How One Journalist Helped Her Father Die

If you’re someone who is suffering from a terminal illness, and you have only a few months to live, should you be allowed to choose how and when to die? Ten states in the United States now let patients do just that — a practice referred to as medical aid in dying — under highly regulated laws.

A Dad Needs His Daughter’s Help to Die

Esmé Deprez is a journalist whose father, Ron Deprez, had ALS and slowly lost his ability to complete basic tasks. His quality of life was no longer good, and he decided he wanted to die on his own terms before things got worse for him. Luckily, they lived in Maine, one of the states where Medical Aid in Dying is lawful. One day Ron told his daughter that he wanted to end his life — and that he needed her help doing it.

In April 2020, Esmé Deprez’s father became the second person to end his life under the Maine Death with Dignity Act. She described her experience for Bloomberg. In March 2020, Esmé recalls receiving a text message from her father saying that he needed her help to qualify for this new medical-aid-in-dying law that Maine had just passed. At the time, Maine’s law was brand-new, and nobody had used it yet. Doctors didn’t even really know how it worked.

Ron needed his daughter’s help navigating how to qualify for the law and in helping him, she realized how hard it was to do so. She understood why, as choosing to die is an extreme act to take, and so these laws are structured so that you can’t just decide on a whim to do it. These laws discourage all but the most committed candidates.

Honoring Her Father’s Wishes

Ron wanted to die in his home in Deer Isle, Maine with his daughter, Esmé, her husband, and her brother in attendance. Esmé and her brother mixed the medications for their father, took him out on the porch one final time, and recited poetry to him at his request. They played his favorite songs, meditated, and spoke a few final words. They took shots of Irish whisky that he’d been saving for a special occasion. They marveled at the fact that this was a much better way to die than being hooked up to tubes in a hospital bed. And then Ron swallowed the medication without hesitation. His last words were, “That was enough. I’m dead.” And then he closed his eyes for the final time.

Medical Aid in Dying Can Be Problematic for Those with Neurodegenerative Conditions

After her father’s experience, Esmé wrote another article about medical aid in dying, which focused on Sandy Morris (55), who also has ALS and is planning to opt for an assisted death in California. Sandy, however, is having a hard time getting her request approved in California.

Sandy Morris, a happily-married mother of three grown children, has spent almost 30 years working at Hewlett-Packard. She lives in Sierraville, California, near Lake Tahoe. Although ALS has been ravaging her body for the last three years, she is still mentally sharp. She’s currently focusing her energy on being an advocate not only for medical aid in dying but for people with ALS.

Physically, Sandy is almost completely paralyzed from the chin down. Her physical limitations have led to a big dilemma for Sandy and other patients similar to her, because California’s aid-in-dying law is structured to require self-administration. This is not just the case in California. Many medical aid in dying laws are designed this way. So patients similar to Sandy, with advanced neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis, who require assistance in virtually everything they do in the end stages, are having trouble getting their wishes met.

Sandy wants to live as long as she possibly can, continue with her ALS activism, and spend time with her family. But at some point she’s going to lose the ability to physically administer the aid in dying drugs on her own. She can act now and lose time living, or she can wait and risk losing her access to the law. If she waits, she could face the prospect of ALS death by suffocation, which she’s hoping to avoid.

Esmé Wants to Help Others Die with Dignity

Esmé hopes sharing her father’s and Sandy’s stories will help people have more open and honest conversations with their loved ones about death and dying — and what they want for the end of their lives. Here are some things she shares about medical aid in dying and having conversations with loved ones:

  • These conversations can be uncomfortable, but they’re really important to have with your loved ones and with yourself.
  • Medical aid in dying is an extreme act, not suited for most people, and she stresses that it won’t be the path that most people take. But these laws create an opening for people to think about and to discuss what they want at end of life and what they want their deaths to look like.
  • She believes that doctors “don’t always treat death with the importance it deserves. It’s a fact of our lives. None of us are going to escape without dying. And so we should treat it with the respect and importance that it deserves.”

Plan Ahead to Tell Loved Ones What You Would Want

Whether or not you agree with medical aid in dying or would want to do it yourself, should it become legal in Virginia or Maryland (please note it is already legal in DC), and should you be in a situation that warranted it, it is of utmost importance to plan ahead to make sure your end-of-life wishes are known to physicians and to your loved ones.

An Advance Medical Directive (including our proprietary Long-term Care Directive®, a vital part of our proprietary 4 Needs Advance Medical Directive®) specifies what medical and long-term care-related actions should (or should not) be undertaken if you’re too ill or incapacitated to make decisions. Please read more about this important document in my articles, “Would You Choose Death on Your Own Terms if You Had a Terminal Illness? In Ten States, it’s Legal” and “When Medical Aid in Dying is Legal, But Still Not Accessible.”

If you or a loved one has not done Incapacity Planning, Long-Term Care Planning, or Estate Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), now is a good time to plan and get prepared. Call us to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Elder Law Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888

Elder Law Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435

Elder Law Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041

Elder Law Attorney DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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