Death with dignity

image3 A friend sent me this poem, in honor of the Death with Dignity act passing in Washington State this past election:

meditation on a falling leaf

A single tender leaf
Yawns and stretches wide
Turning to face the warm,
Settling in
Wholly individual and complete
Undeniably part of the whole.

In the fullness of time
And dressed for the occasion
Surrenders to the moment of her choosing.

I alone am there
To honor and admire
That final graceful pirouette.


5 thoughts on “Death with dignity

  1. Margaret Dore says:

    A beautiful poem.

    The premise of surrender at “the moment of her choosing” is, unfortunately, off the mark. Under the new act, the “choice” will likely be influenced by others, for example, an insurer or a family member who benefits from the death. See: Margaret Datiles, A Price on Your Head, Washington Times, November 2, 2008,

    Under prior law, the woman would have been protected.

    Margaret Dore

  2. I disagree – there’s no evidence that the people who have made use of the existing Death with Dignity act in Oregon have been pressured by others.

    You’ll notice in the article you cite that the woman wanted to live. She did not feel pressured by the insurance company to commit suicide, and did not in fact commit suicide. She died naturally of her illness shortly afterward. Although the insurance company was dramatically callous in their approach to her illness, the fault lies with the company, not with the law.

    It cannot be argued that the law allowed the company to deny her the medication she wanted. The illness she had was terminal and the medication had almost no chance of helping her. It seems unlikely that the treatment would have been paid for under any plan. Aside from that, the fact that death is an alternative is not, in any state, adequate grounds for denying treatment, if that treatment will be effective and the patient wants it.

    For anyone in her shoes who did want to end her life, having the insurance company cover that process would be a kindness to herself and her family, not the horrifying statement about her worth that this woman perceived it as.

    Under prior law, the woman would not have been protected from anything other than shock at the fact that she had options. She would still not have received treatment, and she would still have died of her illness.

    Under prior law, the rest of us are unduly influenced by those who think we must live, no matter how awful our life. Everyone but us gets to make those choices. People who don’t even know us or have never had a chronic illness get to decide that no matter how bad the pain or loss of dignity, a person must continue to live and continue to suffer for no purpose at all, being a burden on themselves, their families, and what little money they might have left that THEY may want to provide to their heirs, rather than being eaten up by useless treatment, useless drugs, and needless suffering.

    I particularly resent the suggestion that a person in that situation might be depressed, and therefore is not trusted to make this decision for themselves. What sane person wouldn’t be depressed, sad, regretful, and mourning the loss of the rest of their expected life, their dignity and their health? This does not take away their right to make decisions affecting their own life. Treatment for depression will not cure the cancer, alleviate the unending pain, nor make living any easier, since the problem is a real one that will only end in death, one way or another, sooner rather than later.

    So before this law, I did not feel I had any choice or any protection. I am sufficiently strong-minded to make this choice on my own, without pressure either way from others. And I appreciate knowing that when and if I get to that point, I’ll have the choice.

  3. YellowdogD says:


    Razors pain you;
    Rivers are damp;
    Acids stain you;
    And drugs cause cramp;
    Guns aren’t lawful;
    Nooses give;
    Gas smells awful;
    You might as well live.

    Dorothy Parker

  4. coppermoon says:

    Beautiful poem – All humans should be allowed this grace and dignity when leaving this world. A quote from “The Book of Unholy Mischief”: “Staying alive for its own sake has no more meaning than a ticking clock…..To die is nothing, but to live with purpose and integrity, that’s something.”

  5. Quiet says:

    This, to me, is like abortion. It is a matter for the individual.

    It seems to me that at present only the wealthy can afford the assisted death clinics such as Dignitas in Switzerland.

    I would like to see high quality palliative care available to everyone.

    When my mother was dying the compassionate nursing staff administered morphine to ease her distress and it resulted in an easy death. The boundaries between compassionate palliative care and assisted death can be blurred.

    I know that is not the point, however.

    I’m one who has faith and trust that I will be supported in death as in life. Although, there may be distress it will be relatively short.

    Mind you, I have been hugely ambivalent about suicide. It has taken a long time to reach my present position.

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