Dying New Yorkers deserve a peaceful end with medical aid
In early April, I was 85, in relatively good health for my age, living independently, and looking forward to more good years with family and friends, continuing to do the things I’ve always enjoyed.
But then, in the middle of the night on April 12, I woke up and my hands were tingling. I couldn’t sleep, so I laid down on the couch, where I immediately had a heart attack (although I didn’t realize it actually was a heart attack until it was diagnosed the next day). Believe it or not — and this is the honest truth — in the morning I got up, showered, shaved and drove myself to the Veterans Affairs hospital. Then, doctors told me I had suffered a heart attack. I’ve been in the VA hospital since April 13.
It turns out I have two arterial blockages, 80% in one artery and 40% in the other. Unfortunately, because of the location of the blockages, the doctors couldn’t put in a stint. They tried to perform bypass surgery but were forced to stop after they punctured a vein in my groin. With no viable treatment options remaining and facing the looming prospect of another heart attack, aneurysm, or stroke, I enrolled in hospice in early May just to treat my symptoms. You are only eligible to receive hospice care if doctors project that you will live six months or less.
I’ve been in hospice ever since. I spend most of every day and every night in a hospital bed. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, I’m in this spot in my hospital bed, just waiting for the axe to fall and the end to come.
I only wish New York — like Vermont and nine other states, as well as Washington, D.C. — had a law authorizing medical aid in dying, which allows a mentally capable adult with a terminal prognosis of six months or less to live to request prescription medication that they can decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable to die peacefully.
I’ve spent my whole adult life as an independent New Yorker. I worked for decades as a toolmaker for different companies and built my home myself. I did a lot of hunting and fishing. Well into my 80s, I lived independently, doing my own cooking and shopping.
Now I’m 86 and I’m dying. I strongly believe I should have the ability to decide what the end of my life looks like. It’s not for someone else to tell me I have to stay in this bed waiting around for the next heart attack. I want to go quickly and painlessly. At first, I thought I could move to a hospice in Vermont, but there’s a residency requirement to access Vermont’s medical aid-in-dying law, and I just don’t have enough time to jump through the barriers necessary to change my residency.
I know the path forward will not produce a happy ride for me. I’m afraid of the pain and suffering I may face — beyond what I’m already dealing with.
The New York state Legislature has ignored this issue for the last several years. I’m a lifelong Republican but this is not a partisan issue. A recent Marist poll shows New Yorkers strongly support medical aid in dying, 59-36%, with majority support among Republicans (like me), Democrats and independents, upstaters and downstaters, regardless of race or gender.
I want this bill to pass in New York state, even though it’s unlikely to happen before I die. But if I can’t help myself, maybe I can help somebody else. I’m not the last person who’s going to be in this position. So, my parting plea to the politicians in Albany: Pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
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Raymond Stark lives in Tupper Lake.