Skip to main content

San Diego Writer Shares Terminally Ill Sister’s ‘Rebirth Party’

Photo caption: Betsy Davis, center, greets friends during her "Rebirth" party in Ojai on Jul...

Photo by Niels Alpert

Betsy Davis, center, greets friends during her "Rebirth" party in Ojai on July 24. Davis was diagnosed with ALS. Her sister, writer Kelly Davis, looks on at right.

San Diego Writer Shares Terminally Ill Sister's 'Rebirth Party'

GUEST:

Kelly Davis, freelance journalist

Transcript

San Diego reporter Kelly Davis typically covers criminal justice, prisons and the county's efforts to fight homelessness, but her most recent story is a personal one: Davis wrote about her sister Betsy's decision to end her life under California's new aid-in-dying law.

Davis, writing in Voice of San Diego, said her sister was diagnosed with ALS in 2013, and Betsy subsequently struggled to eat, speak and sometimes breathe. Betsy had been thinking about ending her life for about a year, and once the aid-in-dying law went into effect in June, she began planning a "rebirth party" at her house in Ojai.

"You are all very brave for sending me off on my journey," Betsy wrote in an email to her guests. "There are no rules. Wear what you want, speak your mind, dance, hop, chant, sing, pray, but do not cry in front of me. OK, one rule.”

Davis said her sister had always been independent and struggled with losing control over her own body.

“My sister is an example of exactly what the law intended to do: allow a dying young woman the ability to assert control over the chaos and uncertainty of terminal illness," Davis wrote. "She turned death into a reason to celebrate, and she was there to enjoy the party.”

Davis' story was quickly picked up by outlets around the world, including the Associated Press, the Daily Mail and People magazine.

"She wanted her story to get out there," Davis said. "I told her, 'I’ll write an op-ed and describe how going through this whole process with you reaffirms this is a good law.' She gave me this look of disapproval, which meant, 'This sounds so dull.'"

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.