"Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" is a quotation attributed to Patrick Henry from a speech he made to the Virginia Convention. It was given on March 23, 1775, at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia, and is credited with having swung the balance in convincing the Virginia House of Burgesses to pass a resolution delivering the Virginia troops to the Revolutionary War. Among the delegates to the convention were future US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Reportedly, those in attendance, upon hearing the speech, shouted, "give me liberty or give me death!"
The quote “Give me Liberty, or give me Death” has become forever woven into the fabric of American culture. It pronounces that there is valor and honor in fighting for the concept of liberty, the “American Dream”. Throughout history the notion of “dying in battle” has been portrayed as glorious and heroic. Death is not to be feared but honored.Even today we have hundreds of thousands of American troops fighting wars and battles throughout the world, with Americans dying or being maimed each day. We rightfully view their dedication to us as honorable.
So it makes one wonder why we have such issue as an American public discussing death, and the choices that are being made every day as to who lives and who dies.
Death panels? Actually, in a way, yes. Our current system is set up so that medical treatment is available to some but not all and that decisions as to who lives and who dies are being made daily by both the government and corporations.So what do we agree upon about death? Most agree that if a person decides not to continue with treatments (will not take pills) which would prolong their life, but not “cure them”, that such person has the right to die with dignity and refuse treatment.
Funny how when we change one simple word, “not”, so as to allow people to die with dignity, with the aid of modern medicine, we create a firestorm of debate as to “dying with dignity” versus “assisted suicide.” Somehow we decide that valor, honor and heroism is saved only for those who die in battle.HBO in “How to Die In Oregon”, winner of the Grand Jury Prize (Documentary) 2011 Sundance Film Festival, adds a human face to the question of dying with dignity.
Have you ever watched someone die from a terminal illness?
Terminal illness is a medical term popularized in the 20th century to describe a disease that cannot be cured or adequately treated and that is reasonably expected to result in the death of the patient within a relatively short period of time. A patient who has such an illness may be referred to as a terminal patient, terminally ill or simply terminal. Often, a patient is considered to be terminally ill when the life expectancy is estimated to be six months or less, under the assumption that the disease will run its normal course.Some terminally ill patients stop all debilitating treatments to reduce unwanted side effects. Others continue aggressive treatment in the hope of an unexpected success. Still others reject conventional medical treatment and pursue unproven treatments such as radical dietary modifications. Patients' choices about different treatments may change over time.
According to Patient Refusal of Nutrition and Hydration: Walking the Ever-Finer Line American Journal Hospice & Palliative Care, pp. 8-13, March/April 1995:
People who feel they are near the end of their life often intentionally refuse food and/or water. Published studies indicate that "within the context of adequate palliative care, the refusal of food and fluids does not contribute to suffering among the terminally ill", and might actually contribute to a comfortable passage from life: "At least for some persons, starvation does correlate with reported euphoria."
So we allow people to starve themselves to death but we object to other more humane ways to end life? So why do we view it as "heroic" for someone to suffer pain impossible to imagine until they ultimately die as opposed to assisted suicide for a terminal illness with no hope of survival? Is it just the historical mythology of gladiators fighting to the death? What is “heroic” or “honorable” about fighting pain and misery so intolerable that no rational person would endure it?
Those who are opposed to the “right to die with dignity” say that it is “weak”, “that the dying person lacks “dignity”, that ending life (when terminally ill) is somehow different than dying with “courage” and “valor” and excruciating pain . We Americans like our heroes to suffer? Right?Death is an inevitable part of life.
If we give mothers drugs to bring us into “life”, then why are we so opposed to allowing adults with terminal illness the right to use the same to bring us to the “after-life”. We are all headed there. None of us are immune from death. Or is it that various religious ideologies are being imposed upon us? But that is why we have separation of Church and State so that no single religion should impose its doctrines on all of us. It should remain a personal choice.
Peter Richardson’s documentary How to Die in Oregon follows the lives, the decisions and the experiences of people with terminal illnesses who consider whether to achieve a peaceful death using life-ending medication under the guidelines of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.Why would you or should you watch what undoubtedly will be painful to watch? Because that person suffering could be you, me, your mom or dad, or sister or brother, husband, wife or partner. We all hate the thought of watching the people we love suffer. We all want to know the answer to the question of “what is best for my mom (etc.).”
And that is the ultimate question, “what is right for the person dying?” We all want our mom or dad to die with dignity. Watching a loved one die is never easy. But what is a “dignified” way to die? And who gets to decide?In 1994, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to legalize physician aid-in-dying. At the time, only two countries (Switzerland and the Netherlands) permitted the practice, but more than 500 Oregonians have since ended their life using the law. How To Die In Oregon is a powerful, compassionate exploration of Oregon’s historic and controversial Death with Dignity Act, which legalizes physician aid-in-dying for some terminally ill patients. The film tells the stories of people who died under the act, and follows the crusade of one woman who honors her husband by fighting for similar choices in the state of Washington.
Peter D. Richardson, the Director and Producer of this film took fours years to follow the lives of persons struggling with terminal illness as well as their families, friends and Doctors.
Using personal interviews with volunteers, advocates, and terminally ill patients throughout Oregon and Washington, Richardson paints a picture of these struggles but does so in a way that it affirms life as opposed to focusing on death.
Perhaps the most compelling story emerges with Cody Curtis, her family and her oncologist. Through Cody and those around her, director Peter Richardson created an emotional and life-affirming film which will help people everywhere better understand what it means to regain control of one's own end of life care when faced with a terminal illness and to die with dignity.
You can read first hand Cody's own account of her story HERE.
Cody was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in December of 2007, at the age of just fifty-two. Cholangiocarcinoma is a cancer of the bile duct. Your bile duct runs through your liver.
According to Cody in her own words:
"The outcome is clear in my case. If you’re willing to look at what’s likely to happen, it’s fairly awful. People with this kind of cancer die of massive organ failure and it’s not pretty. And I already did that to my family last year, bouncing in and out of the hospital. My husband took six months of family leave from his job as a consultant. Our son was just back from the Peace Corps and was with me in the hospital every day. Our daughter flew home a number of times. "So it begs the question again? Who should decide what is best for you when you are terminally ill? Why should we consider it to be somehow more "heroic" to suffer until we die a death which is inevitable? And why are we so easy to send our young men and women into battle to die, yet object to some one's decision to have death with dignity?
"The hardest part about the Death with Dignity stuff is deciding when to take the drugs. It’s a totally loaded subject because for people who are religious it’s a mortal sin. I have friends who are religious and I don’t want to offend them. But it’s an important choice to have, instead of the model where we throw so much money at "treating” people who are dying. I’m extremely grateful to my doctors for leveling with me about the course of this disease, so my family and I have a choice about how and when to die."
Isn't that the ultimate form of Liberty? Death is not to be feared but honored.
HBO's documentary "How To Die In Oregon" premiered May 26 on HBO. It may be watched at HBO On Demand (under documentary) or at these times.