Fresh breath of life does not end lobbyist’s fight over death
By Lee Cataluna
August 6, 2017
On July 10, surgeons removed part of John Radcliffe’s colon. As of now, the cancer in his colon is gone. But, he’s telling friends, don’t get too excited. It’s not a reprieve.
John H. Radcliffe, a retired Hawaii lobbyist who became, as he puts it, the “poster child” for legalizing medical aid in dying in Hawaii, got some astounding news last month.
His inoperable cancer was deemed operable.
He sent out an email updating his status with the jaunty subject line, “Can’t get death right.”
On July 10, surgeons removed part of Radcliffe’s colon. As of now, the cancer in his colon is gone.
But, he’s telling friends, don’t get too excited. It’s not a reprieve.
“Cancer has a sense of humor,” he said. “It just might skip this and go somewhere else.”
In June 2014, Radcliffe was diagnosed with metastasized and inoperable cancer in multiple organs. The bulldog lobbyist and former union leader who had a well-earned reputation for being a hard-charger had been feeling tired. At that initial diagnosis, Radcliffe was given six to 24 months to live.
He began thinking about end-of-life options, how he would fight as best he could but didn’t want to suffer needlessly in the end. He threw his support behind efforts to legalize medical aid in dying in Hawaii, supporting legislation that would allow terminally ill, mentally capable people to self-administer prescribed medication that would bring about a peaceful death rather than a painful, protracted end. The former lobbyist didn’t lobby, though.
“All I could do was basically be a symbol, to look like someone who deserves a choice like this, and to give some speeches,” he said.
The bill, which drew passionate testimony from hundreds of people both for and against, did not advance out of the state House Health Committee.
During the legislative session, as he was giving speeches and interviews, Radcliffe continued receiving chemotherapy even on the floor of the Senate. His last day of chemo was on May 24, his 75th birthday.
In the coming weeks, Radcliffe will have a CT scan to see if the cancer has spread to his lymphatic system. His surgeon told him that the lesions on his liver now do not appear deep.
“That could mean that surgery or radiation might become available,” Radcliffe said. That means there’s a small chance that the cancer in his liver could be essentially cured, he said. “Oh, yeah, there may be cancer in my lung, too, but that is not doing anything — we think.”
Radcliffe plans to go back to the Legislature next session to resume the fight.
“The whole point anyway is not that any miracle occurred but rather, sometimes — whether incrementally or in a blinding flash — discipline, medical science, positive thinking, good wishes and just plain luck combine to work. Or it was a miracle? Miracle is on the table.”
Radcliffe’s condition is still terminal. What he has now is more time.
“Will I continue to seek legislation to permit death with dignity? Yes, of course. Nothing has changed,” he said. “Fighting cancer includes not letting the sonofabitch win by controlling death.”
Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or email@example.com
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