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Option at Life’s End

By August 24, 2021No Comments

On Friday, 8/13/21, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat posted an in depth and poignant article about a senior citizen, Ralph Harms, who had been suffering from skin cancer for a long time, and the profound choice that he made.

In July, Ralph was told by his doctor that the cancer had spread throughout his body and that he had one month to live.  Ralph was already experiencing constant pain, and he know that the pain would increase during his final month.  After much consideration, self-reflection and family discussion, Ralph chose to make use of the California End of Life Option Act to end his life on his own terms.  He reached out to journalist Kerry Benefield requesting that she follow him on his journey, which she and photographer John Burgess did for nearly three weeks.  Ralph’s main reason for wanting this article was that he wished to inform people suffering from a painful terminal illness that they have an option at life’s end.

Whether you agree with medical aid in dying (MAID) or not, this article presented Ralph’s journey with respect and objectivity.  I knew that there would be letters to the editor both in support of and against this act.  One letter writer said that MAID normalizes suicide, but there is an important distinction:  someone wanting to take their own life due to personal hardship or depression is quite different than someone who has a terminal illness and knows that they will have to endure much pain and will soon die.  In the former case, there is a possibility that things may turn around for the better.  In the latter case, there is no turning around.  The person is dying.  Yes, they are alive, but they are actively dying.  Is it not understandable that they would want to hasten their death?

The decision to end one’s life is a very personal choice.  What would be right for me may not be right for you.  While I may not agree with your choice, I fervently believe that you have the right to decide what is best for you.  The greater question is, given a painful and terminal illness, should one have the option to choose exactly when and how their life will end?  California voters and voters in nine other states and Washington DC have answered that question.

Read the Press Democrat article about Ralph Harms here: