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Ashland playwright takes on tough topic: end-of-life planning

'Whose Death Is It Anyway' can be one way to start difficult conversations
 Posted: 2:00 AM March 19, 2014

It's a short play, with some direct points: You not only need to make plans for your death, but put it in writing, get it on file with loved ones and doctors and have an in-depth conversation so family members know exactly what you would do in their place.

If you think you won't be one of those people who winds up at death's door before they're ready, think again.

"Everyone believes it won't happen to them," says Adie Goldberg, who created the concept of "Whose Death Is It Anyway," a 15-minute play that will take the stage at 2 and 7 p.m. Thursday, March 20, in the Smullin Center at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford.

If You Go

What: "Whose Death Is It Anyway," a 15-minute play

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Thursday, March 20

Where: Smullin Center at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford

Admission: Free

More information: Call COHO at 541-292-6466

"People always feel it's too soon to talk about it, until it's too late," says Goldberg, co-chairwoman of COHO (Choosing Options, Honoring Options). "It's very hard in moments of crisis to be clear-headed. So you have to have the conversation beforehand."

COHO will moderate a discussion with the audience after the drama and provide advance directives that allow people to detail what they do and don't want done as they die.

The play, written by Ashland playwright Peter Quince, shows the elderly Emily (Brady Rubin) presuming she's made her peace with "Death" (Michael Meyer) and filled out her directive. But where is the directive now? And would she want just one little jump start with the paddles after a cardiac arrest?

"In a crisis, if you can't speak for yourself," says Goldberg. "Doctors will ask family members and if the directive isn't on file, it's difficult to answer ... . So make sure all the really important people have a copy."

Quince, who plays the doctor, says it's not uncommon for people to think they've got all the end-of-life answers under control.

"But the reality is it's so sudden and complex," he says. "Instead of following the course we thought, we get caught up in this train wreck of medical intervention, and they're on tubes and life support and everything we didn't want to happen is happening."

Having the end-of-life conversation is not easy, says Quince, and the play is designed to open that conversation.

"So many people are afraid of the subject. It's taboo to talk about end-of-life choices," he adds, "but we are really so hungry to talk about it."

In the play, Emily is ready to die but is kept alive by medical intervention and the convoluted discussion that launches among family and health care providers. She ultimately is not allowed to exercise the choices she made long ago.

"She comes in the emergency room, unconscious, with cardiac arrest and is taken deeper and deeper into life support," says Quince. "If they defibrillate and restart the heart, well, wouldn't you want that?"

Standing by is Death, "not a particularly scary figure, but one she takes comfort in," says Meyer, who plays the reaper.

In the absence of a clear and present directive, let alone an informed family, "she runs into the medical establishment," says Meyer.

"Their job is to keep someone alive at all costs," he says. "If the family is not ready to make that kind of decision, to let death happen naturally, they face the burden of allowing a loved one's life to end."

Emily and Death understand what she wants, but they are the only ones who do.

"He's not champing at the bit to collect another soul," Meyer says. "He just recognizes her wishes and is kind of supportive."

Other actors are Laura Derocher and Laurena Mullins. The play is free and open to the public. COHO coordinates many health care options in the valley and has put on other forums about dementia, ethical wills and what happens when you call 911.

An advance directive may be downloaded from It details your choices about such things as tube feeding, life support and power of attorney. The form is also available at COHO, 670 Superior Court, Suite 208, Medford, OR 97504. For more information, call COHO at 541-292-6466.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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