Going gently into the night: For now, Death with Dignity is a lost cause in Utah

“I don’t want to die,” says John Scharf, who recently received a terminal cancer diagnosis.  The Davis County man is receiving all possible treatments to extend his life, but says, “If can’t take care of my family, feed my chickens and play with my grandkids, I want to leave in a humane and dignified manner.”

Unfortunately for Sharf, and many like him, getting medical help to die—so-called death with dignity—is not an option in Utah. State Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck has introduced a bill allowing for assisted suicide three years running, only to see it die without a debate.  She says this is at least partly because of the elephant in the room of Utah politics.

“In this state we have strong feelings about the government not intruding in self-autonomy and self- determination,” Chavez-Houck says. But, she didn’t count on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ rigid opposition to her bill. “I really thought their concept of free agency would allow us a little more room. I thought there would be some space for this, but there’s not. And as long as 90-plus percent of my colleagues are members of the church, I just don’t know how I’m going to get it through.”

Chavez-Houck says she’ll keep fighting. “I’ve met terminal patients in favor of this bill. They don’t want to die but their choice [of when] has been taken away from them by the disease. When you work with people like that you want to do everything you can to make it a reality for them.”

Scharf wants control over the end of his life. “Choosing the end of my life, rather than allowing cancer to steal my family’s good memories of me, is the one way I can accept this situation and leave in peace.”

written by: Christie Marcy

photo by: Adam FInkle

Christie Marcy
Christie Marcyhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Christie Marcy is a former managing editor at Salt Lake magazine. Though she writes about everything, she has a particular interest in arts and culture in Utah. In the summer months, you will find her at any given outdoor concert on any given night. In the winter, you will find her wishing for summer. Follow her on social media at @whynotboth.

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