Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

I Couldn't Save Him Pennsylvania Wouldn't Let Me Help My Father Die

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

I Couldn't Save Him Pennsylvania Wouldn't Let Me Help My Father Die

Article excerpt

Last month, I watched as my father drowned.

There was nothing I could do. He begged for my help many times, but I was unable to throw him a line or extend my hand. His misery lasted months, not seconds.

I watched as he labored to breathe. His moaning took my own breath away. His last words to me were barely audible, "I love you, too."

Fortunately or not, I was spared the final, agonizing hours he had to endure. My mother and sisters were not.

My father did not drown in a lake, a river or an ocean. He drowned in a nursing home near Altoona. He had ALS. He died as his lungs gradually filled with fluid over an eight-day ordeal. He had a do-not- resuscitate order and a living will. The staff dutifully followed his pre-arranged orders: no IV fluids, only pain management.

He died slowly. He did not die peacefully. And he did not die with the dignity he wanted or deserved.

*

For two years up through the last week of his life, my father asked me several times to help him end his life, for he knew the struggle ahead would be long and unkind, not only on him, but on our family as well.

I researched his options, offering to move him to Washington or Oregon, even Switzerland, to end his torment. He declined, choosing to stay and die in his beloved community, with his family and friends surrounding him.

The laws here in Pennsylvania forbid any assistance to suicide, punishable by lengthy prison terms. In countless daydreams and restless nights, I developed elaborate schemes to smuggle him sleeping pills by which he could overdose and die in a manner and time of his choosing, without me being fingered for the crime. Had I not had a wife and children, I would have provided for him in his time of greatest need, as he had done for me my entire life.

I couldn't do it. My kids had too much to lose. …

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