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Conversations About Whether Those Who Are Dying Should Have the Right To Determine When Life Should End

by Diane Rehm

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-525-65475-9
Publisher: Knopf

In a companion to a TV documentary, the longtime NPR host and podcaster interviews terminally ill patients and others about end-of-life choices.

One in five Americans lives in a jurisdiction that allows terminally ill adults to request “medical aid in dying,” the term many experts prefer to “assisted suicide.” Rehm (On My Own, 2016, etc.) became a champion of the swiftly growing right-to-die movement after her first husband, ravaged by Parkinson’s disease, begged doctors in vain for help ending his life. In the gently probing interviews collected here, the author discusses the pros and cons with people who have seen the effects at close range: patients, relatives, physicians, clergy, hospice administrators, and others. An African Methodist Episcopal pastor explains why he opposed the death-with-dignity law in Washington, D.C., given its potential for use against blacks. Dan Diaz recalls the upheavals his wife, Brittany, faced when they moved to Oregon so she could end her life after a diagnosis of terminal cancer; amid the devastating news, she had to find a house to rent and get a new driver’s license and voter registration card to establish residency. Other interviews in the book, which features a foreword by John Grisham, focus on a variety of relevant questions: Who qualifies for medical aid in dying? What life-ending medicines do doctors prescribe? How long does it take to die after you ingest them? Several contributors give similar answers to the same question, which at times grows repetitious but suggests the variations around the country. For gravely ill patients, a vital point is that securing aid in dying involves paperwork, a waiting period, and finding two doctors willing to help. These safeguards can have heartbreaking results for anyone who puts off making a decision. The approval process takes an average of about one month, notes the president of the group Compassion & Choices, “and about half the people die before that.”

Thoughtful conversations with friends and foes of the death-with-dignity movement.