Talking with a guy who wants to be killed

Talking with a guy who wants to be killed

PoliticsAugust 05, 2016 By Reilly Capps

Not right away, and not for sure.

But Lance Wright wants the legal right to have a trusted person end his life: a doctor to inject him with a deadly concoction, if he’s too sick to do it himself. He wants to make Colorado one of the few places in the world, and the only place in America, where a doctor could actively bring about someone’s death, with their own hands. There are other places where the doctor can provide the drugs. But nowhere can the doctor administer them.  

A former energy consultant and city council member in Parker, Wright is now 64 and has Parkinson's, and he’s been fighting for years to win Coloradans some of the most expansive rights in the world when the end of their lives come. He’s losing this battle, as an initiative he was proposing won’t make the ballot, he told me. 

As of now, Colorado has a path toward expanding end of life options, although in a more mild way. A bill allowing assisted suicide will be on the ballot this November, as its proponents announced yesterday they’d gathered enough signatures. Five other states have right-to-die laws. They allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs, which the dying patient can take themselves. 

But Wright isn’t part of that group, because he says it doesn’t allow the dying person enough rights.

Parkinson’s disease is an awful shaky brain-freezing way to die. Wright is still ok, though he shakes. But he knows it will only get worse. And if it ever gets bad enough, he may become too sick to take the pills himself, because maybe he can’t swallow anymore. Or he may become too demented to retain legal “decision making capacity,” which is required by most “right-to-die” bills. Wright wants to be able to make arrangements with his doctor ahead of time so that, if things get bad enough, the doctor could legally inject him with a painless but deadly concoction.

Opponents hate that idea. They object that it looks too much like murder. Couldn’t the heir to a fortune swear that his father wanted to die, and pay a doctor to take him out? What if the heir is the doctor?

Wright dismisses those worries as hyperbolic and unlikely, and pushed forward with his own ballot initiative, Liberty at Life’s End. He tried this summer to gather enough signatures to put his question to voters this November. It would have been one of the most permissive suicide bills in the world.

He sees himself as fighting against “unacceptable government usurpations of the right to self-determination.” 

But Wright told me that he failed in his attempt to gather enough signatures. He needed 98,000 to make the ballot.

“We just didn’t have the resources,” he said. “It became clear we weren’t going to be able to do it.”

The initiative that will be on the ballot this November follows laws originally pioneered in Oregon. The group Colorado End of Life Options delivered 160,000 signatures to the capitol yesterday. Their law would set up strict rules. The sick person would need two physicians to give them less than six months to live. They would have to petition the government three times asking for the right to die. The medication, when prescribed, would be self-administered.

Wright calls those strictures burdensome.

“You shouldn’t have to ask the government for the right to control your own end,” he said. “And what if you can’t self-administer? What if you can’t talk? Do you lose all your rights then?”

Wright is a dedicated warrior, and he wants a good death.

On the phone, he starts to tear up when talking about some of the peaceful ways friends have died. Like a friend who nearly drowned, who told him that drowning gave him a sense of peace.

And Wright’s voice seems to glow when he talks about the “manful” way Hemingway died, which was via shotgun as his health plummeted.

That’s what Wright wants; a final peaceful end or heroic act, in contrast to the type of death he might be facing, shaking violently and soiling himself and forgetting who all the people are around him.

As his end approaches, Wright has plans, no matter what the laws say. If the Parkinson's is unbearable, and before he becomes too sick to act, he’s going to commit suicide himself -- maybe take some pills, maybe put a bag over his head -- whether it’s technically legal or not.

(And suicide, even without assistance, is still a “common-law crime” in many jurisdictions, though it’s a law that’s usually ignored.)

Though he’s shelving his legal fight for now, Wright hasn’t given up on winning the right to be killed. He has hopes to continue the fight next election cycle, if he can. It’s his final heroic act.