Compassion & Choices Arizona

Open Letters
from the terminally ill

Why Do You Want to Keep Me Alive?

by Joe Stern

I have terminal cancer with no hope for cure or remission. At 87, I am still mobile, but in pain every moment I am awake. Drugs ease my pain, but do not, for a single minute, eliminate it. Soon I will require massive help. I dread the final few weeks with my family around waiting for me to die.

I would like to end my life when I require massive help to feed and dress myself. I don't look forward to the increased pain and suffering. My government forbids me from a dignified assisted death.

If I were condemned to death, the government would bend over backward to make sure I didn't suffer too long and that my death would as painless as possible. If I were being tortured in a foreign country, my country would protest loudly, but now it forces me to suffer a slow agonizing death.

Where does this barbarous prohibition come from? Is it due to some people's religious beliefs? If that is the case, it is unconstitutional, as the Constitution tells us that Congress shall make no laws restricting freedom of religion. Others are forbidden from forcing me to adhere to their religious beliefs. Where else could such a prohibition come from? Can someone please tell me? Why do the people subject me to such torture? What gives them the right? Even animals are put to sleep humanely when they are in pain with no hope of recovery. Am I less than an animal?

When I say government, I obscure the blame. In our country, government derives its rights from the consent of the governed. It is people like some of you reading my words right now who instruct my government to continue torturing me.

But someone does benefit. Hospitals benefit. Drug companies benefit. Makers of hospital supplies benefit. They benefit at the expense of my family and all the people who could benefit from the money these corporations receive, in better health care, education or any number of other ways.

Think about this: Do you want to torture me? Do you want to help the health industry make profit from my suffering? Do you want to deny me the dignified assisted death I will soon desire? If so, why? Please give me one logical reason why my family should be emotionally and financially drained, and why my country's resources should be given to this useless prolongation of life.

Joe Stern
November 21, 1997

Letter from Kay Milner, Sun City, Arizona

My Dear Friends,

By the time you receive this letter I will be gone. Please read this letter knowing I am doing what I want to do. Please don't feel regrets for me. It is my choice.

I was informed on June 10, 1997, that I had lung cancer. I consulted a pulmonary specialist, a thoracic surgeon, and an oncologist. I had several chest x-rays, an extended breathing test, and a lung biopsy, followed by conferences of radiologists and all the other doctors. I was told that the cancer was of a fast growing type and even with major lung surgery and extensive, aggressive chemotherapy and radiation the chances of survival were only about 20% for a two year period, and even then I would be oxygen dependent for whatever time I had left to live. Faced with that grim prognosis, I immediately decided to have no surgery or treatment of any kind.

I have spent these last months getting my affairs in order and enjoying what few activities, events, and friends that I was able to enjoy. My thinking for years has been that death was not to be feared but should be as quick and painless as possible. Hospice care facilities and hospitals were not to my liking, mainly because of legal restrictions, and consequently I supported the idea of self deliverance and that is what I have done.

One-third of my estate will be donated to the Hemlock Society, hopefully to promote changes in legislation that will allow everyone to have more control over their last days alive. I hope that, in the future, you will give thought and support to any recognized right-to-die organization that gives each individual the option to die when and how they choose, without recrimination from the laws, insurance companies, religions, families, or any other outside influences.

You might not agree with what I have done and you might not ever want to consider self deliverance for yourself, but I hope you agree that I, and thousands of others in the same position as I was, should have the right of ending our lives as we wish to, without pain, debilitation, and suffering, and while we are still mentally and physically in control of our own destinies.

I have enjoyed your company and friendship immensely. It has been a great satisfaction to me and I consider it a privilege to have known you.

Good-bye, my friends.