If You're Fighting a Life-Threatening Sickness, Keep Fighting

If You're Fighting a Life-Threatening Sickness, Keep Fighting
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Doctors make educated guesses about how long a person has left to live after a terminal diagnosis, but no one should take a healthcare provider’s estimate of how many weeks or months someone has left to live as gospel truth. Patients routinely survive long after the day they’re expected to succumb to their illness.


My husband, J.J. Hanson, was one such person. A Marine Corps veteran who saw combat in Iraq, J.J. was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme, one of the deadliest and most aggressive types of brain cancer, when he was only 33 years old.


Just as J.J. was diagnosed with brain cancer, fellow glioblastoma patient — Brittany Maynard —made headlines for deciding to end her life via assisted suicide. My husband chose a different path, and I’m so grateful he did.


“You don’t just accept it because someone said it,” he asserted about the grim 4 month prognosis doctors had given him. And he survived three years longer than doctors anticipated. Over the course of those three years, we had baby No. 2; our eldest son, James, got to know his father; and I got three more priceless years with the love of my life.


Even so, assisted suicide bills are being pushed across the country at an alarming rate. If passed into law these bills would pressure the poor, sick, and elderly to cut their life short with the aid of a doctor, the very person meant to preserve life — not end it. Members of Congress, however, have just introduced a bill to help push back against these assisted suicide bills and laws that end up targeting vulnerable people.


The bipartisan resolution reinforces the fact that the Supreme Court has twice ruled there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide and that laws giving doctors the option to hasten their patients’ death puts especially the most vulnerable at risk of deadly harm and undermines the integrity of our health care system. In fact, the National Council on Disability released a federal study this fall finding assisted suicide laws “rife with dangers to people with disabilities.”


The aim of every government and health care system should be to protect the most vulnerable members of society but assisted suicide laws do the opposite. They send the message that the sick and disabled are a burden on others and they are better off dead. 


Few have experienced the truth of this statement firsthand the way Dr. Brian Callister has. The Nevada-based acute-care physician hit a brick wall with insurers who refused to cover life-saving procedures for two of his patients and instead asked if they’d considered assisted suicide.


“As much as most insurance companies try to come across as your best friend, they want to do whatever the least-costly thing is. It’s a lot cheaper to grab a couple drugs and kill you than it is to provide you with life-sustaining therapy — simple as that,” he says.


Yet more and more states are considering making assisted suicide the preferred option among insurers and adding to the pressure these laws put on many patients who struggle with mental anguish about feeling like a burden to family and caregivers because of the disability that accompanies their illness. This is a dangerous precedent to set.


My husband wasn’t without moments of deep depression and despair, but he didn’t give into hopelessness. He spent his precious time exposing the dangers of assisted suicide. “You can’t unmake that choice. Once you do it, it’s done,” he would warn. “Unless a cure is found, [my] disease will come back, when and how I don’t know. My hope and my fight is to keep it at bay for as long as possible.”


He did just that, for which my boys and I are eternally grateful to him. He’s our hero, not only for his valor on the battlefields of Iraq, but even more so for his selfless dedication to protecting the poor, sick, and elderly right here in the United States during his final days.


Kristen Hanson is a community relations advocate with the Patients Rights Action Fund.

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