John Jay Hooker plans a final fight for ‘death with dignity’

At age 84, John Jay Hooker is facing terminal illness and plans to dedicate his remaining months to pushing for passage of legislation allowing Tennesseans to choose how they die, according to Frank Daniels III.

“It is the ultimate civil right,” John Jay said, “to be able to die with dignity, while you still have some choice in the matter.”

Only three states — Oregon, whose citizens passed a law in 1994 and re-confirmed the vote in 1997; Washington, whose voters passed a law in 2008; and Vermont, whose legislature enacted a doctor-assisted suicide law in 2013 — allow terminally-ill citizens to choose when they die.

Hooker knows that it will be a difficult fight, but wants Tennessee to be the fourth state.

…On Jan. 6, John Jay told me that he was going to see the doctor about a lump on his arm.

A few days later, he told me the grave news.

“It’s malignant melanoma, and it’s terminal,” he said. He was in surprisingly good spirits.

“Well,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice, “I have standing.”

John Jay was referring to his frequent battles in Tennessee courts over the constitutionality of the way we used to choose appellate judges, and how the Attorney General would argue that Hooker had no standing before the court.

Last week, Hooker began telling friends that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and that he wanted to dedicate his remaining months to passing a Tennessee Death with Dignity law, and suing for the right to choose the time of his death.

Thursday, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, filed a caption bill to start the process in support of Hooker’s effort. Fitzhugh is a deacon in his Baptist church and has deep misgivings about death with dignity laws, according to his chief policy advisor, Zachary Kelley.

But, Kelley said, Fitzhugh’s respect for Hooker and his fights on behalf of civil rights outweighed the minority leader’s personal feelings.

Passing the legislation will be a long shot, but Hooker would not know what do to with an easy battle anyway.

“I want to be engaged, and vital, and when I can’t be engaged in the debate, then it will be time for me to go,” John Jay says. “And I want to be able to make that choice — when the time comes.”

Note: It appears the caption bill mentioned is HB887, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis.