The widow of a former Boston College professor who died of Parkinson’s disease has detailed how she watched her husband starve himself to hasten his death and why euthanasia should be legal.
Peter Kugel was 91 when he died Oct. 11 at his home in affluent Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife of 53 years, Judy, and their two sons at his bedside, according to his obituary.
Judy, in an op-ed for the Boston Globe published Friday, proponents of euthanasia, noting that assisted suicide is legal in ten states and the District of Columbia, but not in Massachusetts.
She said that after several health problems for a month, her husband decided to stop taking medicines, as well as eating and drinking.
Judy, who said the decision was “heartbreaking” for him and “stressful” for her, describes her husband’s excruciating last days before his death eight days later.
Judy and Peter Kugel, pictured together in 2020, before deciding to stop taking drugs, eating and drinking to hasten his death after battling Parkinson’s disease and other ailments
Judy, who acted as her husband’s caretaker, wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe advocating for euthanasia to be legal in ten states and the District of Columbia, but not in Massachusetts, where the couple lives.
The couple were married for 53 years before he passed away in October 2021 at the age of 91
Peter begged me for his favorite lemonade. I reminded him of his decision and didn’t give it to him because drinking only prolongs dying. Instead, I wiped his lips with water, then left the room and cried,” she wrote of her husband’s second day without food.
Euthanasia, in which doctors use drugs to kill patients, is legal in seven countries – Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain – plus several states in Australia.
Other jurisdictions, including several U.S. states, allow assisted suicide, in which patients take the deadly drug themselves, usually in a doctor-prescribed drink.
Seven states, including New York, are considering assisted suicide bills in the coming months.
Meanwhile, some of the 10 states that already allow medical assistance for dying (MAiD) are relaxing their rules, reducing wait times, allowing nurses to prescribe lethal drugs alongside doctors, and allowing people who are unable to visit to get their end life.
Peter competed in the Boston Marathon several times and covered “thousands of miles” on his bicycle during summer vacations, but in later years he required a walker.
After meeting with a neurologist, Judy found that her husband, a computer science scholar, could no longer count backwards, type, or repeat words he needed to remember.
“It became clear to both of us that his ability to function was diminishing,” she wrote.
Peter then started talking about ending his life on his own terms.
Peter Kugel will celebrate his 90th birthday in March 2020. He would choose to take his own life 18 months later
Peter was a member of Boston College’s Computer Science Department for many years
Judy writes in her piece for the Globe that the couple’s Ugandan housekeeper quit when she learned of Peter’s decision to stop eating and drinking, citing her religious beliefs.
Shortly before making his decision, Peter “devoured” a “lunch of his favorite foods, including bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, and sinful pastries.”
Judy said it led her to wonder if her husband was ready to die. When he made the decision, Judy described it as “the worst eight days of my life.”
On the couple’s first day in bed together, Peter told his wife that she had been “magnificent” and that he wished he had bought her more flowers.
The couple was aided by hospice care, which provided a hospital bed for their home and provided morphine, as well as “other end-of-life care necessities.”
Their sons, Jeremy and Seth, also spent time with their father, reading to him and playing classical music until he died.
In the op-ed, Judy then advocates euthanasia, arguing that if her husband had lived in Switzerland, he would have had the help of the group Dignitas, which helps people end their lives on their own terms.
She compares her husband’s situation to their family’s dog, Bucky, who was put to sleep when he fell ill.
“It is nothing short of cruel to prevent anyone from having any control in life’s most difficult hours,” writes Judy.
“It is nothing short of cruel to prevent anyone from having any control in the most difficult hours when life comes to an end,” writes Judy in her op-ed
The Massachusetts legislature has consistently refused to vote on assisted suicide bills. As Judy points out, current Governor Maura Healy is apparently open to signing one if it passes the state house.
The op-ed ends with Peter’s essay he wrote a week before making his decision to take his own life.
He wrote about his once active life now hampered by Parkinson’s and a stroke. That he couldn’t travel alone because he had to hand in his driver’s license and that he now needed help to go to the toilet.
“I’m not in pain, but being helpless hurts. I realize dying may be uncomfortable, but it won’t be as bad for me as it was for my mother’s parents who died in Auschwitz,” he wrote.
He wrote about his grief over missing his son and grandchildren.
Peter concluded, “I think I’m making the right choice, but if I’m not, I don’t have to live with it.”
Since Oregon’s MAiD law went into effect in 1997, nine other states and Washington DC in the US have allowed terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to ask doctors for a lethal dose of drugs that then swallow them yourself, usually at home. .
While U.S. physician-assisted suicide rules are stricter than those in Canada and help some desperately ill people end their agony, critics say they also devalue human life and make death a solution for the sick, the disabled, and even those who are cramped. sit with cash or feel like a burden.
California has a population similar in size to Canada. In 2021, the latest year for which data is available, 772 Californians received scripts for lethal drugs and 486 died after taking them — mostly people over age 60 with cancer, heart and brain disease, and Parkinson’s.
On the first day after he decided to die, the couple lay in bed together, and Peter told his wife that she had been “magnificent” and that he wished he had bought her more flowers.
Support for MAiD has risen steadily since the 1940s and remained ahead about 70 percent from the 1990s, says polling group Gallup
In the same year, doctors in Oregon prescribed 383 lethal doses and killed 238 people.
Only about 27 percent of assisted deaths in Oregon in 2021 involved people who said they were in too much pain, while more than half said they felt they were a burden to loved ones, and 8 percent worried about money.
Some Americans receiving lethal doses have been found to be non-compliant.
Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani, who treats eating disorders, sparked controversy last year by prescribing lethal doses to three patients with anorexia nervosa — a mental health and body image disorder in which patients often starve themselves.
A 36-year-old woman died after taking the drugs. Dr. Gaudiani, who still practices, argued that anorexia, while not as serious as cancer, is brutally deadly to patients.
Even with those next-generation drugs in Oregon in 2021, five MAiD patients vomited after taking pills, and one person passed out but later regained consciousness.
Most people died within 30 minutes, but others took more than 100 hours to perish.
A report last year in the British Medical Bulletin found that it wasn’t always a “peaceful and painless Hollywood-style death,” citing the example of a Colorado cancer patient who took nine hours to die after much ‘choking and coughing’.
Unlike in Canada, doctors are not always present when American patients take the lethal dose. Some families have been left in a fearful limbo because a loved one takes hours, maybe even days, to stop breathing.