(Updated October 5, 2015)
The California deserts are now heating up, so we’re back home along the coast and enjoying moderate temperatures and the serenity of our beautiful yard bursting with glorious spring blooms.
Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans, also known as the hummingbird vine
It is nice to be reminded that life is glorious and fabulous. Life is also precious and fleeting.* Sometimes life is cut short or made unbearable by cancer. “Well here is something that is going to intersect with all of our lives,” says Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee in Barak Goodman’s six-hour documentary film, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,”* produced by Ken Burns and recently aired on PBS over three consecutive nights, based on Mukherjee’s book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Dr. Mukherjee says, “This is one of the most significant human challenges in our history,” and yet he is optimistic and says, “We are finally beginning to understand what causes cancer at a cellular or molecular or genetic level, in a way that we just did not know ten years ago, or even five years ago.” (This film or related videos can be viewed online at PBS.org.)
But scientific breakthroughs have not come soon enough for some terminally ill patients, such as Brittany Maynard, who was terminally ill with an inoperable brain tumor. Brittany made national news last November when she relocated from California to Oregon to legally obtain medication to self-administer to aid the dying process. I hadn’t learned about her until I read Lympho Pixie’s post, “Something I’ve Never Done Before,” in her “This Cancer Thing” blog.
Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico are the only states that currently have right-to-die, death-with-dignity legislation that authorizes aid in dying. Brittany’s dying wish was for laws to be changed to prevent prolonged, involuntary suffering for all who are terminally ill, because “freedom from prolonged pain and suffering is a most basic human right.” Two weeks before her death, she made a video, Brittany Maynard Legislative Testimony,* which was presented on March 25 in the California Senate Health Committee hearing of California Senate Bill 128 – End of Life Option Act.
I was happy that this bill had been approved by the California Senate Health Committee, Judiciary Committee, Appropriations Committee and the California Senate. But I was saddened that SB 128 stalled in the California Assembly Health Committee on July 7. I am happy to report that on August 18, 2015, the End of Life Option Act was reintroduced in a special session of the California legislature as Assembly Bill X2-15 (ABX2-15). According to Compassion & Choices, “This legislation would provide an option for a mentally competent, terminally ill person with less than six months to live to ask for and receive a prescription from their doctor for medication to end their dying process should their suffering become too great.” In early September, this bill was approved by the California Assembly Health and Developmental Services Committee and the Assembly Finance Committee. I am now very happy to report that this bill passed the California Senate on Friday, September 11 and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 5, 2015!
Compassion & Choices says:
“California is now the fifth U.S. state to authorize aid in dying, and by far the biggest and most influential. This achievement will resonate throughout our country, and inspire other states to follow suit.
At the foundation of this remarkable moment is the support of you and other C&C donors. People from all walks of life have joined together to transform our nation’s understanding of death with dignity, and have raised the ruckus necessary to break down barriers that have kept options from so many.
While we celebrate, we also recognize the fight is far from over. Our opponents are furious at their loss and will use every trick in the book to overturn the will of the people. We need your support today to defend this law, and our movement, with every ounce of our considerable strength.”
You can also find out more about legislation, local chapters and how you can help in your state through Compassion & Choices. California updates and what Californians can do can be viewed on Compassion and Choices’ California webpage.
Talking about death is difficult and taboo for some. After the second episode of the above film, our local PBS station aired “Consider the Conversation 2: Stories About Cure, Relief, and Comfort,” the second in the Consider the Conversation series about how we want to live at life’s end. This video explores the unintended consequences of medicine’s successes and the importance of good communication between doctors, patients, families and friends. (See the Vimeo video preview, Consider the Conversation 2)
I have also learned about living and mindfulness through the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, such as his, “Like a Leaf, we have many stems,”* in his book, Peace Is Every Step – The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life.
And finally, here is Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Great Bell Chant – The End of Suffering.*
* This is a link to a YouTube video.