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“I’m dying of brain cancer. I prepared to end my life. Then I kept living.”

by | Oct 3, 2017

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Jeffrey Davitz

Jeffrey Davitz

The Washington Post published a provocative op-ed on September 27 written by a man who was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, similar to Brittany Maynard’s, and who’d planned to die by assisted suicide but instead has kept on living.

Jeffrey Davitz, a scientist and Silicon Valley entrepreneur, writes that in April 2015 he was diagnosed with a lethal and aggressive brain tumor, “a brain stem glioblastoma multiforme in an advanced stage.” At that time he was given, at most, six months to live with treatment.

Davitz explains that he supported assisted suicide during the California assisted suicide debate and after the law was passed planned to die by assisted suicide. But he was surprised to learn that the law would not go into effect for another eight months. He decided to accept treatment with the hope of living a little longer while expecting that he would eventually die by assisted suicide.

But then, unexpectedly, he started feeling better. Davitz writes:

As I waited for the (assisted suicide) law to go into effect, I began to feel some creeping uncertainty about my decision to die. There were things I still wanted to do, like see my daughter’s high school graduation. I was ready to go, I thought, and yet I was conflicted.

Then a peculiar thing happened: I started to get better.

… I noticed that I was getting stronger: I had been almost bedridden in the early stages of my illness, too weak to walk. But my strength began to return, and as it did, I felt the dizziness that had come with the diagnosis recede. I regained my balance. Strange symptoms, such as a weird full-body buzz that had begun when I lowered my head, also faded away. Soon, I was having somewhat normal days, doing some professional things, socializing and exercising.

I was an unusual hospice member — eventually the program kicked me out, designating me a “hospice graduate,” a label that I still find funny. I celebrated my brother’s 60th birthday with him, attended my daughter’s graduation, saw my parents hit their 72nd wedding anniversary and fell into a kind of life pattern.

My MRIs reflected this. The tumor stopped its relentless advance, and there were even signs of some retreat. My most recent image, in May, surprised my doctors, who saw signs not of the expected encroachment but of a slowing and even dormant process.

I’ve now lived longer and better than anybody had projected. Suddenly, it’s hard to see self-termination in quite the same way. I could have missed all this.

One of the many flaws with legalizing assisted suicide is that it causes people who have many quality months and sometimes years to live to have their lives ended.

Davitz tells the reader he has not changed his mind about assisted suicide, yet concludes

Sometimes, I wonder: Would dying have been a good choice anyway? In my case, and not speaking generally, the answer is: of course not. I had a surprising, profoundly unlikely path that has led to love and work of special kinds. I got some good luck in the midst of the bad luck, and I have had a great few years — in some peculiar way the ideal life. Not without pain and difficulties, but also with moments of transcendence.

… But I am not trying to find my way to clear, simple feelings anymore. Instead, long beyond what was expected, I am simply living.

When assisted suicide is legal the decision is influenced by the doctor who has gained the right in law to give a patient the drugs that will cause their death.

This may have been a very different story if, from the beginning, Davitz’ friends, family and medical care-givers said to him, “I will not be involved with killing you, but I will ensure that you are properly cared for and that you do not suffer.”

Many people fear a bad death and fear suffering, but legalizing assisted suicide is not about gaining a “right to die”, but rather it is about giving someone else the right to end my life.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Assisted Suicide