EDITOR'S NOTE: The Post and Courier published "Last Rights" on January 20, 2019 detailing the story of Bob DeVay, a South Carolina man with terminal cancer who wants to chose how and when he dies.
In May, Bob sat at his computer and typed out a plea to state lawmakers:
About six months ago, I was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare terminal cancer that forms around the lung cavity. Although there are no known cures for it, progress is being made in treating it and extending the life expectancy of those who have it. Originally, I was accepted into a drug trial run by Dr. Wrangle of MUSC. I was elated and started the trial.
After one round of this experimental drug combination, they discovered a second type of cancer in my spinal cord that was fairly well advanced. After consultation with all the physicians involved, the recommendation was to do nothing other than palliative care and make my dying as peaceful and pain-free as possible. No trial drug, no surgery, no chemo. I take 4 different kinds of pain-killers and they are helpful. (Note: Bob had surgery the previous January to remove the spinal tumor and help prevent additional paralysis but lost substantial use of his legs, then began palliative care.)
I understand, as best a layperson can, why this was the decision and accept it, up to a point.
In South Carolina, however, that leaves me the options of hospice care, home care, move to another state that allows physician-assisted suicide, or no care. I picked hospice, and they are working with me to reduce the pain and anxiety.
The point I want to make is that physician-assisted suicide is illegal in South Carolina, and I cannot figure out any logical medical reason for it. All my adult life, every time I have gone into a hospital or doctor's office, you are asked to sign myriad forms, permission slips, etc. I have signed a "do not resuscitate" (DNR) form for myself in the ambulance and the hospital. I have executed a health care proxy and signed everything I can to take control over the end of my life, but it will be of little use when the end comes. The pills hospice prescribes will take care of only so much of the pain and anxiety.
The irony is that I now have no control over when and how to end my life besides violent ones such as a gun, overdosing on drugs, or other things I know nothing about and have no interest in pursuing.
The main reason that we don't allow physician-assisted suicide is the fact that most people view this as against their beliefs and only their God can make these types of decisions. I understand their belief system. However, it is no longer my belief system. I am not trying to change the belief system of others, but I would like to have other people tolerate mine.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly delineates a separation of church and state, one that we conveniently ignore in end-of-life decisions. It is way past due that we have a discussion about this and pass a law that allows physician-assisted suicide. I understand there is not much of a lobby for it since most of us will die within the year, and we would rather spend the time with friends and family than lobby some politician. I hope others will take up this right and just cause.
- Robert DeVey