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Shoma Mittra

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Robert Orfali rests his case for physician assisted dying and euthanasia.


Death is the final separation. When a loved one passes on, it is difficult enough dealing with the trauma; but how much worse is it when your loved one suffers from a terminal illness before their time comes? How do you handle caring for a loved one knowing that, as Pink Floyd put it, ‘…. you're older and shorter of breath and one day closer to death.’ Modern medicine has made it possible to cling on to life that little bit longer but( in some cases) at what cost?
Robert Orfali rests his case for legalising physician assisted dying or what we know as euthanasia in his book Death with Dignity. He says in his book, that we cannot choose how and where and to whom we are born and most often we cannot choose how to die. But sometimes with the help of modern medicine, we are sustained and forced to live longer than we would care to. Orfali states, ‘ modern medicine has the technology to sustain us past the point of awareness.’ We are told to fight to the very end but if that fight is wrought with immeasurable pain and suffering, then what good is that life? Hospices are a slightly better option only because the focus is more on comfort care rather than constant medical interventions and intubations in a cold and clinical ICU.
Robert Orfali was a software expert and he and his wife and soul mate Jerri dealt in programming and distributing software systems. They co -authored books and lived the idyllic life till Jerri was diagnosed with cancer. Then Robert became her sole caregiver and helped her cope with her day to day life.
Jerri’s cancer progressed and soon it was evident that things were going downhill. Jerri was a strong, clear headed woman who knew exactly what she wanted and she wanted death without pain.
The state of Oregon in the United States has legalised physician assisted dying and this is what Robert is advocating. He believes that the option to have the administration of a lethal dose of the barbiturate Nembutal along with the option of palliative care will improve the choices that terminally ill patients can have. It will give them the choice of a painless dignified death. And a person who still has all his cognitive capabilities intact should be allowed to make that choice. In order to state his case Robert not only sites many istances from around the world where Nembutal has been recognised, but also gives options and solutions as to how physician assisted dying can and should be made legal. ‘Nembutal provides another palliative care option –an alternate way to die. It allows us to combine the beautiful hospice end-of-life experience with a gentle and easy death.’
This is an explosive topic and no one knows that better than Robert Orfali. He has been there, done that. He has endured the incredible pain of seeing his partner die. There are obviously many hurdles before euthanasia or physician assisted dying can be legalised in most parts of the world, but it is a matter which is very much worth pursuing. After all we are all headed to that destination one way or another.



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