Bay Area Man One of First to Choose ‘Death with Dignity'

Just two months after California's Death with Dignity Act became law, a Santa Rosa man suffering from a terminal illness has become one of the first to use it. Tonight, his family is sharing their story. As NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez reports, they say the process is less than perfect, but they have no regrets.

94-year-old Tom House was a marine, pilot and insurance broker. He suffered from colon cancer and congenital heart disease and, with just months to live, decided to end his battle, going out on what his family said were his terms. 

“He did it his way,” said daughter-in-law Esther House through tears. “He went out his way. He really did.” 

After spending the morning sharing stories and memories with family and friends, the Santa Rosa man drank a fatal prescription of barbiturates from his favorite coffee mug. 

“Following drinking that, he had his son mix his favorite drink – a martini – then he said ‘something’s happening here’ and he laid back and went to sleep,” said pastor Jeanie Shaw, a friend of House. 

While the process was peaceful for House, the family had issues with some aspects of the procedure, specifically the administration of the drug cocktail. It required them to open 90 small capsules of powder by hand.

“No one should have to sit there with a little toothpick and open these little things and dump the powder in a cup,” said Esther. “That's absolutely ridiculous. 

Still, the family is grateful that their patriarch was able to die peacefully and painlessly, and they say they are grateful to people like the Bay Area's Brittany Maynard, who brought the physician-assisted suicide back in the spotlight and trailblazed to legalize the procedure. like House, Maynard chose to die surrounded by family and friends. 

“It was a beautiful thing that all those people Tom loved could be here with him on the day he chose to be with God,” Shaw said.

Contact Us