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A little honest talk isn’t going to hurt anyone

I love those shirts and bumper stickers that say No Fear. I’m not sure where that comes from, but I like the sentiment. Because I, for one, am not afraid, certainly not of ideas.

I’m not someone who speaks in euphemisms, either. When I talk about taxes, I talk about taxes. When I talk about sex, I talk about sex. And when I talk about death, I talk about death – I don’t couch real ideas behind fuzzy comfort phrases like “passing on,” “going to sleep” or “ceasing to be.”

I call ‘em like I see ‘em.

That’s why I continue to author legislation dealing with the thing that frightens the faint of heart more than anything else: death.
Maybe it’s because I’m a widow; or because I’m the daughter of a very elderly and frail mother. Maybe it’s because I’ve come to terms with the fact of my own mortality; or because I spent two decades working in the aging field, and rarely had two consecutive weekends without a funeral.

I accept the fact that people die. It is part of life. And it’s rarely like in the movies, where the actor makes a final speech and closes her eyes.

In the real world, death is most often a process, predictable and inevitable. Terminal diseases move through phases. Death comes. It is often very cruel. The agony of cancer does not make for pleasant conversation.

Pleasant or not, conversations about dying are necessary. That’s why I have introduced a bill, AB 2747, that requires healthcare providers to give complete answers to their terminal patients.

Unlike my previous end-of-life bill, which was rejected and which I no longer am pursuing, my new bill doesn’t give anyone any new options. Everything that is illegal now – and that most notably includes physician-aided dying – would remain illegal. AB 2747 changes none of that. Instead, it provides a precious commodity — information.

Most people in the Capitol understand the difference. Some, however, are still fighting last year’s battle and are trying to convince the gullible that my new bill is a Trojan horse, designed somehow to legalize aid-in-dying. That is simply not the case.

AB 2747 says that dying patients have a right to know all their legal options. How soon can they receive hospice care? Can they still seek curative treatment if they sign up for hospice? Do they have to endure all possible treatments? Can they be force-fed, or can they voluntarily stop eating? Can they have powerful sedatives to ease the pain of their final hours?

We’ve worked closely with the California Medical Association to draft language that earns their support. We are, after all, asking physicians to engage in some very frank conversations, and it’s not always easy for healers to talk with their patients about dying.
But that’s all we’re asking: A frank and open conversation. Patients deserve to know what is available. Then they can address the end of life as it comes, with options that make sense based on their experience and their needs.

The squeamish among us object to the plain language with which we have described existing options under current law. They would rather pretend that doctors don’t sometimes ease a person’s final days by providing sedation; or that a dying person is always able and willing to keep on eating to the end. They seem to think that ignorance is bliss, or that we can smooth away life’s rough edges simply by refusing to talk about them.

Some even posit the notion that giving information encourages bad outcomes – the same line of reasoning that suggests sex education leads to promiscuity.

I reject this kind of intellectual censorship. I want information. And I am willing to face my fears and discuss things, even when those things are unpleasant.

Of course, I have an advantage in dealing with my healthcare. My husband was a physician, as are many of my friends. I am comfortable in that arena. I can make my desires known, and am at ease gathering information from my healthcare providers.
AB 2747, in a way, takes away that advantage. It says that you don’t have to be friends with physicians, or have married a doctor just to get the full story about the dying process. It says everyone should have that right.

In the end, I think, that’s not really anything to fear


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