By Mary Robb Jackson

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — An estimated 2,420,000 Americans die every year.

Forty percent of those deaths are sudden, but many of us have time to think about the end of life.

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A billboard in Oakland located on the Boulevard of the Allies offers food for thought. It says: “Die With Dignity. The Final Human Right.”

“If they’re incapacitated and can’t make that decision, then nobody should have the right to say, ‘OK, let’s let them die.’ No.

“If you’re fully competent in making your own decisions then sure I think you should be allowed to,” says Allan Littlejohn, a passerby.

“What this group is advocating is not the philosophy of hospice at all,” Maureen Haggerty, of Family Hospice and Palliative Care in Mt. Lebanon, said.

She is very familiar with the dying and their families wrestling with end-of-life issues.

“It’s about dignity. It’s about fulfilling the wishes of patients to die in a manner that is what they want, but we don’t do anything to hasten that,” Haggerty said.

The billboard is sponsored by Final Exit Network, a non-profit based in New Jersey.

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Its stated principles are: “… That mentally competent adults have a basic human right to end their lives when they suffer from a fatal or irreversible illness or intractable pain, when their quality of life is personally unacceptable.”

It also states: “… We do not encourage anyone to end their life, do not provide the means to do so and do not actively participate in a person’s death.”

However, they do, “support any member who requests it when medical circumstances warrant their decision.”
“It’s a very personal decision,” says student Hannah Weiers, “and I feel like you know, ‘Do what you feel.’ People may not agree with it.”

The Final Exit Network does require membership. Annual dues are $50 for a single person up to a one-time fee of $750 for a lifetime membership.

A spokesman for the group told KDKA’s Mary Robb Jackson that they currently have about 3,000 members and an all-volunteer staff.

Lamar Outdoor Advertising did not return a request for a comment.

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The Final Exit Network does have a Pittsburgh connection. A member of its advisory board is a local retired chemistry professor and a former president of the Hemlock Society.