Mon, Sep 02, 2019 - Page 8 News List

In the face of death, the party of a lifetime

Robert Fuller was one of about 1,200 people who have used Washington’s Death with Dignity Act to end their lives in the decade since it became law

AP, SEATTLE

A man is silhouetted against a lake at sunset on Tuesday. “Aid in dying” laws have become more common in the US, giving people who are terminally ill the option of hastening their death.

Photo: AP

The day he picked to die, Robert Fuller had the party of a lifetime.

In the morning, he dressed in a blue Hawaiian shirt and married his partner while sitting on a couch in their senior housing apartment. He then took the elevator down three floors to the building’s common room, decorated with balloons and flowers.

With an elaborately carved walking stick, he shuffled around to greet dozens of well-wishers and friends from across the decades, fellow church parishioners and social-work volunteers. The crowd spilled into a sunny courtyard on a beautiful spring day.

A gospel choir sang. A violinist and soprano performed “Ave Maria.” A Seattle poet recited an original piece imagining Fuller as a tree, with birds perched on his thoughts.

And when the time came, “Uncle Bob” banged his walking stick on the ceiling to command attention.

“I’ll be leaving you in a little over an hour,” he announced.

A sob burst. Fuller turned his head sympathetically toward its source.

“I’m so ready to go,” he said. “I’m tired.”

Later that afternoon, Fuller plunged two syringes filled with a light brown liquid — a fatal drug combination mixed with Kahlua, his favorite alcohol — into a feeding tube in his abdomen. He was one of about 1,200 people who have used Washington’s Death with Dignity Act to end their lives in the decade since it became law.

As such laws grow more popular — they have taken or will take effect in Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine this year, making it nine states where “aid in dying” is allowed — more people who are suffering and terminally ill have the option of hastening their death. Those who do cite a variety of reasons — fear of losing their autonomy or dignity, becoming a burden to loved ones, becoming unable to enjoy life — but they are united in a desire to take control of their own ends.

The Associated Press documented one man’s story in the days surrounding his death, spending time with him and those around him. In an interview the day before he died, Fuller said he wanted to demonstrate for people around the country how such laws work.

For him, the decision to end his life at 75 was, if not easy, never in doubt.

A LONG RELATIONSHIP WITH DEATH

Death did not frighten Bob Fuller. It had been with him since he was young.

He grew up in Hooksett, New Hampshire, the second of four children. His father was a furniture maker, his mother a homemaker. He described their relationship as loveless and unhappy, but he was close to his ailing grandmothers and would frequently sit with them.

When he was 8, he said, his father’s mother, severely depressed, drowned herself in the Merrimack River after leaving her glasses and slippers on the shore. He recalled seeing her body in the water, a trauma that began his long, matter-of-fact relationship with death.

He called it his “default setting”: “If life gets painful, you go to the Merrimack River.” Fuller’s friends described him as playful, wise, witty and vibrant, a wonderful singer and the type of person who collected friends everywhere. He sponsored people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction after quitting drinking in 1983. In retirement he ran a voucher program — now named for him — through the LGBTQ support organization Peer Seattle that provided music and theater tickets to those who couldn’t afford them.

As a former nurse, he was like an unofficial assistant manager at his building, helping residents change bandages or picking them up when they fell in their kitchens.

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