One day I was at coffee with the person who would be my partner. I was working on a set of papers about euthanasia. We began discussing the topic, as we often do.. pretty soon he asked, “would you go to jail for me?” — that’s how an important discussion began with my partner. It was early in our friendship, before we were really partners, and his question startled me, at first. When pressed, he asked if I’d be willing to “hit him with a shovel” to end his life — should he become terminally ill and in pain.
The simple and complex answer I gave him was “yes, if you’ll do the same for me” — and thus, a partnership was formed.
Like other people who have had cancer, I’ve thought about end of life decisions in a very real way. My breast cancer has a very high survival rate, but being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, having a mastectomy and chemo forces those thoughts — I was 39 when I really thought about my own death for the first time.
Before cancer I’d done plenty of teaching about euthanasia. I read all the readings in a variety of textbooks. I knew what the philosophers, theologians, and physicians thought about it. I agreed in principle that a person who is in constant, chronic, severe pain ought not be required to exist if they wanted to end their own life.
Between cancer and the discussion with my partner, I was also blessed to be involved in removing life support from my grandfather. He’d been an active 90-year-old when an aortic aneurysm stopped his life as he knew it. He survived surgery but wasn’t doing well in the ICU. Our family understood that recovery was going to be difficult for him, if he ever got out of the hospital. It was clear that he was having some perceptions, but he never regained consciousness. In the end, his children decided to stop life support. It was peaceful and I’m glad I was there for the end of his life.
Removing life support is not the same as active euthanasia. In my mind, they’re related because I think that every person should have the opportunity to have a peaceful and relatively pain-free end of their life. If that means that euthanasia needs to be legal, and it does mean that, then it should be legal and available for every person.