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Medical Moment: Compassion and choices

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 5:39 PM EDT
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Dying happens to everyone, but how you die can play a factor in how you feel during the end of your life.

For 43 years, Ben Wald was Pam’s whole world.

In 2005, he fought and won his battle with colon cancer. But six years later his cancer came back, and it had metastasized to his lungs. It was stage 4.

“Ben hung in there for about ten months and then things just started going really downhill,” Pam recalls.

He was in a lot of pain, couldn’t eat, and went from 175 to 118-pounds.

Barbara Coombs Lee, President Emerita of Compassion & Choices, says, ”Most people die in moderate to severe untreated pain with their wishes ignored. People who are dying deserve better”

National medical director Dr. David Grube puts it in even simpler terms: “In America now, it’s getting very complicated to die.”

Compassion and Choices is an organization focuses on assisting people exploring their end-of-life options. One of those options is the ability to choose medical aid in dying. The organization believes when it comes to end-of-life choices, three things are key.

“Comforting them, respecting their wishes, and trying to avoid suffering,” says Dr. Grube. “We don’t favor medical aid in dying over any other option. What we favor is that people really know their options.”

Ben lived in Oregon, which allows for medical aid in dying. Medical aid in dying is based on state regulations. 20% of Americans live in a jurisdiction that allows for medical aid in dying. One-third of adults who go through the process to get approval for medical aid in dying end up not taking the medication.

Dr. Grube says going through the process can be very comforting for terminally ill patients by empowering them to have a choice. He says in states with medical aid in dying, there has not been an increase in people dying, but there has been a decrease in people suffering.

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