Another View: Dying patients deserve to decide their last days

Elizabeth Wallner
Elizabeth Wallner

Until I discovered that my cancer had spread to my liver and lungs, I never would have paid attention to the California Medical Association’s decision to drop its opposition to medical aid in dying.

While the new neutral policy has its critics (“Doctors must not aid suicide,” Viewpoints, May 26), the association’s acknowledgment that “it’s up to the patient and their physician to choose the course of treatment best suited for the situation” means a great deal to me.

I have been fighting my cancer with 18 rounds of chemotherapy that have made me mind-bendingly sick. I have had four surgeries to remove parts of my liver and colon. I have undergone radiation and other treatments that offer even the slightest hope of extending life.

Death doesn’t scare me. What scares me is to have my son and family members watch me die slowly and painfully. I don’t want this agonizingly traumatic image to be their last memory of me.

That is why I support Senate Bill 128, which would give mentally competent, terminally ill adults with only months or weeks to live the option to request a prescription from a doctor that they could take to die peacefully.

The Senate deadline to vote on the bill is fast approaching on June 5, so I joined a lawsuit filed last week by Compassion & Choices on behalf of terminally or seriously ill Californians who want this option. The lawsuit notes that current law allows incurable, terminally ill adults to tell their doctors to stop life-sustaining treatments or to sedate them into a coma, and withhold nutrition and fluids until they die days or even weeks later.

We believe that there is no rational reason to differentiate between these legally authorized medical practices and prescribing medication to terminally ill adults who request it. The lawsuit also asks the court to clarify that the state constitution and existing law protect physicians from criminal prosecution for providing aid in dying.

I believe all Californians should have the option to make end-of-life decisions that are right for them in the final stages of a terminal illness. While this option may not be for everyone, I believe it should be available to Californians who seek it.

Elizabeth Wallner is a 51-year-old single mother who lives in Sacramento.