​Dying wish: Arguing the right to die

"He was in this terrible prison and it was his own body," Eliot said. "I want people to hear this: If you have not had this kind of experience or been very close to someone who's had this experience, you really can't know. You just can't know."

"Comfort at the end of life shouldn't be an accident of your geography," said Barbara Coombs Lee. "Everyone should be able to feel comfortable at the end of life."

To make that possible, Coombs Lee says her team now has set its sights on New York as the next battlefront.

Her game plan, she told Braver, is "to take people who have firm beliefs and turn them into activists."

Eve Eliot is already on board. But there are still many opponents, including folks you might NOT expect, such as J.J. Hanson. "If this is legalized in New York State, you're going to see immediately the negative outcomes," he said.

After he briefly contemplated ending his own life, Hanson is still fighting. Almost two years after his diagnosis, he's finished his chemo, and he heads the Patient Rights' Action Fund AGAINST aid in dying.

Braver asked, "Why do you feel that you can make this decision for not just yourself but for other people?"

"If you have a full legalization across the United States, people like me will start to look at assisted suicide as their only alternative," he replied. "I was told twice by doctors, 'Your time is done.' They told me basically that I was dead. Where does your hope go?"

The American Medical Association is on Hanson's side. Its code of medical ethics reads:

"...allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good..."

Hanson also fears economic injustice: "If you're looking at someone who is very poor, and this is the only alternative they have because their insurance company will not fund their chemotherapy, well, now it starts to become a problem."

But Coombs Lee says it's just the opposite: "The injustice right now is that there is a huge underground practice of aid in dying. Doctors write prescriptions with winks and nods. But the people who can avail themselves of that are people of wealth, people of stature, people who play golf with their doctor."

In Oregon, she says, one big sign that legalized assisted dying works is the fact that roughly a third of those who get lethal prescriptions in a given year never end up using them.

Braver asked Eve Eliot, "Do you think that just knowing that your husband would have had the option to get a prescription would've eased the anxiety for you?"

"Oh my God, I would've been so grateful," she replied. "Because he would've felt so validated, so understood, so actually taken care of, so heard. He would've felt heard."

But the Hansons are focusing not on what might have been, but what could be.

Kristen Hanson told Braver, "The reason that we felt we needed to speak up and share our story is, because we've seen that you can beat the odds. And we're afraid for all those people who will hear that dire prognosis, and just accept it."


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