Exit This Way

Denver lies dead center in the right-to-die debate.

Goodwin was on the board in 2005 when End-of-Life Choices decided to merge with Compassion in Dying, the early Hemlock spinoff, and officially became Compassion & Choices. The national headquarters is listed as Denver, although there's still an office in Oregon.

After the restructured group decreed that only the terminally ill could receive death instructions, Goodwin broke off to form his own organization. Three more boardmembers followed in the next two weeks, he says. About five of the organization's approximately fifty chapters also broke away.

"I felt that more people than just terminally ill people should be served in this way," Goodwin says. "They were only serving people who had been diagnosed with a terminal disease, given six months to live or less, and they were becoming more and more stringent about the cases that they'd take in."

The Hemlock Society USA was founded 26 years ago 
by Derek Humphry.
The Hemlock Society USA was founded 26 years ago by Derek Humphry.

Goodwin turned to both Girsh and Humphry for support. He got permission to name his group the Final Exit Network, after Humphry's groundbreaking book.

Goodwin has a business that does medical screenings for people affected by occupational hazards. Although he's not a doctor, he's had some training from doctors -- as have all of the volunteers in his group. The Final Exit Network now has fifty trained volunteers across the country, with a hundred people waiting to consult with them on how to end a life. The group's volunteers make sure that people have explored medical and psychological options, and then give information on how to end life peacefully, quickly and comfortably. They won't assist, but they'll do anything but. "Since our group was founded, we've supported several dozen people, and two-thirds of those have been non-terminally ill," Goodwin notes.

Over the past fourteen months, he's sat bedside with fourteen different people as they ended their lives -- the youngest was a 39-year-old with MS -- and he has a few more scheduled this summer. "You have no idea how lucky you are until you see some of the people we deal with," Goodwin says. "It's an eye-opener. This is their decision, and I will honor their decision."

Although Goodwin himself hasn't sat with anyone ending his life in Colorado, at least three people in this state have worked with the Final Exit Network.

Sandy and Joann first spotted each other at Jewish youth camps in the 1950s. Sandy's father raised chickens, and Joann's mother and grandmother would buy their chicken and eggs from the Bush family's Florida farm.

On their first date, Sandy was fifty cents short and had to borrow a couple of quarters from Joann. Later, he tried to pay her back, but she wouldn't take the money. So Sandy ripped a dollar bill in half and gave one piece to her.

"As long as we're together," he told her, "we'll always have a dollar between us."

They were both attending college when they got married on March 16, 1963. Sandy went on to get a degree in electrical engineering, and the couple had two sons about two years apart.

In 1967, Sandy's mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was in her early forties, and the disease had already spread from her breast to her lungs, even though she was never a smoker. She was declared cured once, only to be told six months later that she had just a few days to live.

Her options: live a bit longer in greater pain, or increase the morphine and be less cognizant, but more comfortable. She opted to increase the morphine.

After she made that decision, Sandy and his father went out to lunch. By the time they returned, his mother was dead. To this day, Sandy isn't sure whether his mother wanted the additional morphine to ease her pain or help end her life.

Sandy and Joann and the boys lived in Dallas for four years, and then the family moved to Oklahoma, where Sandy worked for the state regent's office. While in Oklahoma, they first set their eyes on Colorado.

Sandy changed careers and started working as a broker, selling nursing homes. The couple had an airplane that they'd fly into Gunnison -- first for skiing, then for Colorado summers, too. By 1990, they were living in Colorado full-time. Sandy started cutting back on work, and the couple bought an RV. By 2003, he'd retired completely, and the couple spent all their time on the road. Eventually, they made it to every state in the continental U.S.

Then came the news that Sandy was dying. They packed up the RV for one last trip and headed to Texas for a second opinion. But the doctors at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas only confirmed the diagnosis that Sandy had already received.

Sandy started taking morphine, and Joann drove the RV to Florida so that he could say some goodbyes to his family. The realization that death was inevitable made it difficult for Sandy to leave his bed, where he was already spending most of his time because of the pain.

In March 2005, they returned to Denver, where Sandy planned to die.

But he wanted to die his own way, and he went online to find Compassion & Choices. From the first time he spoke with someone on the phone, he began asking about the pills he could take to end his own life.

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