A life dedicated to service...

Week 16: Way to go

On a weekend last July, Betsy Davis, a 41-year-old artist from Ojai, California, hosted a two-day party for her friends and family to celebrate life and say goodbye before legally taking the dose of drugs that killed her. Davis had ALS* and had lost mobility over the years, rendering her unable to paint, stand, or speak with ease. She was one of the first people to die by assisted suicide in California. (source)

“There are no rules,” she wrote on the invitation. “Wear what you want. Speak your mind. Dance, hop, chant, sing, pray … but do not cry in front of me. Okay, one rule. But it is important to me that our last interactions in this dimension are joyful and light. If you need to cry, there will be designated crying areas … or just find a corner.” But, she told them, “I AM allowed to cry. One of the symptoms of ALS is uncontrollable laughing/crying. So, in effect, I’m not crying because of you, but merely because my neurons are having a meltdown. However, if I laugh, it probably is because of you.” (source)

In the Voice of San Diego, her sister Kelly later wrote:

“My sister is an example of exactly what the law intended to do: allow a dying young woman the ability to assert control over the chaos and uncertainty of terminal illness. She turned death into a reason to celebrate, and she was there to enjoy the party.

“Opponents of the [California] aid-in-dying law have argued there’s potential for abuse: that chronically ill people could be coerced or compelled to take their own lives so they’re no longer a burden. But the law has safeguards to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

May Betsy Davis inspire you to imagine your last hours … and to share such wishes with the people who need to know.

* Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and motor neurone disease (MND). Details on Canada’s medical assistance in dying (MAiD) regulations. Picture: Niels Alpert via AP

About the Author
Peter lives in Victoria, BC, where he volunteers in health-care. teaches mindfulness meditation, and offers end-of-life care.
  1. Sandy Reply

    Am truly moved. She is suffering the wretched disease no more. Thank you for sharing Peter. You always deliver.

  2. Betsy Reply

    I think that semi-assisted dying has been a reality for a long time, but we’ve asked patients, families and health professionals to dance quietly around it, causing harm and missing opportunities. Really appreciate your efforts here!

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