary. Most people close their eyes after only a minute or two. She slipped into a coma, but she continued breathing and her heart continued beating (albeit very, very weakly) for another 40 minutes or so.
Before taking the lethal dose of seco-barbitol, patients are given an anti-nausea pill to help keep the dose down. After she took her dose and a few minutes had passed, I asked her if she felt nauseated at all.
Her last word(s) was: "No."
Do you ever get any negative comments for what you did?
Also, I'm sorry you had to go through that. It seems like your friend loved you very much and you can know that she doesn't have to suffer anymore.
Thank you. In general I have been blown away with kindness and support. The only really judgy comments I've received have been from my own Christian parents who begged me to share Jesus with her before she died. They made it very clear that this was Not. OK. but even still, told me they were proud of me. Her mother suspected foul play and ambushed me over the phone the next day, begging me to tell her if she would see her daughter in heaven because if she had done this to herself, she never would. That has actually been the hardest part of this whole thing - the moral dilemma of whether to be honest with this woman, or spare her by lying.
How was she ready for the afterlife? I know the question may be a little odd, but since she knew her death was coming. Was she ready? What were her thoughts?
Well, on the surface, she claimed to not believe in the afterlife. of course I have no way of knowing if that is how she truly felt. She certainly didn't romanticize her own impending death though. There were no tears whatsoever. In fact, I never once saw her shed a tear throughout her entire illness.
You sound like an amazing friend to be there for her during all that.
My question is how comfortable was she when she took the lethal dose?
My grandmother had a massive stroke when I was 18 and I was her power of attorney and executor of her living will. When I came home from work and noticed that she was not responsive I called 911 and they took her to the ER. I had told them that she had a strict DNR in her living will but they decided to medi-flight her to a better hospital anyway, so I can relate to the emergency response team giving you hell over it. From there I had to make the call to bring her off life support and take her home to pass. It was probably the hardest thing ever because it took about 2 1/2 weeks for her to pass. I know that if it were legal to have AS where we are from she would have wanted it.
Thank you for the kind words, and I am deeply sorry about the pain you experienced with your grandmother. I cannot stress it enough: everyone please get a living will / DNR (if that's your thing) in place ASAP.
She seemed very comfortable when she took the lethal dose, other than the fact that she said it tasted like hell. She actually had some miraclefruit before the medication which is supposed to make everything taste sweet but she reported still that it was disgusting. She still drank it down like a boss.
Reading through this thread, you are the best friend a person could ever want or need, she was very lucky to have you. Being a 250lb, 6'4" "manly man" this really brought me to tears. Not in sadness, more so because of the relationship you two shared and the strength of your bond. This is the most touching thread I have ever read. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for your comment. I am honored that it has touched some of you, and overwhelmed by the number of kind comments and support this thread has received.
I feel sad that it had to come to that, but watching a vibrant, beautiful woman be crippled by her disease was heartbreaking. I guess to properly address your question, I feel haunted by the fact that I helped her and watched her die, but I also feel like I did the right thing. It was truly what she wanted.
I have no question. I just wanted to say that you're incredible. The world needs more people with your kind of compassion and understanding.
Thank you so much.
How did you feel about the whole decision process to do physician assisted suicide? Do you feel like it is something that should be legalized through out the US?
I absolutely believe that it should be a legal right for anyone, although I found the particulars of getting her through all of the hoops she needed to jump through to be incredibly tedious and frustrating. Further still, we encountered some ugliness with the emergency response team after she died which made things extremely interesting. I am so happy to live in a state where this is a legal process, but there are some definite kinks that need to be ironed out still.
Can you explain what happened with the emergency response team? I'm sorry if I sound a little straight forward.
edit - Ninja'ed
No problem - and I actually just did. Let me know if the comment was buried and I can recap. :)
Thank you for the kind words.
I'm 42. She was 39 and a day.
I only spoke with her mom, who was reasonably distraught. She asked many, many questions about what had happened that day and whether or not she had taken something. It was pretty uncomfortable.
I had a dream last week that my best friend had died, and remember sobbing in my sleep. I can't imagine being in your shoes, but I commend you for being there for her.
I know you say it was the right thing to do, but are you OK?
Thank you for the kind words. I am OK. There have definitely been ups and downs and every once in a while, the reality of it comes from out of nowhere and kicks my ass, but it's beginning to settle in that she's gone. The hardest part has been little things, like accidentally butt-dialing her with my phone and seeing her name on my screen. Or running across some piece of art she designed (she was incredibly talented). Also, I miss her son but don't know his dad at all so I've been struggling with how to approach him or reach out.
Your friend was strong. I don't know if I could do that even though I know all lives end eventually.
I, no words... Just feelings is all I have...
I don't know if I could either my friend. She was a brave girl. Hugs.
No questions. I just hope that when life comes to this, whichever role I'm in, I'm half as brave as you and your friend. Death seems less scary knowing it can be faced with so much love.
Thank you so much. I think we all have the capacity to surprise ourselves with things we don't necessarily think we can manage.
After reading all of this, I just want to hug everyone I care about :[
Yes you absolutely should. Every day even.
What were the thoughts going through your head throughout the whole experience? What kind of emotions did you feel?
And as hard as this may be to answer: What did it feel like to watch (or feel) the life leave her body. I completely understand if you don't answer.
Thank you for this enlightening AMA
I suppose my feelings were all over the map if you take into consideration the time after her diagnosis and leading up to her death. Dread, sadness, and then I shifted into a "Mother Hen" type of a role where I helped her made decisions and actually moved her into my house for a while when she almost lost her healthcare (and then could afford it again after Obamacare but that's a whole other can of worms).
When I knew she planned to end her life I understood but was very depressed for days. Then dread waiting for her to decide when. Then a little bit of relief once it was all over. That probably makes me sound like a monster. Then, and now...I just miss her.
Seeing the life leave her body was a gradual, subtle thing. I sat and watched the tiniest pulse in her neck for what seemed like forever. None of that part of it really even seemed real.
I saw a few places where you said you had to deal with making a judgement call about what to say to her mother about the AS. Did you not speak with your friend beforehand about what you might say to her family after her passing? That way it wouldn't all have come down to you. Seems like something maybe she should have even taken care of before passing.
Yeah, I tried having that conversation with her a few times but never got a clear answer from her. One one occasion I gathered (mind you, her speech was so far gone that it was very "Is Timmy in the well!?" trying to get information out of her) that she wanted me to be honest with her mom after she was gone, and on another she indicated she never wanted her mom to know. So when it came down to it, I kind of panicked. Her mom caught me completely off guard when she called. I dind't recognize the number, and then shit just got real. I had to make a snap decision, and I chose to try and spare her feelings, ultimately.
I personally applaud your decision but wonder if you will have any troubles legality. Are there any legal repercussions caused by your actions?
Nope, I gave a statement to the police and that was it. It's a legal process in my state, and because I was her medical power of attorney and well acquainted with her doctors who approved her for the process, I was / am in the clear.
I believe you are a really good person and I think what you did was in no way wrong. Its kinda a hard thing to say that it is "right" because you did assist your friend in taking her life but I don't think it is wrong and I think that people in that sort of state should be allowed to choose. You are 10 times the man/woman that I am. Anyone would be lucky to have a friend like you.
Thank you. It's a situation that I would never wish on anyone, but I thank my lucky stars that my sweet friend had the option to die on her own terms. I appreciate your comment.
This might sound weird and insensitive, but I've wondered this since I heard about assisted suicide. Why didn't your friend just kill herself, why did she need to go through a long process if she just wanted to die?
I don't think she was interested in pursuing a violent death. But truthfully, it's not a question I could or would have ever posed to her.