The final story in a series on Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED) comes from Jeff’s wife, Teresa. We are grateful for those who shared their stories so that others might understand an end-of-life option for those with degenerative diseases.
In April of 2015, Jeff was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a neurological degenerative disease that causes muscular weakness and serious complications with walking, balance, eye movement, and swallowing. At age 64, an avid reader, a sports fan and a connoisseur of great food and wine, these were complications Jeff was not willing to live with. He was resolute – deciding early on that he was not going to let this disease dictate what his final days were going to look like. This choice surprised no one.
Almost immediately, with help from his sister, he and his wife Teresa, reached out to End of Life Washington (EOLWA). They connected him with a Volunteer Client Advisor (VCA). The VCA explained that he would not qualify for the Death with Dignity law for many years until he was deemed terminal, with less than six months to live. However, there was another option – Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED). This was an action Jeff could take to end his life on his own terms, when and if he determined the disease had taken enough from him.
Having VSED as an option gave Jeff great comfort. It was a plan of action that would allow him to have dozens of memorable gatherings with close friends and family, without the fear of what the end would look like. For many months, that is exactly what he did. He lived well. Although his health was diminishing, he was enjoying life as best he could.
By the winter of 2017, that changed. The disease had ravaged his body enough. He had lost the ability to walk independently, to read, to speak clearly, and to safely swallow. His bright mind, his amazing wit and his sweet personality were still strong, but his body was not. He had suffered enough and wanted to end that suffering in a dignified, legal and supported way – he wanted to VSED.
He contacted the EOLWA VCA and asked her to help prepare the support plan they had put in place with round-the-clock care-givers and Evergreen Hospice. He asked his close friends to visit to say goodbye, and his family to come be by his side. His last meal with his family was Teresa’s amazing grilled steak and his favorite red wine. With all of that in place, he was ready.
On April 13th, 2017, he began his choice to voluntarily stop taking in food and water. During the first few days, with loved ones by his side, they poured through photo albums, listened to their favorite music, and shared stories. As the days continued, hospice applied comfort measures and his family maintained an environment of love, laughter and peace around him. He never complained. He never asked for food or water. He never changed his mind. He was on a path to die well. To die without suffering. To die when he could still say goodbye, lying in his own bed, alongside Teresa. It was there where he took his last and final breath, just as he had wished, just as he had planned.
The hospice professionals and caregivers all agreed that this was one of the most beautiful deaths they had witnessed. Which was, again, no surprise to anyone. Jeff left his physical life just as he had lived – beautifully and peacefully.