RIGHT TO DIE: Moving away to seek options

Published: Nov. 3, 2016 at 6:00 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 11:20 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A counselor once told Julie Jones of Prescott to "let life be about you."

He told her that shortly after she was diagnosed with lung cancer that has since grown.

It was at that moment she told herself she was going to fulfill that wish, but as a self-described go-getter, she knew it had to be done on her own terms.

"I feel in my heart I have something to do," said Jones. "I feel that is what I was supposed to do; to speak for people that can't and let the world know, it's not about anything but relieving the pain and suffering of people in their last time."

Jones, a mother and former hairdresser, made the decision to move to California to get access to right-to-die medical aid. The state recently passed a law in which terminally ill patients can legally end their lives with medication prescribed by their doctor.

"I do not want to have my son, my daughter, or my husband see me screaming," said a teary-eyed Jones during an interview with Tucson News Now. "I mean, it's just not right."

It's a law that hasn't made its way to Arizona, but support is growing. Tucson and Bisbee both passed resolutions in 2015 in support of medical aid-in-dying.

A 2015 poll conducted by the Behavior Research Center found 56 percent of Arizonans are in favor of this law and among those 55 and older, support is 63 percent.

Arizona lawmakers have introduced right-to-die laws before, but the most recent bill, SB 1136, went nowhere fast. It stalled without a vote.

Meanwhile, physicians both for and against medical aid-in-dying, are choosing to have this conversation.

In September, a former surgeon, three physicians and a journalist whose sister was one of the first patients to achieve a death through California's End of Life Options Act all led a panel discussion at Banner UMC to discuss various end-of-life issues and the future of medical aid-in-dying in Arizona.

"I first took an oath not to take a life," said Casa De Luz Hospice assistant medical director Dr. Jim Nicolai. "I think it gets really murky, when you look at doctors who aren't supposed to take lives beginning to take lives. I think it changes all of medicine."

Nicolai goes into further detail on this issue along with Casa De La Luz's stance in a four-page statement sent to Tucson News Now. Here's an excerpt.

"In the 20+ years that I have been a practicing physician, and especially since I have been working in hospice over the past 3 years, I am fascinated by and challenged with the meaning of suffering and the legacy that this suffering often brings about.  Let me explain.  As a doctor, my role and the role of our hospice team is to provide comfort, to the very best of our ability, within the midst of suffering at end of life."

You can read the full statement here:

Meanwhile, others see it differently. Carondelet Hospice & Palliative Medicine Program medical director Dr. Peter Brown believes in "the right of self-determination and autonomy and the right of someone to complete their lives as the see fit."

For those living in the states where this is an option, people are actually using it. According to Compassion & Choices, a non-profit that works to improve patient rights and their choices at the end of life, said in 2015, 218 prescriptions were written in Oregon under their 'Death with Dignity Act' and more than half of those people took the medication.

You can read Oregon's Death with Dignity Act summary report for 2015 here:

But for Julie, time is precious, and just as her counselor suggested, she's letting life be about her.

"It's not about the politics, the religion .... it's happening," said Jones. "You can't get away from it. I wish you could, and I'm fighting it every chance I can, but there's going to be the end. I'm very lucky. I've gotten to do a lot of things that a lot of people never get to do, but I'm going to be able to say goodbye to my family and I'm very pleased with that but I wouldn't wish this on anybody."

Copyright 2016 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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