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'Prepared' and conflicted: Grappling with end of life choices

File: hands.
File: hands.
Rosie O'Beirne/Flickr

In January, state legislators introduced SB 128, a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. If passed, California would become the sixth state in the country to give the terminally ill the option of ending their life.

KPCC's health team is going to be covering this issue closely. Here at Impatient, we want to know whether you support this legislation, and what personal experiences shaped your views on this issue.


Under the bill, patients would be required to have two physicians confirm their prognosis – six months or less to live – and find them mentally competent.

State lawmakers last considered - and rejected - this type of bill in 2007.

Eight years later, the bill remains controversial: KPCC health reporter Elizabeth Aguilera reports that proponents say the terminally ill should have the right to end their life with medication. Opponents, she says, believe the bill doesn't provide enough safeguards to prevent abuses, especially of the elderly or disabled. Some religious groups - particularly the Catholic Church - have also opposed such efforts.

Your stories

But for many of us, physician-assisted suicide isn’t about vague notions of proponents and opponents.

Your views on this issue are likely deeply personal, influenced by experiences as a son, daughter or medical professional. Your opinions could be influenced by your age, religion, or cultural background. Your attitudes may have evolved over time. And maybe they'll continue to change, as this issue is debated in the media and at your dinner table.

As KPCC follows this discussion, we hope you'll be a part of the conversation.

To those of you who have already shared your personal stories through our Public Insight Network: Thank you. Here are some excerpts:

'I am prepared'

Gunther Steinberg, of Portola Valley, says he "absolutely" supports the right to die. He says his mother had a heart attack and after that, her health and quality of life declined for the last 15 months of her life.

That experience influenced his decision to prepare for the end of his own life, he says.

"After my mother's demise in 1965, I determined that this would never happen to me," he writes. "As a chemist, it was no problem to concoct a vial of material that would be my end, when I choose to use it."

That will happen, he says, "when the quality of life approaches zero, before going negative."

He says he hasn't reached that point yet: "Today at age almost 91, I lack one eye, have very poor hearing, which prevents me from traveling around the world alone, but I am up and around, exercising regularly at a gym and living in my home of 46 years, preparing my meals and living an active life."

But, he says, "the day will come and I am prepared."

'Mostly grey'

Responding to our question of whether he supports physician-assisted suicide, Jerry Heinrich of Glendora says the issue is complicated.

He believes that if someone is in excruciating pain and there's no cure, or no hope for a cure, then the right to die should be an option.

But he says he's also witnessed "medical miracles" and "acquaintances making poor decisions and the enormous impact it's had on family and friends." These experience, he says, tip the balance for him towards honoring the sanctity of life.

"It's not black and white," he writes. "In fact it's mostly grey." 

'A joyful passage'

Millie Paul of La Canada Flintridge asks: "If a person has a terminal illness, why should they have to suffer an excruciating and painful death, either in the hospital or outside of it?"

She speaks from her experience as a daughter. She says she watched her father die in the hospital when he wanted to die at home, and she watched her 96-year-old mother starve herself to death because she didn't want to continue living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Her beliefs are also influenced by her faith: "As a Christian, I believe that each individual should have the choice of determining how they would like to die, as they have the responsibility and choice with how they have lived," she says.

"We need to become more comfortable with the fact that we are all going to die and it doesn't have to be painful; it can be a joyful passage," she says.

'Bring me some chocolate'

Pauline Black of Oregon believes people should not be compelled to live when they no longer want to.

She tells the story of her father, who began to show signs of memory loss in his late 80s. When it became clear that his memory loss might not be curable, he reached a conclusion: "He turned to my mother and me and said that he didn't want to continue," she recalls. "He wanted to stop taking steps to sustain his life."

At that point, he wasn't eligible for Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, because he was not within six months of death, Black writes. But he soon realized that he was sustaining his life by continuing to take his diabetes and blood pressure medications, she says.

"All on his own, he reasoned that if he quit taking these life-sustaining medications, he would hasten his death," Black recalls, noting that while he was often confused at this point in his life, he was resolute on this issue.

"He talked it over with all of us," she says. "Then he said, 'bring me some chocolate,'" which, she notes, he hadn't eaten since he was diagnosed with diabetes a decade earlier.

"He reveled in eating chocolate for a week, enjoying a buttercream chocolate egg on Easter, and visits from his other children," writes Black.

He soon went into diabetic shock, she notes, adding that he died peacefully several hours later, at home surrounded by the family. 

"We were so grateful that he wasn't forced to slowly lose his dignity and his grip on reality," Black says. "And we were grateful to him for having spared us the agony that we would have suffered while caring for him as he lost himself to the disease."

The conversation continues

Tell us your story about your experience with end-of-life situations. 

If you'd like to share your story, you have several options: You can leave a note in the comments section below, email us at, or simply fill out this form.