It was then that Dr. Fried explained that the only alternative John had, if he truly wished to die, was to stop eating, drinking fluids, or taking medications. In other words, he could bring his life to an end through those means, but no one could do it for him. Dr. Fried added that he hoped John would not make the decision to end his life, but that, if he did so, as his physician he would honor it.
My husband had moved into assisted living at Brighton Gardens in Chevy Chase, Maryland, in November 2012, because he could no longer stand or walk without falling, or care for himself without assistance. We’d spent months talking about the decision we both knew was coming. We went over and over various possibilities, such as having someone move into our apartment to care for him on a twenty-four-hour basis, but we knew that wouldn’t work: there was simply not enough room for another human to be here full-time.
Most days I spent part of the afternoon with John at Brighton Gardens. Sometimes we’d sit silently, particularly in the weeks immediately after he moved in. Although he never admitted feeling resentful, it was clear he was unhappy. He had a private room, but was now in an institution, in the company of strangers, eating foods he didn’t care for in a large communal dining room, and feeling an extreme loss of privacy. But slowly he regained his sense of humor, his interest in world events, and his happiness each time I walked through the door.
Over the years, John and I had talked many times about how we wanted to die. We had promised that we would do everything we could to support each other’s wishes in the face of debilitating and unalterable conditions. Yet here I was, helpless to keep my promise. I could do nothing but listen as he railed against a medical and judicial system that prohibited a doctor from helping him die, even knowing that what awaited him was prolonged misery, further decline, and, to his mind, loss of dignity.