I write to let you know that my father-in-law has died and should be removed from your mailing list.
We think you will know that, during the few days prior to his death when he was in a high dependency ward, the consultant told my father-in-law that he would comply with his wishes as set out in the living will. The consultant commented that it was the best form of living will that he had seen. This assurance greatly eased my father-in-law's anxiety and enabled him and ourselves, his family, to be together honestly and peacefully.
While clearing papers we found all your literature and information. We have destroyed it, as you would wish.
Shiona Hall, Aboyne, Scotland
I dread visiting Health Centres. I have a lifelong dislike of medical procedures of all types; and a long-standing opposition to surgical procedures and modern drugs; since the former owe much to vivisection experimentation, and the latter are invariably tested upon animals as a matter of course.
Therefore, although a copy of my Living Will has been lodged in my Medical Records File for several years, that, and allied correspondence, was posted to my Health Centre, not personally delivered and discussed with the staff. Since the Health Centre personnel never acknowledged receipt of these documents, I have no idea of their views upon them, whether positive or negative.
When the new format of Living Will came to hand, I decided that it would be lodged personally, and that I must eventually make an appointment to discuss it with one of the doctors in the relevant Practice. Because I am virtually never in a health Centre under normal circumstances, and my name was automatically transferred to the "list" of a doctor who "took over" when my choice of doctor retired several years ago, I really did not know any of the doctors in the Practice as it is now.
I had to wait for the right time to translate my decision into action, and that time only arrived in August of '95. I put the documentation into order, delivered it to the health Centre so that the doctor whom I had elected to see could view it in advance, and made an appointment to discuss it with her.
I am so glad I did this. The doctor could not have been more helpful and understanding, both of my own feelings and of the implications of the Living Will as it applies to me. The new format of Living Will is now lodged in my file and, for the first time, I know that its presence is approved by a doctor with whom I have discussed it; and to whose list, within the Practice, I have now been transferred.
This is one more positive experience of the presentation of a Living Will to a modern medical practice, to add to the experiences of other VESS members, as recorded in recent Newsletters. It is good to know that such experiences are becoming more common. Surely, the more Living Wills are lodged in such positive circumstances, the stronger the case for granting them legal status will eventually become.
Eve Macfarlane, St Andrews
Enclosed please find my order for your booklet Supplement to How to Die With Dignity [Departing Drugs]. I congratulate you most warmly on the work you do. Knowing a society exists whose efforts are directed to providing peace of mind for people like me actually enhances one's enjoyment of living - it's such a strong feeling of independence and relief!
Joan Jackson, New Zealand
I would like to express my deepest gratitude for your work in the Right to Die movement, especially in the publication of Departing Drugs and Beyond Final Exit. The information contained in these books was most helpful in allowing a much-suffering stroke victim to achieve a peaceful self-deliverance. Here, with names changed, is a brief case history for your research.
"Carol" suffered a severe stroke at the relatively young age of 51. The right side of her body was paralysed, and her speech and reading abilities were significantly impaired. Although initially depressed, she managed to make a partial recovery and was looking forward to returning to her home where she would be able to live with unskilled assistance. She then suffered a second stroke that destroyed much of the progress that she had made and left her incontinent. There was no option other than to place her in an assisted living home. Carol, always strong-willed and independent, soon realized that she was not making any progress in recovering, and that her future held nothing more than living as a virtual invalid in constant pain and discomfort. She made it known to me that she wanted to end her pain, and, as she put it, "go to heaven".
My first reaction was to check with her physician to confirm that any further meaningful recovery was unlikely, and to make sure that she was on appropriate medication to reduce her pain and control her depression. Her physician did in fact confirm that her progress in recovering had levelled off, that she was on a number of medications for pain, and that several antidepressants had been tried to relieve her depression. I promised Carol that I would help her, but that it would take some time to research and implement a painless and effective way to die. I wanted to move slowly to give her every chance to reconsider her decision, and to give the various anti-depressant medications that she was taking a chance to take effect, but I did contact the Hemlock Society for information and eventually ended up with your two publications.
The problem of how to best help Carol was compounded greatly by her residing in an assisted-living facility, which made it very difficult for me to be present to assist her without incurring legal risks, and the paralysis of her right side, which limited her ability to use a plastic bag. The only feasible method seemed to be an overdose of barbiturate/painkillers enhanced by alcohol.
The next and probably the greatest problem was how to procure the necessary drugs. I sought the assistance of a physician/physiotherapist, Doctor X, that I had dealt with before. I wanted to allow this individual to help me with minimal personal risk, so I presented my problem as follows: I was distraught and frustrated over the condition of my loved one, Carol; she was suffering and wanted to end her misery. Legally, however, I could not help her, and I was therefore suffering severe headaches and sleepless nights. Would he please prescribe Darvon and Nembutal for my use? Fortunately, I struck gold.
Dr X asked if I really wanted these drugs for myself, or to help Carol. When I told him the latter, we talked in detail about her condition, medications, and what had transpired so far. He was completely sympathetic, and agreed that my helping her would be an act of love. We had a frank discussion about the recommendations of your publication, and he prescribed for me Nembutal (100mg, 100 count) and Darvon (65mg, 50 count). He told me that he was willing to do this because he was sympathetic to Carol's plight, was convinced that I was acting responsibly, and was convinced that I would act discreetly and protect him.
After telling Carol that I had managed to get the drugs that we needed, I insisted that she wait an additional two weeks to make sure that as we got closer to acting she did not have a change of heart.
Shortly after I began investigating how to help Carol I began making a regular practice of bringing her a chilled cocktail when I saw her for our regular weekday visit. This practice turned out to be fortuitous when I found out that alcohol greatly enhances the potency of the drugs in question.
The weekend before the day selected for her self-deliverance I took her out of her facility for a final visit to her home. This served several purposes: it gave her the opportunity to see what she was giving up and gave her another chance to change her mind; it gave me an opportunity to go over with her in detail the sequence of events needed for her deliverance; and finally, it provided a "cover" story to explain how she could have gotten (from her own home) the drugs used in her self-deliverance.
The actual act was done in accordance with suggestions in your book. She ate a light meal several hours before I arrived for my visit. I gave her a Dramamine pill, which she took immediately, and a very weak martini to sip on while we visited. (I also had a cocktail, so we had a nice final visit/celebration.) I bought her some chilled, bottled water to make sure she had plenty of liquids to help her swallow the pills, and in an empty Evian bottle I left her about 3 ounces of a good stiff martini (extra dry, the way she liked it).
I had previously counted out thirty Darvon and fifty Nembutal pills, and put them in old prescription containers found in my sister's home. After carefully wiping any fingerprints off these containers, I gave them to her with a reminder of how to take them: the Darvon first, followed by the Nembutal. Then, relax and celebrate with the martini.
She hid the pills and martini in her nightstand, and I left. Her instructions were to shortly thereafter call the attendant and have them undress her and put her to bed. (After this, the door to her room was closed and she was generally left alone for the rest of the night.) After she was comfortable in her bed, she was to proceed as planned.
She must have done this successfully, as I received a call from the facility the next morning advising me that she had passed away peacefully in her sleep. I hope that this account will be of some use to you in your work. Once again, I thank you sincerely.
Nameless and Grateful in California.
(We publish the above letter for its intrinsic interest, but in doing so we are not engaging in any advocacy of the specific procedures followed. - ed.)
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