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When Doctor-Assisted Suicide Is the Humane Option

| January 29, 2013

Hemlock, unassisted. (Bryan Murahashi)

Hemlock, unassisted. (Bryan Murahashi)

By Florence Snyder

Roy Boldt, 81, was acting so strangely last week that a concerned friend called the police.

By the time they tracked him to Clare Bridge of Tequesta, the assisted living facility that was now home to his wife of 56 years, Roy, an Air Force veteran and long-retired commercial pilot, had fatally shot Virginia, and then himself.

“My parents were wonderful people, and gravely ill, and got to the end of their rope,” their son, Jacksonville dentist Paul Boldt, told The Palm Beach Post’s Eliot Kleinberg.

The Boldts met as children in Queens. Years later, they taught their children how to sail off the south shore of Long Island. After Roy retired in 1979 from U.S. Airways, they bought a large home on two acres in Palm City. There, they welcomed a growing pack of grandchildren and made beautiful music on his-and-her pianos.

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Paul’s prostate cancer and Virginia’s Alzheimer’s had taken all of that away. After seven decades of knowing Virginia’s mind, Paul felt qualified to serve as judge, jury and executioner for them both. He knew that their children would understand.

A decade and a half ago, the Florida chapter of the Hemlock Society and the ACLU fought a losing battle to overturn Florida’s anti-assisted suicide law. Had they prevailed, Paul might have been spared that last, ghastly image of his beloved wife in the seconds before he joined her. But the advocates for physician-aid-in-dying could attract only one vote, Chief Justice Gerald Kogan.

”Medicine,” he wrote in a passionate dissent, “now has pulled the aperture separating life and death far enough apart to expose a limbo unthinkable fifty years ago.”

In oncologists’ offices and Alzheimer’s nursing homes, illness is not, to borrow Kogan’s words, “a portrait in blacks and whites, but unending shades of gray, involving the most profound of personal, moral, and religious questions.”

While health care executives pocket millions and politicians babble about “patient choice,” people like the Boldts do everything the medical-financial complex requires and end up joining the growing population of elderly married people who feel that a gun is their last, best friend.

Paul and Virginia were the poster old people for “personal responsibility.” They did not eat, drink or drug their way out of their happy and productive lives.

A card-carrying genius, Mensa-member Virginia’s only career goal was to be a great homemaker. At that, her children told reporter Kleinberg, she succeeded in the extreme. The debilitating pain of cancer did not deter Paul from staying heart-healthy with daily two-mile walks. He could still fit into his old pilot’s uniform.

The medical community’s expanding ability to use taxpayer money to produce fates worse than death is no longer acceptable to many of us in the exploding population of people whose retirement years go on longer – in some cases much longer – than the years spent working and rearing children.

Roy Boldt was not Florida’s first do-it-yourself death panel, and he will not be the last.

Florence Snyder is a Tallahassee-based corporate lawyer who has spent most of her career in and around newspapers. She can be reached by email here.

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5 Responses for “When Doctor-Assisted Suicide Is the Humane Option”

  1. Samuel Smith says:

    I’m sure the huge amount of money in end-of-life medical care has nothing to do with the fact that we treat terminally ill pets with more dignity than people.

  2. fox2trot says:

    powerful article… After reading it I sit & ponder if my 80 y.o. parents could do the same.. They are very religious people , attend church 2-3 times a week, but after they took care of my grandparents for many years I distinctly remember my dad telling me he would end his life if he was ever diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a serious illness (my grandfather had Alzheimer’s). That medicine has come so far to extend peoples lives, which is great, but it’s the QUALITY of life. Who am I to judge… We do treat our animals more humanly than people

  3. Lynn Perry says:

    I agree with Samuel. Much of end of life care has to do more with industrialized medicine and how much insurance an MD can get from treating to the very end. ut it does not address the pain and suffering of the person who is so ill, praying to have it over. I believe we are more humane to animals who suffer than we are to human beings. Doctor assisted suicide shoudl always be an option. (One of many available to the patient. But this is their suffering and should be their choice.) Death is not an enemy. Sometimes it brings peace. Each person should have the individual and sole right to choose how much they can suffer and tolerate at the end. -Many end of life doctors already do it anyway. Becasue the person is already terminal, an autopsy is not done after a terminal person dies. We need to stop hiding his fact and make it legal. That protects both the MD helping the person end suffering and prevents litigation, which is the only thing the stops some doctors from preventing SO much suffering.

    • L Floyd says:

      And, I agree with both of you. I was an RN for many years until my health forced me to stop working. I have had to euthanize 5 of my pets since 2008 and I have to admit it was much easier for me to do this last thing for them. It didn’t hurt any less, but watching a loved one and/or pet suffer and in pain waiting to die is morally wrong. I have asked my only Child to please not let me live my last days like that. Let me die in peace with the ability to have my memories and say goodbye to friends and family. Oh, but then how much money would the health care system lose by abiding by the patient’s wishes???

  4. Liana G says:

    Society, driven by greed, narcissism, and hubris, has convinced us that assisted suicide is selfish. On the contrary, it is highly altruistic because those making the decision also take the well being and suffering of others – both emotionally and financially – above self. No one ever gets to make the decision if they wanted to be born. I, personally wish some were never born because of the life that society, by default, has brought them in to. Doesn’t this same society then, by default, owe us the decision to let us decide when we want to die?

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