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Facing Tough Stories Head-On

Published on November 5, 2019

Trained as a journalist going back to the late ‘60s, I am naturally curious. I have always asked a lot of questions. And, while trying hard to ask them tastefully, I pursue not just the easy topics, but the tough ones too. Such a topic is “death with dignity”. This is the concept that it should be lawful for us to have assistance in ending our life if we otherwise would have a prolonged ending with suffering.

Death With Dignity has been a debate in the U.S. for many years. Efforts by some patient groups have successfully pushed for the enactment of enabling laws, with a lot of requirements, in a handful states. But more generally, it is illegal for healthcare providers to do anything at the request of a patient to hasten death. Surely, it happens anyway with boosted doses of morphine, but the debate rages whether a doctor could give a consenting patient a prescription to end their life at will. 

Now meet Cherie Rineker. Cherie was diagnosed in her early 40s with multiple myeloma. She had had a healthy life until then and, because of numerous new drug approvals, had high hopes that modern medicine could control her cancer. But time and again over time the treatments let her down. Along the way, Cherie became an active e-patient. Some others saw her as a self-promoter. I did not. I interviewed Cherie in person and on video several times as we discussed all sorts of patient-doctor and patient-family issues that she faced personally as a Texas woman fighting for a longer life. Many others began to follow her as Cherie’s passion and her smile were engaging and her dedication to others was pure.

Several months ago, Cherie told me she had established residency in Colorado, a state with death with dignity laws (End of Life Options Act). She sought out physicians who would consent to helping her end her life there should some last ditch treatments not work and if suffering was beginning. Five weeks ago, with the results still unclear, I interviewed Cherie on video about her plan. We were careful not to present her personal decision as one that would or should apply to many others. And we warned people never to lose hope, but to couch that in reality too. It was a tough interview for me because I knew in the near future my friend might be gone. But I also knew I in no way wanted her to suffer and that her story should be told.

Patient Power typically has a very upbeat face. We talk a lot about new tests and treatments, helpful diets and exercises, ways to alleviate financial and emotional burdens. But we won’t shy away from delving into the really tough issues head-on. Death With Dignity is one of them. And Cherie’s story brings it home.

The other afternoon, in Colorado, with family by her side, Cherie took the pills that would end her life. Two days later on patientpower.info, with a “preamble” from me noting her death, Cherie lived on in the interview we had recorded. Here is the article: Living and Dying With Dignity.

You can rely on me and our team to celebrate the successes in modern medicine and support for cancer patients. But we’ll also discuss the gaps and where we fall short. We’ll also always acknowledge the severity of the illnesses we cover and that as much as we wish to tell upbeat stories, reality requires us to tell some that are controversial and sad.

I welcome your comments.

~Andrew Schorr

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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