The Right to Die – A Terrible Topic but a Terrific Book
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This book is about the right to die and about how to find accompanied suicide for those who are not certifiably terminally ill. It’s a tough topic and in Amy Bloom’s hands, it’s an engrossing one as well. It’s well researched too. The author looked into all of this for her husband, Brian, who had early onset Alzheimer’s.
According to the author, there are nine states plus the District of Columbia where United States citizens have the “right-to-die” (physician-assisted dying). However, to qualify for assisted suicide in these places is not an easy task.
- One must become a resident of the state
- And be mentally competent
- One must be assessed as having only six months to live by two doctors
- And must be able to express the wish to die – usually three times, twice orally and once in writing – to two local doctors.
- The patient must also be able to swallow what the doctor prescribes without assistance
Those who can’t talk well enough, swallow well enough, or even hold a glass on their own are out of luck in the United States. The author says, “Choosing to die and being able to act independently while terminally ill is a deliberately narrow opening.”
The author explores lots of options for her husband – Exit International, the Hemlock Society, DIY suffocation, buying sodium pentobarbital on the dark web, etc. One-by-one, she rules them out. In the end, she finds that “the only place in the world for painless, peaceful, and legal suicide is Dignitas, a Swiss nonprofit organization in the suburbs of Zurich. JSYK: It costs about $10,000 for this service not including travel costs.
If all of this is not chilling enough, the author also shares two exams that are given to patients with cognitive impairment. Thus, we get the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Clock-Drawing Test – and a little bit of fear as we imagine taking the exams ourselves.
All of this information is packed neatly inside the story of Amy and Brian’s relationship history, their marriage, the early signs of his decline, and his ultimate death. Every moment of their story is shared with humor and is compelling. The right to die is a terrible topic, but this is a terrific book to read. I recommend it heartily.
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