In the late ‘80s, into the ‘90s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, I volunteered at Chris Brownlie AIDS hospice. AZT was just emerging and there were no cocktails available to keep the Beast at bay. Back then, AIDS and HIV diagnoses were tantamount to a death sentence. I watched so many people leave their bodies in a painful, agonizing way at a time when assisted suicide wasn’t legal even in Oregon. That happened in 1997, and while I witnessed courageous people dying hard, I understood why they called it the Death with Dignity Act.
I spoke with with many men (few women as yet had contracted the illness) in the hospice that held 27 dying people at a time. They talked about wanting to take their lives but there was no legal way to do it, unless they illegally stockpiled drugs and hoped that in the end, it would work. I met with a pioneer named Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society in California and past president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies. He wrote a controversial book called Final Exit, that covered planning and carrying out suicide, and it was reviled, celebrated and discussed at length globally as it was translated into twelve languages. Everyone was talking about it.
The topic is right up there with abortion and capital punishment, but so far, very few people I know have mentioned it since its passage. Only opposers are vocal about it, and I have to say, I find it hypocritical that opposers of assisted suicide and abortion are proponents of capital punishment. What’s up with that? As a left winger, I support the right to choose abortion and suicide, but I don’t support capital punishment because too many mistakes are made. When Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, wanted to die, by all means, I was for that. It was his choice, but so is someone’s desire to stop the suffering and indignity that death can carry with it. This an important debate and discussion, so please weigh on this provocative topic.