By Claire Hughes
J.J. Hanson, who worked in Albany and other state capitals to prevent passage of legislation permitting physician assisted suicide, died Saturday, according to press releases from advocacy groups.
Hanson, who was 36, is survived by his wife Kristen, as well as two sons, 4-year-old James and 6-month-old Lucas. The family lives in the Sullivan County hamlet of Glen Spey, in the town of Lumberland.
He was a U.S. Marine Corp. veteran who served in Iraq, and president of the Patients Rights Action Fund, based in New York City. He became an ardent opponent of efforts to allow terminally ill patients to speed up their deaths after his own diagnosis with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in May 2014. At the time of the diagnosis, doctors gave Hanson four months to live. But his cancer initially subsided after undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and experimental treatment.
It was not immediately clear Saturday evening when Hanson became ill again. His family could not be reached. A post on the Patients Rights Action Fund website noted that he had been admitted to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on Dec. 3 after his illness had worsened. Matthew Valliere, the organization’s executive director, wrote that Hanson was planning to seek hospice care and enjoy his final days at home.
In an interview with the Times Union last year, a healthy, active Hanson explained how his personal experience informed his strong opposition to physician-assisted suicide, also known as medical aid in dying.
In September 2014, four months after his diagnosis – around the time doctors predicted he would die – Hanson had plunged into a deep depression. He had undergone a grueling treatment regimen, but lost his ability to walk, talk, read and write, and had repeated seizures. He was bedridden for weeks and the stress was hurting his marriage.
He told the Times Union that if he had access at that time to a lethal medication, he might have taken it. And then, he said, he wouldn’t have had the health years afterward.
“If I had made that decision at that point in time, and I had those drugs, I wouldn’t be talking to you,” Hanson said in March 2016.
Hanson’s concerns about aid in dying included that the option to die would dishearten and wrongly influence severely ill patients who felt they were a burden to their families, just at the time they most needed courage. He also expressed concern that patients with rare terminal disorders would not participate in needed research, if given the option to die.
The New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide issued a release Saturday, saying, “We will miss J.J.’s leadership, his optimism, his selflessness, his tenacity, and his willingness to draw upon his own difficult experiences to advocate for others facing challenging medical problems.”
Valliere’s Dec. 4 note on the Patients Right Action Fund website thanked Hanson for “your courage in the face of mortality, for fighting for the vulnerable, though weak physically and emotionally at times yourself, and giving us all an example of living life to its fullest.”