Death with Dignity

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(HOST) Commentator Edith Hunter has been thinking a lot lately about end-of-life issues.

(HUNTER) "Death with Dignity" is going to be very much in the news this year in Vermont. A bill will probably be debated allowing doctors to assist terminally ill persons to end their own lives.

I think I am in favor of such legislation, but I also think there is a great deal each one of us can do, even without legislation to take some of the burden off the backs of doctors. Each of us has been given the wonderful opportunity to live in this world, and then each of us must leave. We need to be more graceful about giving up our places without making every attempt to keep alive as long as possible.

There have been three examples in my own life in which relatives have chosen for themselves death with dignity. My husband, Armstrong, had a heart attack in the middle of the night after working until midnight doing what he loved best, working with his son Will to get out one of his publications. When he awoke with a sharp chest pain, I said I would call an ambulance.

"Oh, no, you won’t," he said, and in ten minutes he was dead. He had lived 79 years and helped launch four wonderful children into the world. He lived with dignity to the end, and died with dignity.

My mother lived with us for the last 16 years of her life. When she was 82 she went to the hospital with pneumonia. After her hospital stay, she asked me to promise that I would never let her go to the hospital again. I promised.

One day when she was 90 she called me into her little sitting room. She said something had happened in her body and she felt it was probably fatal. Did I remember my promise? I did. She became very weak and within a few days she died. She had lived her life with dignity, and she died with dignity.

My mother-in-law was an active 80-year-old. She had lived her adult life in California, but much of her family was in the east. She thought nothing of driving back and forth across the United States. She must have done it 50 times. When in the east, she lived near us.

When she was 87 she had several minor strokes. After the most severe one she knew her driving days were over. She began to fail and she announced to Armstrong and me that she was going to pretty much stop eating. A friend had terminated her life in this way, and it had taken about three weeks.

In the final week she moved in with us and ate less and less. We cooperated. She lived with dignity until the end of her life, and she died with dignity.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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