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Article published December 1, 2012
Husband’s words live
Patricia M. Henricks Butler Township
My husband, Joe Henricks, died on Nov. 27, 1973. His legacy stills lives on in my heart. I feel compelled to tell the story of his dying to all who think it useless to suffer in their last agony. Joe had a condition in which strep germs build colonies on the heart, almost always the forerunner of kidney cancer. We, nor anyone else, realized that. When he developed symptoms of his fatal illness, he did not have the classic symptoms that would have enabled doctors to diagnose his problem, allowing for possible lifesaving treatment. We wound up at a hospital in Buffalo, N.Y. The tumor on his kidney was in such a position that ordinary X-rays did not show it. The surgical team took pictures of the operation for their teaching courses. The cancer had spread so much that even the most aggressive treatment available at the time probably was not going to cure him. Joe consented to the use of the newest experimental drugs with the slim hope that he would be cured. Failing that, he felt maybe someone else could be helped by new discoveries found in the course of his treatment. The treatments were painful and time-consuming. After three weeks at the Buffalo hospital, we returned to Butler and went to our family doctor for the weekly shots. The nurse, knowing how difficult that was, asked him how he could go on taking it. Joe simply said, “I can’t just lay down and die.” I’m sure that the people who agree with Kevorkian are sincere in their desire to end unnecessary suffering. However, I can’t help wondering where all that is leading. Heroic measures never were a moral obligation. Keeping a patient comfortable with painkillers, even though that might hasten the person’s death, always has been an option. That is not the same thing as deliberately giving an overdose to kill the patient. My husband would say he was not a brave man. He would say he hated pain and suffering, helplessness and dependency. He didn’t live his life only for his own pleasure. He felt that part of his reason for being on Earth was to make life better for others. The English poet and satirist John Donne expressed his view of life and death: “Rage! Rage! into the night! Go not gently into the darkness!” “I will live till I die,” he always said. When life as a single parent appeared unbelievably hard, when depression descended like a dark cloud, when the problems seemed overwhelming and unsolvable, I remembered his words, ”I can’t just lay down and die.”