Lee Bell wanted to die.
He wanted to die his way. He wanted to die with dignity. He wanted to snuff out his metastatic prostate cancer in the process.
Instead, because of an arbitrary pause in the protocol for Washington’s Death with Dignity Law, Lee Bell was pushed over the precipice by his disease.
“He had tears running down his cheeks when he learned he could not use the law,” says Lee’s wife Betty. “He wanted to spare himself and his family the loss of his opportunity to die with some dignity.”
Anyone who wants to ingest lethal medication under the Washington law must first tell their attending physician of their desire, have two doctors confirm the terminal diagnosis, then wait 15 days before receiving the prescription.
Cancer took Lee Bell’s life just 24 hours before his 15 days was up.
“Lee got cheated and I resent that,” says Betty, allowing the anger to color her words.
What Betty says very much upsets her is that months before Lee’s death the Washington Legislature came within hours of passing a bill (HB 1141) that would have cut that waiting time to 72 hours. Under those provisions Lee and his family would have been spared nearly two weeks of anguish as his disease progressed.
“I resent very much the fact that legislators did not follow the will of the people,” Betty says. She adds that the fact that the new law went through the house and senate committee and did not come up for a vote “is a disgrace.”
Lawmakers will have another chance to move the new Death with Dignity provisions – which also include expanding the list of medical professionals who can participate – in the 2022 session. Bipartisan support in both houses could mean the changes become law in a matter of months.
Betty Bell supports the new bill though she still wishes Lee could have used its benefits.
We are fortunate to have two strong champions –Republican Sen. Skyler Rude and Democratic Rep. Nicole Marci.
“This was very hard for my daughters and I,” Betty says, recalling her husband’s struggles.
“People need to understand that many of us are going to have to make a choice about how we die. This will determine whether we are subjected to a long, drawn-out death or can use Death with Dignity, she says. “We have a right to make a choice!”
With more people speaking up and donating money, we may all have that right in the near future.
End of Life Washington provides free End of life care to over 600 clients each year. We are the only organization in the state that provides the education, support, and advocacy necessary to help Washington residents exercise their choice to die with dignity and autonomy. More than ever we need to protect access to, awareness of, and support for a full range of end-of-life choices. Together, and with your financial support, we will have the ability to grow and adapt to support Lee and so many others like him to die as they choose.
Help us protect and support the most important decisions of our life!