On November 6, 2016 a dear friend of mine ended her journey on this planet, surrounded by her closest friends and family. She took her last breaths in her bed, in her home, in her own way. She planned every detail of her last day. Her main wish was to have a life celebration in her home where we could all be together to send her on her way. Not always do the dying have the chance in their last days to say their goodbyes, give thanks to others, or to be fully present and aware for this experience. She was able to do this before she died because she chose to receive physician-assisted suicide.
It all started nearly one year earlier when unresolved symptoms led to tests, which led to biopsies that produced a diagnosis of advanced cancer. The typical path was taken with chemotherapy, multiple medications and radiation, all without effective results. My friend fought the cancer with everything she had which gave her many opportunities to enjoy her family and friends, alternating with days of pain and misery.
This fun, intelligent and loving woman was a nurse too and knew all too well how her last days would likely go. She would eventually become completely dependent upon others to be cared for as she lost her abilities to function. This was not the way she wanted to die. So after discussing her plans with her family and friends, she started the process of arranging for her death. Needless to say, her plan met with many mixed feelings from her loved ones, yet we all came together for her to honor her wishes.
My friend became connected with a long-time community doctor who led her and all of us through the process. He came to her home so we could all meet and learn how this was to proceed. The doctor told her it was imperative that she start hospice services first. Hospice nurses would ensure that in the time she had left she would be made as comfortable as possible. After receiving approval from two additional doctors, she was given a prescription for the drug Seconal that would be used to put her to sleep.
The closest pharmacy that dispensed this large a dose of the medication was in Palo Alto, so someone had to drive her from Sonoma County to pick it up. When they arrived at the pharmacy, they were told they were fortunate to get the last dose available and it would cost $2700. The Seconal could only be provided in a total of 90 capsules so it would require several individuals to open them to dissolve the powdery substance into an 8 oz glass of juice. This took nearly one hour for three people to complete on her last day.
After several hours of love and laughter with us on her last day, my friend proceeded with her plan as guided by the doctor. She first took a prescribed anti-nausea medication so she would be sure to keep the Seconal down. Thirty minutes later she drank her beverage followed by a sip of wine and a sip of water. She walked into her bedroom, laid down on her bed with her loved ones at her side. Sleep came quickly and about three hours later she took her last breath. The doctor stayed the entire time and supported us through it all. He explained that each person responds differently to the medication and death may occur in anywhere from thirty minutes to three to four hours after taking the drug.
During the hours my friend spent with her family and friends before her death she looked blissfully peaceful and repeatedly said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better last day. This is exactly what I had hoped for.” Somehow she made us feel that is was all going exactly as it was supposed to. As so it was.