A little over four years ago, my ailing father decided he was ready to, as he phrased it, "leave this vale of tears."
He was 87, and dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A candid conversation with his doctor revealed he had six to 18 months to live, at best.
My father decided to stop any treatments designed to save or prolong his life and began preparing for the end.
He died a short time later and, except for the final hours, he was mentally sharp and completely aware of what was happening.
Our family was heartbroken, but we considered it a blessing that he passed at home, peacefully, with his dignity intact, knowing that he had been able to make important decisions about his fate.
Not every family is that fortunate. Dying is often an extended, painful event that exhausts families physically, emotionally and financially, to the point that death produces as much relief as sadness.
There is, however, an alternative, albeit a controversial one.
This week, Vermont became the fourth state — Oregon, Washington and Montana are the others — to allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication doses to terminally ill patients who have chosen to end their lives.
The legislation allows qualifying patients with an "incurable and irreversible disease" and less than six months to live to choose medically assisted aid in dying.
The law includes a series of safeguards, including consultation with two physicians and counseling on other options, including hospice and palliative care.