On Thursday, April 8, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act into law. This act will allow people who are terminally ill to seek medical aid in dying. More specifically, these patients will have the option to self-administer medication to end their own lives in order to avoid significant pain and suffering at the hands of a terminal illness.
The patients have to be of sound mind to formally make this decision, as well as have the ability to self-administer the medication that would end their own lives. This act will allow patients to make the decision to end their lives on their own terms as opposed to painfully succumbing to their illnesses.
I understand why people could find this act abhorrent. After all, it gives people permission to end their own lives. But this legislation also gives patients agency involving diseases that have taken away so much of their lives already. Cancer does not allow for convenience or leniency in people’s lives. Serious illness just takes until there isn’t anything left to take.
I watched my grandmother slowly lose herself to dementia, and she was in a tremendous amount of pain leading up to her final moments. She was not of sound mind anymore, so the End-of-Life Act would not have helped her, but I can clearly remember how much pain she was in before she left us.
My grandmother had taken a nasty fall about a week before she passed. This fall significantly harmed her already failing mind and weak body. It soon became clear to my family and me that her time was coming very soon. She spent the next week unable to speak, move or eat and drink without causing her body significant amounts of pain. Every movement and attempt to communicate hurt her so much, and we would often know when she was trying to move because she would scream in pain.
The grandmother I knew would never have wanted us to see her like this. She was strong and never afraid to put us in our place, and now here she was, lying in a bed, in our house, not moving, yet we could see in her eyes how terrified and miserable she was.
Watching someone slowly succumb to a sickness that can’t be helped is agonizing for both patient and witness. There is no hiding how much everything hurts for those who are terminally ill. Seeing a person you love in so much pain, pain that medicine cannot take away, is a terrible thing.
I see no reason why my grandmother had to wait an entire week in tremendous pain to finally pass on. Other family members of mine would disagree, but I think that we can’t think of our own grief when discussing this issue. We can’t think of how much we don’t want loved ones to leave us because of how much we’ll miss them. Their pain is not worth our feelings of comfort as we wait a little longer for the inevitable. While we wait, they will be suffering.
I don’t want anyone else to die such a long and painful death if they can avoid it. People of sound mind should be able to decide how they want to die if they know that they will eventually pass from their illnesses. If they are already in pain, and there is no hope of survival, they should not have to suffer any further if they so choose.
This new legislation potentially gives these patients more control over their terminal illnesses than they ever had before. Their illnesses have probably controlled their lives for a very long time and they shouldn’t control their deaths, too.
People having agency over something as sensitive as death is a good thing. Patients deserve to control something that can save them from a lot of pain. There are safeguards to ensure these patients are absolutely sure of such a sensitive decision, and with those safeguards in place, the End-of-Life Options Act will save people from experiencing a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual.