Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013, July 04, 2003, Page 15, Image 15

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    He taped Schwartz in his home and daily
routines, talking about his life as well as his
choice to use physician aid-in-dying. “He
was terrific right from the beginning,"
D’Antoni says. “He enjoyed making himself
An activist chooses death with dignity
a representative and advocate for this issue.”
For nearly two years, D’Antoni com­
by M eg D aly
piled more than 170 tapes of footage. He
says OPB is now in discussions with nation­
al organizations about broadcasting the
documentary within a year and a half.
One agreed-upon component of the doc-
umentary was taping Schwartz’s last day,
adding an unusual element to an already
somber occasion. “Robert gave his most pre­
cious gift, his privacy,” D’Antoni says. "He
never pulled any punches with us. He had
the cixirage to allow his decision-making
prix;ess, torturous as it was, to he dixrument-
ed. It was important to him that people
understand that this isn’t a decision taken
lightly or rashly."
For Greg Eddie, one of more than 20
people gathered at Schwartz’s home May 3,
the camera was not ohtmsive. Eddie had
been matched with Schwartz as part of
Cascade AIDS Project’s Personal Active
Listener program. During the four years
Eddie volunteered his practical and emo­
tional support, the two became friends.
Robert Schwartz fought hard for the passage and preservation of Oregon’s Physician Aid-in-Dying
"1 was in awe that Bob could continue
law, which allowed him to end his life May 3
to fight," he says. “His ability to adapt to
changing
situations was amazing. He was a
18
years.
As
one
of
his
doctors
said,
“Boh
had
every­
n May 3, surrounded by family
thing in the book at one time or another,” referring j nruxJel of living in the present.”
and friends, Robert Schwartz
Others invited to attend Schwartz’s last day
to the common opportunistic infections and health
took his own life. He drank a
included his parents, his brother, two cousins and
glass of a barbiturate, followed it conditions that plague people with the disease.
several friends as well as a number of caregivers
Schwartz was, by all accounts, a long-term
with a few sips of juice, put an
who had known Schwartz through the years.
arm around his companion, whispered "it’s survivor of HIV. He was also a longtime
Eighmey was in attendance, as was a doctor affil­
activist— for AIDS research, for gay marriage
going to be all right,” closed his eyes and slipped
iated with Compassion in Dying of Oregon.
rights, for Tri-Met accessibility, and, most
into a coma. Within 30 minutes, he stopped
Schwartz was someone who enjoyed doing
recently, for physician aid-in-dying.
breathing. He is one of only approximately 140
projects,
and his last day was no exception. He
“Robert
had
seen
much
death
and
suffering
in
Oregonians to end their lives using the state’s
others,” says George Eighmey, executive director arranged a special ceremony to be conducted by
Physician Aid-in-Dying law.
the pastor of his church. He arranged for the
of Compassion in Dying of Oregon, a nonprofit
Schwartz was horn Jan. 21, 1951, in Brixik-
film crew, the funeral home services and his
line, Mass. The adopted son of Muriel and Frank
organization that provides information and sup-
Schwartz, he grew up in Los Angeles with his
port to the terminally ill within the framework of memorial service.
He even arranged for his brain and other organs
the state’s Physician Aid-in-Dying law. Schwartz
adopted brother, Peter.
contacted Eighmey two years ago, expressing his to be donated to Oregon Health & Science Uni­
He became an emergency medical technician
versity and other medical facilities for research.
and worked in the L is Angeles area until becom­ interest in using the law, should the need arise.
When Tom D’Antoni of Oregon Public Broad- i “He was an activist even after death,” Eddie says.
ing disabled by HIV/AIDS. In the early 1990s he
Not all friends were supportive of his choice
casting contacted Eighmey about doing a diKumen-
moved to Portland, bought a home and dedicat-
to end his life, Schwartz told Eddie a few weeks
ed himself to enjoying his favorite things in life: ! tary on physician aid-in-dying, Schwartz seemed like
camping, gardening, spending time with friends a natural fit. “Robert had a passion for preserving the before his death. Eddie himself admits to having
concerns early on in Schwartz’s discussion of
and playing with his dog, Rachel, and cat, Greta. law," Eighmey says. “He also knew how to command
using the Oregon law. “1 wasn’t sure it wits the
an
audience
in
a
knowing,
gentle
way.”
Known for his humor and no-nonsense loyal­
right time," he says.
D’Antoni contacted Schwartz, who at first
ty, Schwartz had always been committed to help-
However, Eddie was able to offer his unfet­
ing jx'ople. One way he responded to being HIV-
had some reservations about participating in the
tered support this spring when Schwartz was
positive was to redouble his efforts to care for oth- documentary. “What reassured him was that, in
diagnosed with interstitial pneumonitis, the
ers. He lost two companions to AIDS, Kith of addition to shixiting the process at end, it was
same disease that had killed a close friend a
just as important to me that we establish con-
whom he supported through their final days.
decade ago. Interstitial pneumonitis is an incur­
He h.xl been living with HIV/AIL)S for at least
text for that action," the journalist says.
S w eet S orrow
able inflammation of the lungs that causes the
patient to slowly suffocate to death.
“He had seen what that illness did to his
ffiend, and he didn’t want to suffer like that,"
Eddie says. “I drew strength from him because he
was so sure of his choice.”
Eighmey says that in his last two weeks
Schwartz had “entered the dying room,” where
the material world ceases to be of concern, and
feelings of love and caring for others become pri­
mary. “There’s no doubt he was spiritually ready.”
For Eddie, the experience of knowing
Schwartz was inspirational. “1 hope I have as
much dignity and grace when it’s my time to
go," he says. "It feels gcxxi to know I have a
choice at the end of life. Knowing that life is not
just about avoiding pain and death, challenges
me to own the rest of my years."
Just before Schwartz closed his eyes for the
final time May 3, D’Antoni assured him his dig­
nity would be preserved. "Robert,” he said, “we
will do right by you.” J H
MEG D aly is a
Portland free-lance um ter
O regon
U pdate
vs .
A shcroft
A
three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit
Court of Appeals heard oral arguments
May 7 in Oregon vs. Ashcroft, in which U.S.
Attorney General John Ashcroft contends that
Oregon’s Physician Aid-in-Dying law is a viola­
tion of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
According to Oregon Death with Dignity,
“the explicit language of the C SA , the case law
which interprets it and the legislative record
that supports it all make clear that the attorney
general’s role is to regulate the manufacture, dis­
pensing and distribution to prevent illicit use,
diversion and trafficking. Nothing contained in
the C S A gives the attorney general authority
over the practice of medicine within the indi­
vidual states.”
Oregon Death with Dignity is the legal
defense and public policy nonprofit that formed
in 1993 to help pass and defend the state’s Physi­
cian Aid-in-Dying law.
Ashcroft must persuade the court not only
that his interpretation of the C S A is correct but
also that it was the intent of Congress to alter
the state/federal framework in this instance by
permitting federal encroachment into state-
regulated medical practice.
A decision in Oregon vs. Ashcroft is expect­
ed in late summer, after which the losing side
could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Stay
informed on the progress of the case online at
www.dwd.org.
—M D
jn