‘Cowards’ killed medical aid in dying

April 5, 2017


Editorial| Island Voices
‘Cowards’ killed medical aid in dying
By Teresa Shook

NOTE: Teresa Shook, of Maui, is the original founder of the Women’s March Washington.

Hawaii’s “Death With Dignity” Bill has been shelved. The bill would have allowed terminally ill people to have a choice to die without suffering. The title does not refer to the notion some people have that choosing to end life prior to its natural occurrence is the “coward’s way out.”

The “cowards” are those who refused to support the bill. No matter which side of the fence our local politicians lean on, the “politics as usual” mentality will fail. The weight of the Resistance against entrenched systems that no longer serve the people will create a tipping point that breaks the stranglehold. Make no mistake — each and every political representative will be held accountable.  This bill asks nothing more than to allow those who are terminally ill to have control over their dying process. Who can argue against that? Some say their God thinks it’s a sin. But voters in Hawaii represent many beliefs and cultures. Passage of the bill would allow the option for those whose beliefs are not conflicted by such matters. Politics has no business basing decisions on religion — covertly or overtly.

Clearly those who failed to support the bill have never sat by the bed of a loved one with a terminal illness watching them slowly lose their identity to pain and suffering. The loved one wishes they could end the suffering their family endures — the family wishes they could end the suffering for their loved one. The memory of that event never fades. I know.

My younger sister, Brenda, contracted a virus that caused her to have cardial myopathy just before her 30th birthday. It was a fluke. A random event. She had the flu and then suddenly she was dying. There was no cure — unless a heart donor became available — which at that time (20 years ago) was rare. There was a long waiting list. They stabilized her at first but eventually she became so sick she had to be hospitalized in hopes that a donor would become available.

She became weak; it was difficult for her to talk. Her skin turned the color of bleached bones with the papery feel of parchment. She said she wanted to die. I was helpless to save her and helpless to grant her request. The days passed. They hooked her up to a respirator. They hooked her up to a heart machine that sucked the blood out and back in. The whoosh whoosh of the respirator — the suck, suck of the heart machine — will never leave me. They pumped her full of steroids. Her body ballooned up like a blowfish. Her organs started failing. Whoosh, whoosh. Suck, suck. My father punched a hole in the hospital wall. My mother disappeared inside herself, never to return.

Eventually from my shell-shocked place I asked the doctors “could she survive a transplant if a heart donor became available?” “No,” said the anonymous white coats floating all around our periphery.

She had signed a declaration of “no artificial means of support.” We unhooked her from the machines to end her suffering. By then my beautiful, crazy, full-of-life sister was an unrecognizable blob of dehumanized flesh. She died within minutes of “unhooking” her. She should have been allowed the choice of “death with dignity.”

Each politician who fails to support this bill should sit by a dying person and say, “I voted against the ‘death with dignity’ bill. I think you and your family should suffer.”

Because that is what your failure to act will cause.