When Assisted Suicide Becomes a Viable Option

One of my most controversial opinions is related to the subject of euthanasia. I strongly believe that if all one has to look forward to is a life of pain with no hope of relief (for example: a person riddled with terminal cancer and suffering horrendous pain), one should have the RIGHT to put an end to that pain and suffering in a loving environment–surrounded by family and friends, rather than having no choice other than doing it in a desperately violent way (throwing oneself into incoming traffic, shooting oneself, etc).

HOWEVER, when people are forced to contemplate suicide as a way out of a hopeless situation in which they are given very few options; that’s completely unacceptable. A system that pushes people to those extremes, is a failed system that needs to be dismantled.

The only two things that keep some of us from running our wheelchairs into traffic are 1) the fear of NOT dying! And 2) the fear of injuring and/or potentially killing other people in the process.

The title of this short blog entry pretty much encompasses the spirit of my letter to governor Brown (see below). Any and all help spreading the word is greatly appreciated.

April 13, 2018

Governor Edmund G. Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Brown:

My name is Shannon Nelson. I am a 47 year-old quadriplegic woman living in Emeryville.

I’ve been paralyzed from the chest down since 1995 due to a spinal cord injury caused by a swimming pool accident. I moved (actually escaped) from Maine to New York–after being abandoned in a nursing home by my family at 41 years of age–then from New York to California. I suffer from severe nerve pain and couldn’t handle another brutal New York winter.

I moved here not only because of the warmer weather but also because researching the best places to live as a disabled individual consistently showed California–specifically the Bay Area–as the best option.

After a year and a half of navigating the system, I’m exhausted, disheartened and feeling utterly hopeless. 

Rights on paper alone are useless.

Every single disabled resident of the Bay Area I’ve met so far (except those with ample financial resources), struggles a great deal due to the lack of state resources allocated to their care. Actually, to say that we struggle is a huge understatement. When you start considering assisted suicide as a perfectly viable option, you have to pause and question not your own sanity but that of the people in charge of making decisions that directly (and negatively) affect the most vulnerable.

I’m sure you receive hundreds, probably thousands, of letters from distraught marginalized Californians begging for their fair share of the pie; therefore, I’m not delusional enough to expect my little letter to educate you about our plight and make you change policies to help us.

The reason for this letter is simply to document our struggle and hopefully educate our fellow Americans about what we have to go through. If enough people join our cause, maybe, just maybe, we will get people in charge of writing legislation to listen. This is why I decided a good first step would be to contact those people.

Most disabled people I know, myself included, have made peace with our disabilities to varying degrees; however, when we struggle–for example–to find caregivers willing to work for the starvation wages that the state of California pays, we feel utterly helpless, more so than by the fact that we are not able-bodied.

In addition to struggling to find and keep reliable caregivers willing to work for such low wages, many of us also have to deal with the never-ending, ever worsening lack of affordable housing. As I’m sure you know, it has now reached a crisis level.

I am on a wait list to get all of the hours of care I need as well as for affordable housing; however these wait lists are unbelievably long (years!) I recently had a severe medical emergency that caused me to spend five days in the ICU at Alta Bates Medical Center–which led me to the realization that I might actually die while waiting.

When I read an article about you, sir, boasting about the state’s budget surplus, the first thought that came to my mind was “at whose expense?”

Years from now, when you’ve retired from public office and are asked to assess your time as governor, will you think about all of the Californians that were left behind?

The “greatest country in the world” does not treat its most vulnerable citizens with dignity. That, I believe, is a tragedy.


Shannon Nelson