The Toronto Star looks at the 2013 death of 76-year old geologist, Ed Horn, who was in the late stages of ALS, Lou Gherig disease.
Ed Horn, a 76-year-old geologist, was dying of ALS. A doctor asked him if he had any religious qualms about his decision to end his life by giving himself a lethal medication. He said no.
“I’m a scientist,” Nancy Horn, his wife of 54 years, remembers him responding. “I believe in the earth.”
Ed Horn got to die in nature. Someone from Compassion & Choices, the group that supports patients who have opted for “death with dignity,” let the Horns borrow a little house in the Oregon hills with a fireplace and a picture window.
“It was just lovely,” Nancy Horn, 75, said Friday when contacted at her home in Sherwood, Ore. “It had a view over Mount Hood, the fir trees. It was just the nicest gesture that anyone has ever made for us.”
Nancy has flashbacks to Ed’s death in 2013. She does not have regrets. Had he waited even one more day, she said, he would have been too weak to fulfil the law’s requirement that he administer the deadly dose himself — “and then he would have had to go on living.”
“My husband and our family were all greatly relieved that he didn’t have to suffer on,” she said.
“After Ed died and people would come up to me and say they were sorry, I would say, ‘I don’t know your opinion of this, but Ed had chosen death with dignity.’ And they all said, ‘Oh, isn’t that the greatest? Wasn’t he lucky?’ Every single person I spoke to said the same thing.”
What makes Oregon's end of life regime special is that while it's enormously popular with the public and open to so many terminally ill patients, it's rarely used to end life.
What Oregon's law does is allow the terminally ill to die without the terror of having to go through unbearable suffering at the end. It's an option. There's no booking an appointment, no travel to a clinic where medical staff wait to put you down. There's no death on some strangers' terms and timetable, nothing resembling Death Row. You have a prescription. You fill that prescription or you don't. If you do, you receive a medication to painlessly end your life. You take it or you don't and, if you do take it, you choose when and where and how. It's the patient's life and their life to end as they see fit.
What Oregon has found is that most people are able to go through the dying process without taking the Death with Dignity option. There are many reasons a person would choose a normal death. Yet even those who don't take life-ending drugs have the comfort of knowing they have the option. Anything less is inhumane.