Shava Nerad has a terminal illness and intends to end her life by refusing food and water.
Her health-insurance company has denied the services she needs to carry out her plans.
This is Nerad’s story, as told to Jane Ridley.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Shava Nerad. It has been edited for length and clarity
I once talked a good friend out of suicide.
We were both in our 20s and I asked, “If you could do anything in your life, what would you do?” He said he’d be a roadie and learn to do the lighting for bands. So I told him, “Quit your job, get rid of everything, and go try that.” Then I said, “You can always kill yourself later.”
He took my advice. He became a lighting director for some of the biggest musicians of the 1980s and ’90s.
Now, four decades after that conversation, and at 63, I’m the one who wants to end my life. I’m not pro-suicide, but I am against the idea of a meaningless life — something that I see in my future. If I was handed millions of dollars, it wouldn’t give me back my health. If you can’t do what you love and you are suffering pain all day and every day, maybe it’s time to go.
I need clearance from my health-insurance company before I can properly end my life
But it’s not as simple as that. I am not going to hang myself — it sounds awful. All I want is to go out on my own terms while I can still say goodbye. The best way for me to die is by voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, or VSED.
I believe it’s the most compassionate method of suicide — both for yourself and your family. It’s not painful — you’re hardly even aware toward the end — and your loved ones can be at your bedside if they wish. But before I go ahead with VSED, I have to rip up the red tape and change my advance directive. My health insurance won’t pay for the geriatric psych evaluation that I need to prove that I’m of “sound mind.” If I don’t get the clearance, I can forget about receiving any form of hospice care.