Choosing to Die
A love story for the ages
What: Choosing to Die Book Release
Where: Center for Spiritual Living, 2224 Yew Street Rd.
Cost: Entry is free
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
For the 26 years they were married, Alan Alberts and Phyllis Shacter did just about everything as a couple. They worked together in their own consulting business, traveled, played music, created a magic act, laughed a whole lot, explored their spirituality and generally supported each other in the smaller, countless ways longtime partners do.
And when it came time to make an important decision regarding Alan’s diminishing health a couple of years after a 2011 Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Phyllis even helped her husband end his life.
At a release for her new book Choosing to Die: A Personal Story taking place Sun., April 9 at the Center for Spiritual Living, Shacter will share and sell copies of the tome and talk to attendees interested in how she and Alan came to the decision to enter into an elective death by Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED).
In addition to providing plenty of pertinent answers about the legal issues, medical resources, ethical conundrums and other questions surrounding VSED, what shines through in Choosing to Die is how much Phyllis and Alan loved each other, and how the final decision they made together brought them even closer.
Both had lost parents to Alzheimer’s disease, so when Alan’s diagnosis came, he knew he didn’t want to live through the suffering he’d seen his mother endure for more than a decade. In Phyllis’ case, her father had finally had to be put in a care center after repeatedly threatening her then-80-year-old mother. They’d both seen the horrors the disease inflicted on people they loved, and agreed they didn’t want to see what the end stages of Alzheimer’s would do to Alan.
Through End of Life Washington—the organization that sponsored the state’s Death with Dignity Act—Alan and Phyllis came to see how they could choose when, and how, Alan would say his final farewells. (It’s also worth mentioning that he was present at his own funeral.)
“It’s not new,” Shacter writes of Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking. “What is new is that it no longer needs to be kept secret, and that legal, medical, psychological and spiritual help is increasingly available to assist people who want a conscious and deliberate way to avoid the late stages of debilitating diseases and the indignities and suffering that accompany them.”
It’s important to start the VSED process when the patient is still in the frame of mind to give his or her consent, and Shacter says Alan was still cognizant when he stopped eating and drinking on April 9, 2013. It took him nine and a half days to die.
On the final day, Shacter writes, she felt he was near the end, but wasn’t quite ready to leave. So she gave him a “pep talk.”
“We did everything together in our business, with our families, with our life,” she writes about talking to him in his final moments. “I might orchestrate something, but then we’d carry it out together. This is our last partnership. I’m going to help you. You can let go now. You’ve done all your work. You’re so courageous. You’re going to get your wish. You’re not going to have to live into the late stages of Alzheimer’s. There’s nothing left that you have to do. It’s time for you to go.”