Storyteller Spotlight: Debbie Stern

Debbie Stern, a retired psychiatric social worker, has had end-of-life issues on her mind since caring for her father after his lung cancer diagnosis. “We were very close, and it was a horrible death,” she recalls. “He ended up going down to 75 pounds from being a big man, and he was totally delusional at the end. It was awful, very traumatic.” Debbie, who began feeling ill 11 years ago, was diagnosed with a rare and severe form of leukemia in 2016. She endures weekly chemotherapy. “It’s been rough, but I’m doing the best I can,” she says.

Then something Debbie misheard about her home state of New York’s medical aid-in-dying bill spurred her to become involved in the movement. “I was falling asleep one night while Governor Cuomo was giving an interview on TV, and I thought he said that he was signing the bill,” she explains. “Apparently he didn’t say that — he said he would if it came to him. But I fell asleep with such a peaceful feeling that maybe it doesn’t have to be so horrible at the end. The next morning I reached out to Compassion & Choices.”

Debbie has since joined our storyteller program, sharing her experience publicly to help lawmakers and others in her state understand the importance and benevolence of passing an aid-in-dying law. “Even if it’s too late to help me if it doesn’t pass in time, it will be helpful to other people,” she says. “I’ve always tried to be a person who’s there for others, and I’d like to continue to do that as long as possible. This is one more way to do that.”