Editorial:  Life and death with dignity

Posted 2/21/19

Life is precious.

So is quality of life.

We do not get to choose when our lives begin. Most of us don’t get to choose when it ends.

But some – like those diagnosed with a …

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Editorial:  Life and death with dignity


Life is precious.

So is quality of life.

We do not get to choose when our lives begin. Most of us don’t get to choose when it ends.

But some – like those diagnosed with a terminal illness or an illness such as Alzheimer’s that slowly but most assuredly kills the brain – know what is coming and may even have an estimated time frame before they die.

How they choose to live within that time is important. Just as important is whether or not they should have the right to choose how and when they die.

Avis Vermilye chose to end her life on her own terms. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and knew from watching her own parents suffer with the condition what lay in store for her.

Life was so precious to Avis, but not more so than the quality of that life. She didn’t want a life where she couldn’t look up into the clouds and write a poem, spend time in contemplation, feed herself, care for herself and recognize the faces of her friends and family.  

For Avis, the forced isolation of dementia was no life at all.

Instead, she chose to forego food and drink until she passed away.

Avis and her caregivers allowed The Taos News to follow her end-of-life journey. Avis was surprised we cared, but decided in her waning days that sharing her story was important.  

She knew some people wouldn’t agree with her choice.

But she wanted people at least to talk, think, debate and decide what is right for them when it comes to end-of-life decisions.

In opening up this space to give others a glimpse of her own death, Avis was gently holding up a mirror to our own mortality. She wanted people to be more comfortable talking about death, planning for end of life.

She wanted people to talk about it because she knew once again there would be a bill in the state Legislature that could legalize end-of-life options, specifically, for terminally ill patients to request life-ending medication that would send them into a peaceful slumber. The legislation, House Bill 90, is before the full House for a vote and still must make it through the Senate before the end of the session.

Only seven states in the country and Washington, D.C. have aid-in-dying laws. The proposed legislation for New Mexico mirrors those laws, limiting the option only to people who have been told by doctors that they have six months or less to live.

Though Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are generally excluded from medical aid-in-dying laws, creating more end-of-life options means slowly shifting the culture of death toward more openness, honesty and integrity.  

For us as a newspaper, death with dignity raises a wrenching dilemma.

How can we deeply believe in preventing suicide among people who are in emotional or spiritual pain, but support people with a terminal illness who want the legal right to die on their own terms?

We believe they are different circumstances.

Suicide often occurs when people are alone – the act driving home their loneliness, despair and internal pain.

Avis’ made her choice surrounded by loved ones, in a state of joy and a firm belief that she wanted to die before dementia robbed her of herself.

People who suffer from emotional trauma or mental illness but are otherwise physically healthy should receive the support and help they need to choose life and make it a quality one.

But people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, when in full control of their choices, should have the right to choose quality of life and an easier, less traumatic death.


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