US 41-year-old artist with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, Betsy Davis, held two-day party for her closest friends and relatives to say goodbye before becoming one of the first Californians to take a lethal dose of drugs under the state's new doctor-assisted suicide law for the terminally ill.
Davis worked out a detailed schedule for the gathering on the weekend of July 23-24, including the precise hour she planned to slip into a coma, and shared her plans with her guests in the invitation.
"For me and everyone who was invited, it was very challenging to consider, but there was no question that we would be there for her," said Niels Alpert, a cinematographer from New York City.
More than 30 people came to the party. As the weekend drew to a close, her friends kissed her goodbye, gathered for a photo and left, and Davis was wheeled out to a canopy bed on a hillside, where she took a combination of morphine, pentobarbital and chloral hydrate prescribed by her doctor.
Kelly Davis said she loved her sister's idea for the gathering, which Betsy Davis referred to as a "rebirth."
"Obviously, it was hard for me. It's still hard for me," said Davis, who wrote about it for the online news outlet Voice of San Diego. "The worst was needing to leave the room every now and then because I would get choked up. But people got it. They understood how much she was suffering and that she was fine with her decision. They respected that. They knew she wanted it to be a joyous occasion."
Davis ended her life a little over a month after a California law giving the option to the terminally ill went into effect. Four other states allow doctor-assisted suicide, with Oregon the first in 1997.
Davis spent months planning her exit, feeling empowered after spending the last three years losing control of her body bit by bit. The painter and performance artist could no longer stand, brush her teeth or scratch an itch. Her caretakers had to translate her slurred speech for others.
Wearing a Japanese kimono she bought on a bucket-list trip she took after being diagnosed in 2013, she looked out at her last sunset and took the drugs at 6:45 p.m. with her caretaker, her doctor, her massage therapist and her sister by her side. Four hours later, she died.
Friends said it was the final performance for the artist, who once drew pictures on a stage with whipped cream.
"What Betsy did gave her the most beautiful death that any person could ever wish for," Alpert said. "By taking charge, she turned her departure into a work of art."