Dying with dignity the topic of Sarasota lecture

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SARASOTA, Fla. - Death, dying, and your right to choose. That topic will be discussed Saturday morning on the Suncoast. Dr. Faye Girsh, president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies will be speaking at the Selby Library in downtown Sarasota.

The Final Exit Network, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, says the civil right of the 21st century is for a person to be able to decide the time, and place for a dignified death.

But of all the decisions we make known during our lives, perhaps the most important and least talked about is our choice of how we want our final exit.

Sue Helmke's brother was 52 years old when he died of cancer. "I assume if he had the choice, he would have had an assisted death. But I don't think there was that choice."

She says it was really very tragic. "He was conscious until the end, so he did have conscious choice and you know, in that day and time. And it's been fifteen years ago now, but things might have been different."

Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in three states: Washington, Oregon and Vermont. But we still don’t want to talk about death and dying.

“People are so fearful about that departing, and certainly here, when we see the number of elderly, the older people that we have here, look at the dollars that are spent in the last three months of one’s life grasping at straws in an effort to stay alive; despite the fact that the quality of life is severely diminished." People are in denial, says Miriam Lacher, co-chair of the Bio-ethics Committee for Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

And is there such a thing as death with dignity? "That's why the concept of choice is so powerful, but leaving this earth should be absolutely a choice."

Aside from living wills and health care surrogates, this is the most important step to make your choice known. "That I have a conversation, with someone I trust, who is going to agree with me on how I want the ending of my life to be."

Helmke is quite clear on where she stands on dying in the age of choice. “I think if a person is of a right mind and chooses to have one of those things happen, either euthanasia, or the Hemlock Society, whatever…I think that's fine. If the person is not of sound mind, that’s a different story."

The Suncoast chapter of the of the Hemlock Society in Sarasota was the first in Florida. There were 20 chapters in our state, now there are none.

Currently 5 people sit on the state board.

The "Dying in the Age of Choice" lecture will be held at 10:30am at Selby Library in downtown Sarasota.  The public is welcome.