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The wife of one of my college classmates had a brain tumor that had failed to respond to chemotherapy and radiation, and instead of waiting out the last few months of her life with gradually increasing headaches, loss of ability to function, and perhaps slowly slipping into brain death before her body died, she decided that she wished to intentionally end her life, and to hasten death. Her husband agreed to support her, they had a lovely last evening together and she drank the lethal prescription. Unfortunately, reality invaded this tender and vulnerable scene and the system intervened rushing her to the hospital and reviving her – quite against her clear wishes.
What happened next is very important, and well-told in the beginning of this conversation. Very few of us would ever want to be in the kind of situation Gary found himself in – but it is likely that many of us will find ourselves in his situation, or even that of his wife Varian. What Gary has to share with us in this show can make us much better prepared to deal with it.
The latter half of the interview is with Judy Schwarz who has a RN, a MSN as well as a PhD in nursing. Her specialty is dealing with the ethics of the Right To Die movement and the development of humane, respectful and loving environments and opportunities where people can intentionally choose to hasten their death.
Dr. Schwarz explains to us why the term “assisted suicide” is not what we are talking about here. In these cases, it is required that at least 2 physicians agree that the life expectancy is less than 6 months, that the person is of sound mind and capable of making a truly rational decision. The primary reason is not to avoid pain or because of depression, but it is to terminate their lives to save needless suffering of them or their families, as well as to not eat up the families’ financial resources paying for expensive high-tech medical interventions.
As people grow older, they very often experience the onset of anxiety and fear. Some people are afraid of dying, but most people are not. They are afraid of their last few months or years being characterized by excruciating pain and dementia. Knowing that an answer is available is enormously relieving to people; making their last years much more peaceful. In fact, as Dr. Schwarz will explain, 1/3 of all the lethal prescriptions written by doctors in those states where this is legal, are never filled! While this is a subject we would all rather avoid, I think that you will find what is shared in this episode moving and personally valuable to you.
About Judy Shwartz, RN, MSN, PhD:
Judith Schwarz, RN, MSN, Ph.D. is a nurse who recently retired from her position as the Clinical Coordinator of Compassion & Choices of New York where she worked since 2002, the year she completed her PhD in nursing at New York University.
Her research involved interviewing nurses about the experience of being asked by decisionally capable patients for assistance in dying. She was the Regional Clinical Coordinator for Compassion & Choices in the Northeast for 8 years, and in that capacity provided end of life information and support to decisionally capable, terminally ill persons who contacted the C&C end of life consultation service. She completed a certification program in bioethics and the medical humanities and has taught ethics and health care law to nursing students on a number of CUNY campuses.
She lectures frequently to professional nursing and palliative care audiences as well as to lay groups and publishes regularly in professional journals. She has recently focused her writing and speaking on the option of voluntarily stopping eating and drinking as a means for peaceful, patient-controlled dying.
To find out more about Judy and her work, visit endoflifechoicesny.org .
Dr. Miller’s Programs Relevant to Death with Dignity:
Whatever you’re dealing with, stress most likely has something to do with it. An estimated 90% of all illness and disease begins with stress. Using techniques drawn from meditative and prayerful disciplines as well as soothing music, the Healing Journey program helps melt away stress whether you’re anxious and overwhelmed by everyday life or trying to recover from a specific illness or chronic condition. In the 30-plus years since Dr. Miller created this program, Healing Journey has helped countless people relax and connect with their inner healing source. And it holds the distinction of being the first nationally published guided imagery experience featuring music and deep relaxation.
Dealing with loss is one of our most difficult challenges. The loss of possessions, social status, a loved one, or even the imminent loss of your own life can be difficult to deal with. Until we change our self image and our image of the world, our emotions and ego defense mechanisms can burden us and prevent us from what we really need to do.
This program was developed after months of meditation on Tao Te Ching, the Taoist classic that celebrates emptiness and balance. “30 spokes has the wheel, it is the hole in the center that makes it useful. A house is constructed of wood, but it has no value without windows and doors . . . What is not there enables us to use what is there.” An intriguing philosophical, as well as a practical experience.
This wonderful program speaks to all types of caregivers. It consists of a Heart-to-Heart talk, a reminder of the true source of healing, how the relationship with a caregiver can support this healing, and how important it is to recognize caregiver stress and prevent caregiver burnout. The thrust of this talk is to encourage caregivers to take the time to keep themselves healthy, physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are over 65 million caregivers in the US, and caregiver depression is a common condition.