Doctor-assisted suicide also a painfully complicated issue and conservative warnings deserve...

Doctor-assisted suicide also a painfully complicated issue and conservative warnings deserve to be heeded. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/doble-d

It is traumatic to watch someone suffer as they are dying. Anyone who has experienced it will agree. Sadly, I’ve had that unfortunate experience with both my son and my mother. Like me, you’d probably want to do everything in your power to provide love and comfort to ease their pain and suffering.

Providing love and comfort is the perfect description of an end-of-life care option known as medical aid in dying. It allows an adult, capable of making their own health care decisions, with a confirmed prognosis of six months or less to live from an incurable and irreversible disease or illness, to request a prescription that they can take themselves — if they choose — to end their pain and suffering and die peacefully.

Let me be clear: Medical aid in dying is not giving up on life. This option simply gives those who are dying — with no chance of surviving the terminal illness — the ability to make their own decisions about the end of their lives.

The pain of sitting with a loved one as they wait to die in agony never goes away. To this day, I can still hear my son gasping for breath. In the end, there was no hope for survival, and very little we could do to help him avoid suffering.

While my son was dying from complications from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, my mother was dealing with terminal breast cancer. She prayed to die so her pain would stop, but there was nothing anyone could do. It is still difficult for me to talk about that dark time.

There have been many advances in cancer-fighting treatments and therapies since then, and we will continue to see further advances, providing more opportunities for people with cancer to live long, productive, enjoyable lives.

I am a founding member of 1 in 9: The Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition, and the founder of Hewlett House, a community resource center providing services to cancer patients on Long Island and in the five boroughs. This safe haven for cancer patients, now in its 20th year, has witnessed a lot of joy and a lot of pain. I have spent countless hours talking with people who are five, 10 and 20 years into their cancer journeys. They make me smile. But I’ve also spent hours talking to those who have been told there is nothing else that can be done. All of their treatment options are exhausted, and they are left without any choices.

I am a five-time cancer survivor, and I continue to fight every day against this disease. However, I know there will be a day — hopefully, a long time away — when my time will come and I cannot fight anymore. I want the option of medical aid in dying. While I may not decide to take the medication to end my life, I want that option. I’ve earned that option. We’ve all earned that option — whether or not we choose to take it.

Passing legislation to give us that choice would be a gift. We need to have the right to say goodbye to those we love and give them the messages we know they need to hear. We deserve to have the option to end our suffering when there are no other options left to us.

I call on our state legislators to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act this session. Show your constituents some love as they face their final days.


 THIS GUEST ESSAY reflects the views of Geri Barish, executive director of Hewlett House.

This guest essay reflects the views of Geri Barish, executive director of Hewlett House.

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months