A dignified death



The only sure thing in life is that we all must die. No one lives forever. One does not come into life having already prepared the way in which they wish to exit it.

Time is said to be the thief that takes us all in the end, and as life expands one will at some point think about death: what it is like, or the meaning of death and why the process must happen. People have many reasons for wanting to end their life by suicide, especially when it comes to an illness.

When one is ill, all they want is release and comfort from their illness, not judgment of their final decision. Because when fear is knocking at your door, it isn’t always easy to conquer those fears if faith doesn’t answer.

A person’s illness can range from being depressed over a long interval (serious injury), extreme old age, living in excessive chronic pain, having a terminal illness, being diagnosed with a degenerative progressive illness like ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), Huntington disease, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, etc.

Once given a final diagnosis of the mind and body, one is left to become an indentured servant of their diagnoses. After the initial shock of crying fetal-position tears, some individuals live their lives to the best of their ability, while some, after years of battling their disease, call upon services like the Final Exit Network. This nonprofit organization located in Georgia believes mentally competent adults have a right to end their lives if they suffer from unbearable pain.

In May of 2015, after eight years, members of the Final Exit Network were convicted of assisting a suicide and interfering with a death scene in the state of Minnesota. The organization was charged in the death of Doreen Dunn, 57, of Apple Valley, who had been living with intense pain for more than a decade after she had a bad reaction to a medical procedure.

Those involved used helium asphyxiation, which is the group’s preferred method of suicide, to assist Dunn and then removed the device from the scene once she had passed. Because the organization provides their clients with the knowledge and means to take their own life, this is crossing the line, says the State of Minnesota.

Times have changed and it is increasingly common for friends and family to support — and even to attend — the suicides of their ill, disabled, or despondent loved ones. Ethically and morally who is right and who is wrong? This age-old debate could continue into infinity.

Dunn perhaps did not want to continue waiting until her body eventually collapsed, or burden a family member or friend with assisting her in committing suicide. It may have been enough for her to whisper little prayers into the pills that she swallowed each day in hopes that they would be the miracle pills that cured her of her pain.

One thing is for sure, back in May of 2007 when Dunn was found dead on her couch, she left the world on her terms and not just by life’s biological terms. It was her way of dignifying the act and not having society tell her how much longer she should have to endure her daily pain without allowing her disease to teach her body what goodbye meant.

Dunn had long lived the hero’s journey and wanted her physical battle to be over. Her ending was her way of raising the white flag in hopes of finding a truce with the illness that had ravished her body.

Dunn was loved and supported in life by family and friends, but in her death she lay alone supported by two individuals from the Final Exit Network that held her hand until the last hum of her sleeping breath was silenced.

Ellis is a freelance writer who lives in Minneapolis.