There’s a pretty fair chance that at some point, I’m going to kill myself.
And when I do, it’s none of the government’s fucking business.
Opponents of I-1000, November’s statewide assisted suicide initiative, are cloaking their basic, essentially religious concerns about the measure in scare tactics over a potential for “abuse” which, in ten years of Oregon’s experience with assisted suicide for the terminally ill, simply hasn’t happened. They’re also playing with our culture’s irrational fear and avoidance of any discussion of death (the one thing everyone has in common). Their real interest is that they consider suicide immoral under any circumstances. Which is fine. I don’t care whether they kill themselves; it’s not my decision. When and if I kill myself, since it doesn’t harm them (and since we live in a secular society), it is, also, none of their fucking business. They have no right to impose their essentially religious beliefs on me. They also don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, because they’re by and large not terminally ill.
In March 1991, I was diagnosed with a terminal disease (End Stage Renal Disease, a fancy name for total kidney failure), and given a year or two to live.
As it developed, I was able to stretch out my time on the planet to 1994, when I received a double-organ transplant (a pre-owned kidney and pancreas, courtesy an 18-year-old who didn’t believe in motorcycle helmet laws). My insurance company fought authorizing the surgery for a couple of years, on the grounds that it was experimental, in the probable hope that I’d die first so that they wouldn’t have to pay for the surgery and the even more expensive aftercare. They almost succeeded. I fell into a coma three separate times in 1993; by the time the transplant was approved, I was too sick to receive it. It took another eight months of nursing me to the point where I was strong enough to endure the ten-hour surgery. By that time, my wife had been laid off and our insurance was set to expire; had matching organs not been found barely in time, the stalling would have started all over again with new insurance, or none, and that would have killed me.
All through that three-year ordeal, I had plans in place to kill myself if I reached a point of no return. I still do. I had and still have no interest in living my days out as a vegetable in intractable pain, with zero quality of life. Been there, done that; it sucks. That’s my personal decision, my right, and I’m going to do what I’m going to do regardless of what any government or other self-appointed moral arbiters think of it.
The problem was (and, until I-1000 or something like it becomes law, still is) that my plans require a minimum amount of mobility, which I could lose at any time. They also require that I either ask my loved ones and care providers to break the law, or, in order to protect them from the law’s wrath, that I exclude them from the most important decision of my life, and a central one in theirs.
I-1000 is not for the terminally ill. For the most part, we’ll find a way to carry out our own wishes. It’s for everyone around us, the people who care for and love us. The current law forces us to act perhaps prematurely (while we have the capacity to personally carry out our decision), without the input of other people, and in an isolated way that is either risky or unspeakably cruel to our loved ones. The people who’ve cared for me over the years, starting with my loving and preternaturally patient wife, deserve far better than that. They’ll have a hard enough time with my illness and passing; intentionally excluding them from my death is something no compassionate society should countenance. I-1000 is for them.
The punch line to my story is that I finally did get my transplants, and they’ve been fabulously successful. I have chronic health problems (due to both the underlying disease and the immunosuppressant drugs needed to prevent organ rejection). I’m in pain daily, take preposterous amounts of medication, and once or twice a year I’m in the hospital with something scary. But I’ve mostly had good quality of life for the last 14 years and been a productive member of society. (Not everyone would agree with that last part, but, whatever.) I’m pretty stubborn about this Continuing To Live thing.
However, the reason I-1000 is not only deeply personal but immediate for me is that those 14 years are many more than any of my doctors, or I, expected. At some point — could be tomorrow, could be many years away, but it was supposed to happen a long time ago — one or both of my non-native organs will start to fail. Then, I’ll be right back where I was in 1991, only a couple of decades older and frailer. At some point I could easily reach the position where things are both intolerable and clearly have no hope of getting better.
By then, I hope I-1000 will be law, so that I won’t be asked to put my loved ones and friends through a living hell in order to die on my own terms.
Do right by my loved ones. Their fate is up to you, as voters, in November. My decision, as to what I’ll choose to do with my failing body, is not.