I am 61 years old, I have made my living as an artist for 35 years. I am a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and my wife and son are members of Jemez Pueblo. I have lived in New Mexico for almost 40 years.
After serving in the Peace Corps for two years, I came to Santa Fe to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts. After graduating first in my class, I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the College of Santa Fe. Since that time, I have made my living as an artist. I currently have a one-person exhibit of my work at the NM Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the exhibit is up for a full year.
I was diagnosed with a terminal illness called ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) exactly 4 years ago, this week, the week of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. ALS is a neuro-muscular disease that attacks the nervous system and the muscles. The median survival time after diagnosis is 3yrs and 3 months, though many patients die sooner or later than this. I have the bulbar onset kind of ALS, that means that it attacks my breathing, speech, eating and swallowing, one day I won’t be able to speak at all, I won’t be able to swallow food or water, and eventually my diaphragm and lungs will stop working and, unable to breathe, I will die. I don’t want to spend my final days with tubes in me, trapped in a dying process where I slowly suffocate. I sincerely hope that the doctors can provide aid in dying when my suffering becomes too great.
When we are well, we all think we will live forever. When you get diagnosed with a terminal illness, the first thing to die are your hopes and dreams, you try desperately to comprehend what is happening to you, you struggle with the sorrow of knowing you will not live the life you had planned. You then go through specific stages of grieving, the same emotional stages of grieving that you go through when you try to cope with the death of a loved one. You grieve for your own death.
I believe that all mentally competent, terminally ill patients should have the option of aid-in-dying. When I heard that the NM courts had made it illegal, I was sad to know that I no longer had that option. One of my worst fears is ending up in a hospital, nearly a vegetable, with all kinds of tubes in me keeping me a live against my wishes while my family stands by in anguish. As an independent artist, I have always lived my life on my own terms guided by my strong principles. I want that to be true in my final days as well. When I die, I want to experience a peaceful death, at home, surrounded by my loved ones.
David P Bradley