I didn’t know Betsy Davis, and there’s a great chance you didn’t know her as either, besides reading one or two news articles about her, maybe.
But I recently read her story, written by her sister, and it stuck with me.
Betsy was diagnosed with ALS in July 2013. A disease so horrible I can’t put it into words. It slowly weakens the muscles and impacts physical function – including the ability to breathe. Most ALS patients die through suffocation.
”Over the last year, I watched her increasingly struggle to eat and speak and do the simple things the rest of us take for granted, like scratch an itch or brush a stray hair from her eyes. No longer able to walk, she spent most of the day in bed.” Betsy’s sister Kelly writes in her article.
Around the same time, California was trying to push a law that allows terminally ill people to have control over how and when to end their own life: the End Of Life Option Act. The law didn’t take effect until June 9th on this year, but Betsy was willing to wait, so she could end her life safely and legally.
Thanks to Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, the End of Life Option Act was resurrected in mid-August 2015, passed and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown the following month. Brown is Catholic, and many were unsure whether he’d sign the bill. In a poignant signing message explaining his decision, Brown wrote: “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.” – Kelly Davis, The San Diego Union Tribute
When it was time, Betsy decided to throw a party for her friends and family. “You are all very brave for sending me off on my journey,” she wrote in an email to her guests. “Thank you so much for traveling the physical and emotional distance for me. These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness, and openness.” There was only one rule: no crying in front of her.
Betsy Davis is a truly remarkable person. She’s so brave for dealing with her situation the way she did. For making something positive and beautiful out of something so unfair and sad.“She wanted everyone to take a Betsy souvenir and that included her clothes,” Kelly told Us Weekly. “People were really hesitant at first, and then they started trying them on and going down to her for approval. Some of the guys started modeling dresses just to make her laugh, and it turned into this fun fashion show.”
I’m glad more places are passing laws like the only in California, where terminally ill patients have a choice. Some will want to fight to the very end and some will choose to go the way Betsy did. Both paths are equally brave.
Photo: Niels Alpert