Jerika Bolen died last night

Jerika Bolen, the Wisconsin teenager who spurred a national discussion on assisted suicide and end of life issues, died last night in a hospice facility, carrying out the plan she had made earlier this year. While there were looming threats of legal action and court intervention swirling around her (as we covered earlier this week) the family decided to set those concerns aside. Her lifelong battle with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, which never even allowed her to walk, is over. (Detroit Free Press)

Jerika Bolen, the 14-year-old Appleton girl whose decision to end treatment of her brutal disease drew nationwide support and stoked new debate on right-to-die issues, died on Thursday, her mother, Jen Bolen, said.

Jerika followed through on her decision to enter hospice and end an arduous, lifelong fight against Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, an incurable and progressive disease that racked her body and brought continual pain. She died at Sharon S. Richardson Hospice in Sheboygan Falls. Jerika never walked, and as a teen only had movement in her head and hands.

Her mother released only a brief statement.

“My only words to anyone questioning this is that I love that girl with every cell in my being,” Jen said Thursday, “and no one in their right mind would let someone suffer like she was.”

I sincerely hope that nobody compounds what is already a tragedy by going after Jerika’s mother in court as a means of forwarding some sort of political crusade. They’ve been through enough. There will be more discussions on the subject of assisted suicide to come, but that doesn’t really even apply to Jerika’s case. While some will argue the legal nuances involved, to my way of thinking there is a significant difference between actual suicide (no matter the circumstances) and simply “letting go.” Jerika didn’t need any chemicals or poisons administered to her or some sort of violent incursion on her system. They turned off the equipment which had kept her breathing for all this time and she just slipped away.

To continue the fight, the teenager would have been facing yet another round of surgeries and recovery, none of which would have done anything but increase and prolong her pain while only postponing the inevitable. She chose not to do that and her mother supported her decision. And in doing so, she chose the time and place of her own departure and retained her dignity. As horrible as the entire story is, I can’t bring myself to fault either of them.

Did we learn anything from this? I have no idea. But the parting thoughts of those who face an inevitable reality which we will all deal with sooner or later should at least offer the opportunity for some wisdom. As a parallel to Jerika’s story I would refer you to the tale of 41 year old California resident Betsy Davis, who took her own life after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Before making use of the state’s new Right to Die Act, she gave an interview (as best as she was able) to a friend who is also a reporter. Her dear friend asked her, among other things, if she had any parting words. (Time)

What are your parting words to this world?

Well, I don’t have any great insight on life now, no wise words to impart. I will say that this universe is far too vast for any one thing to be important. Yet, we’re all living our lives the best way we can. So, enjoy the Now. And thanks for the blip of time I’ve had being a silly, imperfect human being.

Forget the politics. Ditch the court battles, if only for a moment. Life is precious, so make the most of it. Someday it will be done.