Dear Margo: Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

Margo Howard’s advice

Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

Dear Margo: I live in Massachusetts, where a Death With Dignity initiative was defeated on the Nov. 6th ballot. Do you think physician aid in dying is really necessary when palliative care is available to patients who have terminal illnesses? How do you feel about allowing patient choice at the end of life? Have you had any personal experiences with a dying relative or friend? Help me sort through this stuff! — Undecided

Dear Un: I, too, live in Massachusetts, and both my physician husband and I voted for the measure. I am pro-palliative care, but I also know that some illnesses do not respond to opioids. My mother, for example, had multiple myeloma, and no drug totally addresses bone pain. She said more than once that if she were able, she would bring down the curtain. I, myself, have a little list of illnesses that I would not want to see through to their natural conclusion. When life is no longer life, when there is little function, great pain and no pleasure, what is served by “letting nature take its course”? I have an aunt, now 95, who has had Alzheimer’s since the early ’90s. One can only imagine what the days are like for her and her family.

To answer your question, I think physician aid in dying would be a wonderful gift to suffering patients. Many of the older docs are steeped in Hippocrates’ “first do no harm,” but my hope is that the younger ones understand that oath to mean “let no one for whom life is a punishment suffer.” Theatrical merit aside, I very much agree with the title of the play, “Whose Life Is It Anyway?”

The states that have approved physician-assisted dying have shown no abuses and rather low rates of people requesting help. An interesting side note is the emotional comfort of such a law being in place. Many patients secure the means but do not use them.

If the religious lobby succeeds in blocking this initiative, people need not feel helpless. There’s a wonderful group of dedicated people who have made common cause with “Compassion and Choices.” They are at They offer local phone numbers and provide, well, choices. Often it is guidance to hospice. I hope I have answered your question. — Margo, compassionately

Oddball Showoffs

Dear Margo: My son “Ben” and his wife, “Kay,” love being the center of attention. This has caused many scenes. My other son’s wife, “Carol,” lost her mother last year. After the funeral, family members gathered at our house. Carol spoke with everyone but soon needed privacy. As she was leaving, Kay demanded she stay. Ben then announced that Kay was pregnant. Carol gave congratulations, and then she and my other son quickly left.

My husband took Ben aside and explained that it was inappropriate to make their announcement just then. Ben argued that it was convenient since everyone was together. Since then, Ben has called us for money, but he has excluded us from everything. We only found out about the birth because Kay’s mother kindly sent photos.

Now they’ve sent an email saying they want no contact. Kay wrote that we are an embarrassment and our values are not in sync with theirs. My husband wants to sue for visitation. I don’t want to be aggressive, but it seems the alternative is to just give up. How do we resolve this? — “Embarrassment”

Dear Em: Nice touch that Ben would ask for money and then inform you that they want no further contact. That pair of showboats sound seriously off base, not to mention mean. I doubt that you can repair things with them, given the way they think, but depending on the state you live in, you may be able to sue for grandparents rights. You can research this on the Internet. — Margo, appallingly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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80 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter #2:  Hard to know if your failure to give them money or your husband’s comments at the funeral offended them the most…probably both things.  The announcing their pregnancy at the funeral was a little *all about me* but I would be inclined to let that slide if the wife did not insist that Carol stay and instead, quietly told the family after she had gone home.  Definitely look into grandparent’s visitation rights…on the understanding that this act will likely sever the relationship permanently (if it isn’t already).  I might be inclined to bide my time and see if they mellow out and let you see your grandchild without a court order.  As for asking for money…you don’t say if you gave them any or not…I would not do so unless and until the relationship returns to normal (and probably not even then unless you just chalk it up as gift). 

    As for Letter #1:  I am with the letter writer on this.   I certainly would understand anyone with a terminal and painful illness choosing suicide.  But, I am a little leery of the greedy heirs who might want to off their incompetent (mentally or physically) parent prematurely.  If studies have shown no abuse of the process then perhaps my concerns are unfounded.    

  2. avatar Susan JH says:

    LW #1 — For what it’s worth, I think the choice of right to die is critically important.  Both my parents signed living wills, and our mother had to make the choice to take our father off of life support, which she did to honor our dad’s wishes, and with our total support. 
    My mother always swore she was the real Chicken Little, afraid of her own shadow, etc., but when push came to shove, she made the most courageous decision I ever knew anyone to make.  It is one thing to sit across the desk from a lawyer or doctor, with your spouse by your side, and say, “When the time comes, I want to go with dignity” when “the time” seems a long way down the road, but it is something else quite again to say after two tries of a treatment that wasn’t working, “If it doesn’t work the third time, I want to be let go and go and be with my husband”.  That was the bravest thing I ever knew anyone to do, let alone my mother, because I don’t care what your religious or other beliefs about an afterlife might be or how firmly committed you might be to those beliefs — in the end, none of us really and truly know with (excuse the pun) dead certainty what will become of us after we flatline in this life.  If anyone had tried to stand in the way of her right to make that choice, dealing with my siblings and me would not have made for a pleasant time.  Having to “pull the plug”, as it were, on both our parents was a very difficult thing, but we respected and honored their wishes, and so should the government and the entire medical community.

  3. avatar Sita says:

    Right now I’m watching my mother-in-law turns into a five year old. She can’t remember how to turn on the television anymore. When we explain things she would sort of understand for that time and promptly forget. Alzhiemer’s is a cruel disease. My hope is when I get to that stage, physician assisted suicide will be legal so I can die with dignity. People who never experience the pain of watching a loved one suffer will never understand why we need physician assited suicide. I’ve gone through 2 of them, first my father-in-law who had cancer and then my own mother with pneumonia. Mom had a breathing tubes for ten days. When she seemed to be breathing on her own the doctors were going to take the tubes out but asked us what we wanted to do if mom wouldn’t breathe on her own. We said definitely not put the tubes back. Let her die in peace as she had told us she wanted to.It was hard but we knew it was the best for her, because the quality of life was zero at that point. We euthanize beloved pets, but we can’t even respect loved ones life when there’s clearly no quality to it or when the person desire a dignify end to it.

  4. avatar Ariana says:

    There are too many details missing from LW#2’s story.

    Here’s our timeline:
    * Ben and wife like to be center of attention and make an untimely pregnancy announcement at a funeral.
    * Ben gets a talking to by Dad.
    * Ben calls Mom & Dad for money, meanwhile not inviting Mom & Dad to any events.
    * Kay writes e-mail to cut off all contact because “values don’t sync”.

    What happened in between those steps? Did they give Ben money and then never hear anything back? Was Kay’s e-mail right out of the blue? Sounds like this family has more problems than is being shown here. The mom & dad could try to contact Ben directly instead of e-mailing through Kay, but it doesn’t sound like any of them have very many communication skills.

  5. avatar Spuck says:

    To the second LW: At the moment all your share is a biological connection with this child. You shouldn’t go around suing for rights unless there is physical abuse going on. Your going to get nothing out of this situation by dragging yourself to court with these people. If you loose it will get cut off. If you do win there is going to be nothing but stress in this child’s life as they have to deal with the emotional baggage they will be forced to carry because of the tug of war the adults in their lives are putting them through. Find a life outside of this grandchild, and if your son and Dil decide to grow up and mellow out or the child comes to you under their own steam, kudos to you.

    • avatar A R says:

      I have to agree with you. If it were a situation where the child were not being cared for, that would be different. As it stands right now, adults have the right to cut family out of their life for their own reasons (don’t we say that on here all the time?). Just because the LW pitched their side doesn’t make them honest, right, truthful, or good. Except in weird custody situations or abuse, grandparents’ rights don’t fly with me.

  6. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – A physician should NEVER step in and take a life. Never. They are to save and preserve life, not aid in snuffing it out.

    Letter #2 – This all boils down to perspective.

    I happen to think it was the perfect time to announce that Kay was pregnant. At the very time people are gather in sadness to grieve the loss of life, they were told that a new life was growing. A baby would be born. What a joyous occasions. It would have been nice if everyone in attendance would have reacted that way.

    I don’t blame Ben and Kay for severing their relationship and not sharing details about the birth of the baby. The letter writer makes it a point to say after asking her for money this couple has the nerve to send them an email cutting them out of their lives. And? Your point? One has nothing to do with the other.

    The letter writer and her husband need to take a long hard look at how they really feel about Ben and Kay, it doesn’t seem they hold them in high regard. Yet they had the audacity to want to be a part of their child’s life? There is a huge disconnect there that this letter writer hasn’t realized yet. I say save your money by way of legal fees and any fight for grandparent’s rights. Let it go. If Ben and Kay have a change of heart that will be a blessing and happy event. But if they don’t, oh well… goes on.

    • avatar Messy ONE says:

      Re: LW1

      You speak like someone who has never, ever either been in pain or have seen someone slowly (or quickly) lose themselves and die in agony. Physicians are adults with volition – it is THEIR choice as to whether they will help a patient who has asked them for help in dying. YOU can choose whether or not to avail yourself of their services.

      What you do NOT have the right to do is force others to do what you want them to. Physician assisted suicide has been around as long as there have been physicians. Doctors who deal with suffering every day of their lives understand that there are times when life is a punishment rather than a gift.

      The fact that you have no compassion or the wit to understand that there are situations where death is preferable to suffering is your personal problem. Thankfully you aren’t important enough to force your nonsense on others.

      The Boy and I are retiring to a right to die state and have already made out wills naming each other as medical proxies with the understanding suicide is an option when one of us is suffering with no hope of relief.

      He watched his grandmother’s bones literally rot because of arthritis. She was in agony for years because of this and wanted to die for over a year before she finally did. My own great-grandmother lost her mind in pieces for years before she died. She was a beautiful, intelligent, lively woman who was able to understand what was happening to her and live in terror for years before she finally lost too much function.

      Their lives were important, and they had the right to decide when to end them.

      • avatar Michelles11 says:

        Messy One, I agree, it depends on the circumstances and the individual. Sometimes, the spirit is ready…and intervening in the natural process of dying can be horribly painful, both physically and emotionally.

      • avatar John Lee says:

        “You speak like someone who has never, ever either been in pain or have seen someone slowly (or quickly) lose themselves and die in agony. Physicians are adults with volition – it is THEIR choice as to whether they will help a patient who has asked them for help in dying. YOU can choose whether or not to avail yourself of their services. “

        Sadly, I don’t think people like Belinda are “ignorant” in that they don’t know people who have been in these situations.  It’s like the typical Republican religious nutjob perspective (not saying she is one), they know people personally who are gay, or need abortions, or suffering in extreme pain from terminal illness, but THEY JUST DON’T CARE and expect everyone to live according to their religious code.  They’ll say just get anti-gay training, just have the rape child or just suffer in mind destroying excoriating pain for as long as the doctors can keep you “alive”.  Because according to them, it’s the right thing to do and they would have their loved one suffer.

        • avatar Messy ONE says:

          I was trying to avoid saying that….. But ok. I’m with I’m with you on that.

          Generally, though, I find that her comments are not only counter to common sense, but feel like she’s just making things up on the fly. Her mantra appears to be, “If you can’t convince-em, confuse-em.”

      • avatar Belinda Joy says:


        I am a Christian. I am one of those Christians that understands that the Bible is an important book to my beliefs, and that many of the teachings in it we (Christians) pick and choose what we will hold up as justification for our beliefs. Example. The Bible has negative things to say about homosexuality, tattoos, body piercings, women working outside the home, men cutting their beards, etc. etc. etc. yet MANY Christians ignore those scriptures to accommodate for how they want to live today. I understand and accept that. I know I do the same.

        On the subject of suicide, according to the Bible that is a sin. For years I was against capital punishment because even though our government may decide a human is guilty of committing a crime and ordered to be killed. The person that has to do the killing (unless they are an Atheist) their soul will be condemned for taking a life. The same is true for a doctor (unless they are an Atheist) that takes a life.

        Beyond that, I find it quite interesting that so many people take to the internet and “whine” about how their loved one is in pain and should have their lives ended, yet they won’t do it themselves. They won’t assist their loved one in taking their life, no…better to have a doctor do it. So it’s not murder if a doctor does it but if you help a loved one…..then it is. I see it as a bunch of wimpy people that don’t want to get their hands dirty. Those that don’t want the figurative “blood on their hands”. Trust and believe if I had a loved one that was in so much pain and agony – begging to end their life – I would remind them it is a sin to end your life, but if they insisted, then they should do so. There are ways even the most immobile and incapacitated men or women can take their lives WITHOUT the aid of a doctor. So all of this talk about needing a doctor to do away with a loved one is bull. If you want to kill yourself, kill YOURSELF – YOURSELF! Just don’t take others with you, that’s all I ask.

        And for those on this thread that are referring to me and my opinions as being the work of a troll, I take that as a compliment. I recently came to the realization I have not been honest enough about my beliefs, that I have been showing too much restraint. So for you people to describe my views as being purposely controversial says that here on WOW, at least here…..I must be actually speaking my mind. Maybe it is only the other websites I blog on that I am censoring my opinions.

        To quote our president, “We must get to a place where we can disagree without being disagreeable.” I have tried to do so on this site for years in the face of others that demeaned and insulted me because of my beliefs. That was true 2 years ago and is true today based on yours and others posts. As I have said time and time again, I’m not going anywhere. You may not like me or my opinions, but that is life. You aren’t the first and won’t be the last.

        • avatar Messy ONE says:

          Your choice of religion is a personal one and does not give you the right to impose it on others. Assisted suicide is a massive issue that is going to get increasingly important and necessary as our population ages. Feel free to live in agony for as long as you want. What you may not do is force others to do the same.

          It is a lie that “anyone” can commit suicide. There is nothing an incapacitated person can do to kill themselves without the help of a physician or loved one. Even if all the doctor does is prescribe a drug that will permit the suffering person to die without pain or fear, that is assisted suicide.

          The nonsense that some people throw around that older people will be dropping like flies because of their families is a lie. Assisted suicide has been legal in many places for a good long time. None of this has happened. Deaths have NOT increased. Not even close. The fact that people seem to believe that they will is nothing more than church propaganda calculated to induce panic and hysteria.

          The Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion was also intended by the framers to guarantee freedom FROM religion. The separation of church and state in this nation has come under attack of late, but it it absolute. Worship as you please, but you will never have the right to make laws that can force so-called “Christians” to dictate what others may or may not do. Those of us who do not grovel in front of a Roman torture device don’t believe as you do, and that is their right.

          Your response to my post is typical. You insist that you can say what you want and I will tell you here and now that there are many who disagree with you, and we all have as much right to disagree as you have to pontificate. This is a message board. Debate is expected.

          • avatar snail says:

            I don’t regularly post on here, and I almost never read the comments – the main reason I did this time is to see the expected right-wing moralistic preaching that I knew would come as a result of Margo’s rational and well-reasoned response to LTR#1. I think it says a great deal about the response in at least some parts of the medical community that she and her husband – the doctor, Belinda, the one who shouldn’t get involved – are in favor of assisted suicide.

            “Suicide” by definition means the killing of one’s self. All the doctor does is assist with the mechanical means necessary to enable someone to do so. It may be as simple as terminating extreme measures, or it may come in the form of providing medication of some type that will make the process smoother, or less painful, or faster. Both my long-time partner and I have living wills and powers of attorney directing the other to help in any way if it becomes necessary. We are both in our 50’s – he has a number of severe and chronic (although not currently immediately life-threatening) medical conditions, and I am completely healthy. But we’re both prepared.

            If you feel strongly opposed to assisted suicide, don’t avail yourself of the service. Just like the other medical and societal issues to which the right-wing is opposed, however, it’s never enough for them to remain convinced that they will never do a certain thing. They have to try to ensure that nobody else can, either. Just because YOU believe something doesn’t give you the right to make ME act a certain way.

    • avatar bamabob says:

      Belinda never disappoints. After reading her comments for several months I am convinced she makes them solely to stir the pot and not out of any personal conviction. I believe the term is “troll” and she does it very well.

      • avatar joanne in jax says:

        Amen! She’s been making her grab for center stage for years on this site. I usually bypass her comments, but this latest one is too egregious for words.

      • avatar John Lee says:

        I don’t think she’s a troll.  She’s just that crazy.

      • avatar Messy ONE says:

        I’ve come to the conclusion that Belinda is of the school that believes that if you say something decisively, everyone ought to believe it, no matter how ridiculous it really is. It’s easy to write long, pontificating posts when you don’t have to think about the content.

        I suspect that she sells used cars.

        • avatar mmht says:

          I think your right. Her views are too black and white to be real or for her to actually believe them as she claims.

          • avatar John Lee says:

            You know many Republicans?

            Cut taxes for the rich = always good.
            No abortions in any case even rape – the famous “legitimate rape” comment by the Congressman
            Send back all illegal immigrants
            etc, etc

            Black and white thinkers definitely exist.

      • avatar Hellster says:

        I do agree with you, bamabob. But I love Belinda for highfalutin, overly mannered, faux-intelligent, grammatically tortured gems like this (both in style and substance): “Trust and believe if I had a loved one that was in so much pain and agony – begging to end their life – I would remind them it is a sin to end your life, but if they insisted, then they should do so.”

        Where do I begin? First off, “that” is never to be used when referring to a human being, and I assume (mind you, it’s a big assumption) that Belinda and her “loved ones” are human.

        Then there’s the labyrinth of “person” in the above selection. You (understood), I, their, them, your, they, and they again! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, referents are to agree in person, number, and case!

        And what a paragon of Christian charity this self-styled grande-dame sans merci is, a veritable angel of mercy, reminding those on their agonized deathbeds that suicide is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. . . but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, you know?

        Blessed is Belinda Joy; forgive her, for she knows not what she do.

        • avatar PortaPetey says:

          Ahhhh, this is all so utterly fantastic.

          I have long been a Margo reader, but I confess I have for months been skimming through the letters as quickly as possible so that I can scroll down and see what kind of imperious, condescending, contemptuous, hateful bile the Beast Known as Belinda Joy 666 has vomited forth in response to real people with real problems. Such a horrid, pretentious, ostentatiously moralistic scold is a rare gem indeed, right down to the Glamour Shots™ photo with the giant ring of pearls. Often, I have almost been horrified and revolted enough to log in and post a reply to her loathsome, venomous, grandiloquent decrees, but I have always managed to remind myself of the old saying…”when you fight with pigs…”

          I am overjoyed to finally see this gutternsnipe-turned-faux-bourgeouse-harridan get a really thorough thumping in the comments. My god, she is awful.

    • avatar Eve Dallas says:

      First and foremost, you are absolutely entitled to your opinion. In my humble opinion, your comments here seem to me to be very close-minded. We release pets from severe pain in a very gentle and humane way surrounded by love . . . why should a person get any less respect and caring? I personally feel that if I were in such severe pain, or completely unable to function and/or unaware of my surroundings, I’d pray that my family would have the strength to release me; to graduate from Earth School, and not see me suffer.

      As for LW#2, there’s a lot we don’t know about this situation. A funeral is to be there to support the grieving family members. Announcing a pregnancy in that situation seems to me to be very poor taste. From this perspective, Ben and Kay are very shallow, very selfish people. I hope that becoming parents will show them just how much people sacrifice for their kids, and turn them into kinder, people with some degree of decorum, or they are going to raise an entitled child, exactly as they are, and be writing to Margo in 20 years with similar questions.

    • avatar D says:

      I agree with you on the first letter.

      As for the second letter, I think that the pregnancy announcement should have been postponed. There is no need for everyone to know at the same time. I do agree that asking for money and cutting ties with her parents may have nothing to do with each other. I do think that if we asked “Ben” and “Kay” their side of the story, it would go a bit differently and there would be some pent up feelings that would come out.

      Just because someone feels a certain way about physician-assisted suicide does not make them a Republican right-wing nut job. I feel as she does and I am far from a Republican right-wing nut job.

      Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips, requiescat in pace.

    • avatar kenswmn says:

      ARE YOU NUTS? What self centered planet do you live on? All I read is that this couple thinks they should be the utmost importance. The parents were smart in mentioning the wrong time to be mentioning pregnancy. The young couple should have been smart enough to realize it! Where do they get off asking the parents for money???? If they are old enough to have a baby they should be old enough to support themselves. Ohhh that is just rich to try and keep the child away from the grandparents. It is always thought that a child can use as much love as can be given. Those people are SELFISH! they do not deserve a child.

  7. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I agree with Margo.

    L #2: Wanting grandparents’ visiting rights is as much as I’d want to do with that situation (easy for me to say, I know). Makes me wonder whether it’s Ben or Kay as *the* initiator of all this nonsense, and the other is weak-minded enough to give/feed into it. Takes all kinds.

  8. avatar judgingamy says:

    Regarding grandparents rights- I believe the laws vary by state, but I think in most, like three conditions have to be true in order to get any rights. I know one of the cond