In the Face of Death, A Party

    07 September, 2019

    On the day he chose to die, Robert Fuller invited his friends to a party at his house.

    Fuller, age 75, was living at a home for older adults in the American state of Washington. That state permits people to choose to end their lives under some conditions. Fuller is one of about 1,200 people in Washington to use the law over the last 10 years.

    Fuller invited a reporter from the Associated Press to the party because he said he wanted to show people how "aid in dying" laws work. By the end of the year, nine U.S. states will have such laws.

    The morning of his planned death was sunny and pleasant. Fuller put on a blue flowered shirt and greeted his guests. Old and new friends were there. He knew some from his religious center. He knew some from his job as a nurse. He knew some from his volunteer work.

    They described him as fun, funny and friendly. Many of the guests were thankful for the things he had done for them.

    To honor their friend's life, a group of singers performed. A writer read a poem about Fuller being like a tree.

    Someone started to cry. Fuller said, "I'm ready to go. I'm tired."

    In this May 10, 2019, photo, Robert Fuller, center, leans on his walking stick and closes his eyes as he listens to music at a party in his honor in Seattle, Washington. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
    In this May 10, 2019, photo, Robert Fuller, center, leans on his walking stick and closes his eyes as he listens to music at a party in his honor in Seattle, Washington. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

    In 2018, doctors found a serious cancer in Fuller's mouth. He began treatment, but he did not like the way the medicine made him feel. He also did not like the idea of losing control to disease and death. So he began making plans to end his life legally.

    Fuller had learned about Washington's "aid in dying" law from a neighbor. The measure requires two doctors to legally declare that a patient has less than six months to live. Also, the person must be in good mental health. And he or she must publicly ask for the life-ending drugs three times.

    Others who used the law said they did not want to lose their independence as a result of severe sickness. Some said they did not want to cause problems for their families and friends. And some said they did not want to stop enjoying life.

    Fuller said he did not want to suffer. And he was not frightened by death. When he was a child, his grandmother drowned herself in a river. Fuller saw her lifeless body in the water. The event made him believe that if things really became difficult, he could always end his life, too. When he had faced troubles as a younger man, he tried several times to kill himself.

    The desire for death is one reason critics do not like the "aid in dying" laws. Writer Wesley J. Smith says seriously sick people may be too quick to choose to end their lives. If they waited, he says, new treatments might be developed.

    And, he says, people with serious sicknesses who end their lives send a troubling message. They are communicating that sick people do not have lives of value, Smith says.

    Smith also says that American culture should not make suicide normal. The problem of Americans killing themselves is bad enough as it is, he says.

    Some say that actions such as Fuller's are not suicide, however. His official cause of death is written as "natural causes." And the American Medical Association calls the operation "assisted suicide."

    When Fuller was ready to go, he told his friends they could join him in his bedroom. He changed into nice pajamas and got into his bed.

    Two unpaid workers from a nonprofit called End of Life Washington mixed drugs in a glass. They added some of Fuller's favorite alcoholic drink.

    The workers say they are like assistants at a birth, except they help people out of life instead of into life.

    One of the workers explained to Fuller that if he accepted the drugs, he would fall asleep and never wake up.

    Fuller said he understood. He gave himself the mixture. Then he led his friends in a song.

    In time, his eyes closed.

    "I'm still here," he said.

    And then he was not.

    I'm Caty Weaver.

    Kelly Jean Kelly adapted this story for Learning English. It was reported by the Associated Press. Caty Weaver was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    greet - v. to meet someone with friendly and polite words

    pajama - n. clothing that people wear in bed or while relaxing at home