No Death With (or Without) Dignity Yet: Bud Mayer Lives On as a "Freakin' Miracle"

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Bud and Heidi Mayer got one more Chistmas together
Exactly a year ago, Seattle Weekly interviewed Bud Mayer for a cover story on the uncertainty surrounding terminal prognoses in the light of the new state Death with Dignity Act. Mayer, a psychiatrist who formerly headed health services for the U.S. Armed Forces and retired to a wooded house south of Tacoma, defied medical expectations merely by living. Plagued with heart and kidney problems, he had been given a six month prognosis a year-and-a-half prior.

Still, his health was so bad that he went to bed every night not sure if he would wake up in the morning. At that time, he and his wife Heidi were enjoying what they thought would be one last Christmas together.

Well, they got another one.

With some trepidation, SW called the Mayer house yesterday--and found the 86-year-old very much alive. "Better than I should be," was his assessment of his condition. "He's a freakin' miracle," added his wife, Heidi.

His condition has gotten worse, however. His kidneys have essentially shut down, causing his doctor to tell him that he either needs to have a transplant or start dialysis. He intends to do neither. And he has more trouble walking, causing his life to become severely restricted. He sleeps on a hospital bed in the living room and can no longer leave the house.

He says he's in good spirits, though, and reconciled to what he calls his "dissolution." But there's still so much uncertainty as to when that might be that Heidi worries that Bud may not keep his hospice benefits, which allow a nurse to come once a week. To be eligible for hospice, doctors have to certify that patients have six months or less to live.

The Mayers remain opposed to the Death with Dignity Act, in part because they worry that people will rush into a death that might--like Bud's--come later than they thought. (Thirty-nine people have taken life-ending medication since the act went into effect in March, according to Department of Health statistics.) But Heidi, at least, seems to have mellowed on the subject, saying that there were some circumstances where such a death was the humane option.

The other day she read a New York Times piece on so-called "terminal sedation," whereby doctors medicate dying patients into a prolonged slumber that can hasten their death--one of the many stories sparked by the heated discussion about end-of-life care brought by the push for national health care reform. "I'm glad people are talking about this," she says.

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