This Couple Died By Assisted Suicide Together. Here's Their Story

This Couple Died By Assisted Suicide Together. Here's Their Story
From TIME - March 6, 2018

On the last morning of their lives, Charlie and Francie Emerick held hands. The Portland, Ore., couple, married for 66 years and both terminally ill, died together in their bed April 20, 2017, after taking lethal doses of medication obtained under the states Death with Dignity law.

Francie, 88, went first, within 15 minutes, a testament to the state of her badly weakened heart. Charlie, 87, a respected ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician, died an hour later, ending a long struggle that included prostate cancer and Parkinsons disease diagnosed in 2012.

They had no regrets, no unfinished business, said Sher Safran, 62, one of the pairs three grown daughters. It felt like their time, and it meant so much to know they were together.

In the two decades since Oregon became the first state to legalize medical aid-in-dying, nearly 1,300 people have died there after obtaining lethal prescriptions. The Emericks were among 143 people to do so in 2017, and they appear to be the only couple to take the drugs together at the same time, said officials from Compassion & Choices, a national group that tracks aid-in-dying, and End of Life Choices Oregon. They did so in the assisted living complex where they had lived for the last years of their lives, without informing the management.

When their illnesses worsened, they were grateful to have the option, family members said. That had always been their intention, said daughter Jerilyn Marler, 66, who was the couples primary caretaker in recent years. If there was a way they could manage their own deaths, they would do it.

They allowed Safran and her husband, Rob, to document and film their conversations and preparations right up to their deaths. It was supposed to be a remembrance only for the family, but they ultimately decided to have the clips edited into a film that could be shared outside of the immediate family. The result is Living & Dying: A Love Story, a documentary that details the background of the Emericks final decision and their resolve in carrying it out.

Their goal was to help people change the way they think about dying, says Safran, allowing others to share in the mostly private and sometimes clandestine moments leading up to assisted suicide. While its an increasingly legal and common practice in the U.S., assisted suicide remains mysterious to many.

The Emericks didnt tell anyone but their doctor and their daughters about their plans. I thought it was brave and beautiful, said Carol Knowles, 70, a member of Francies book club, of the documentary. You could see the care with which Charlie and Francie had made that decision.

The Emericks met as college students in Nebraska, married on April 4, 1951, and spent years in the 1960s as medical missionaries in Miraj, India. Charlies career took them to Southern California and then to Washington state, to India and ultimately to Oregon, where he was chief of ENT at a local hospital, all while raising three girls. Many years later, in 2004, they moved into an apartment in a retirement community in Portland.

Thats where the Emericks died on a cloudy Thursday last spring, six days after a family celebration that included their children and grandchildrenand, at Francies request, root beer floats. The gathering was happy, but bittersweet, family members said. There were moments that they expressed great sadness at the goodbye that was coming, Marler recalled.

Charlie was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease in 2012, after dealing with symptoms of the disease for years. He suffered from prostate cancer and heart problems and learned in early 2017 that he had six months or less to live. In the documentary, he described his thoughts as he pondered whether to use aid-in-dying.

You keep going, Charlie, youre going to get worse and worse and worse, he explained to Safran, in a quavering voice. The other cant be worse than this.

Francie, who handled marketing and public relations for the hospital in India, appears vital and articulate in the video. Her daughters, however, say that her energy was fleeting and that it masked years of decline following multiple heart attacks and cancer.

In the video, Francie acknowledged that she could have survived a bit longer than her husband. But, she said, she didnt want to. Charlie and I have a rather unique relationship in that we have done and been so much to each other for 70 years, she said.


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