End-of-Life Choice, Death with Dignity, Palliative Care and Counseling

General News

Calif. Death-with-Dignity Plaintiffs Vow to Appeal Case’s Dismissal

Cite Similar, Successful Suits in Other States 

(San Diego, CA – July 24, 2015) Gravely ill plaintiffs vowed to appeal a judge’s dismissal today of their suit asserting the California constitution and existing state law allow terminally ill adults the option of death with dignity, also known as medical aid in dying.

Compassion & Choices has won two similar suits asserting state law and/or state constitution allow medical aid in dying in Montana in 2009 and New Mexico in 2014. Compassion & Choices is providing legal advice in a similar, current suit filed in Tennessee.

The terminally ill lead plaintiff in the California suit, Christy O’Donnell, a Christian, Republican, single mom, civil rights attorney and former LAPD sergeant, is dying from brain, liver, lung, rib, and spine cancer. Christy cried after she watched the judge announce the dismissal of the case at end of the hearing.

“This is not the outcome I had prayed for, but as a lawyer, I am confident the appeals court will see our case in a different light,” said O’Donnell, who turned 47 today and lives in Santa Clarita with her 21year-old daughter, Bailey. “I don’t have much time left to live and that is why I support all end-of-life options, whether they are authorized by litigation or legislation. These options are urgent for me.”

The ruling came a few weeks after Superior Court Judge Gregory Pollack granted the plaintiffs’ motion to expedite review of the case because doctors say O’Donnell, who is morphine intolerant, is likely to die in agony within a few months if she cannot utilize medical aid in dying.
Judge Pollack concluded in his dismissal of the case today that: “It’s up to the legislature or the people to change the law, not a superior court judge.”

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling and intend to appeal,” said lead plaintiffs’ attorney John Kappos, a Newport Beach-based partner for O’Melveny & Myers. “We are hopeful an appeals court will recognize the rights of terminally ill adults like Christy O’Donnell, who are facing horrific suffering at the end of their lives that no medication can alleviate, to have the option of medical aid in dying.”

“We will continue to support Christy O’Donnell for courageously carrying on in the tradition of other gravely ill plaintiffs who successfully led the fight to authorize medical aid in dying in their states,” said
plaintiffs’ attorney Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “Like Bob Baxter in Montana and Aja Riggs in New Mexico, Christy understands this case means as much to other terminally ill adults as it does to her.”

Medical aid in dying gives mentally competent, terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take in their final days to end their dying process painlessly and peacefully. According to a bipartisan poll conducted last month by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research & Probolsky Research, 82 percent of California voters agree and 67 percent strongly agree that, “A terminally ill, mentally competent person should be able to make a private decision to end their own life, in consultation with their family, their faith, and their doctor.”

The suit also asserts that medical aid in dying is a more peaceful alternative to palliative sedation. Palliative sedation involves medicating the patient into a coma and withholding nutrition and fluids until the patient dies. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and California courts have recognized palliative sedation as a legitimate medical practice. The suit is posted at: www.compassionandchoices.org/userfiles/ComplaintCA-Lawsuit.pdf.

The second patient plaintiff present at the hearing was Sacramento resident Elizabeth Wallner, 51, who has stage IV colon cancer that has metastasized to her liver and lungs. She has fought the cancer with 18 rounds of weeklong chemotherapy treatments that made her “mind-bendingly sick,” four surgeries to remove parts of her liver and colon, radiation, radio-ablation, and other methods that offered even the slightest hope of extending her life. Elizabeth’s 19-year-old son, her Catholic father, and the rest of her family, support her end-of-life wishes—including the option of aid in dying.

“Despite this temporary setback, I remain optimistic that we will prevail in the end, so I can enjoy my last days with my son and my parents, instead of worrying about a painful death,” said Wallner.

The suit coincides with the legislative campaign to authorize the option of medical aid in dying in California by passing the End of Life Option Act (SB 128), which Christy O’Donnell testified in support of. SB 128 made history in the Golden State last month when the state Senate passed it, two weeks after the California Medical Association dropped its 28-year opposition to aid-in-dying legislation. The End of Life Option Act is closely modeled after the death-with-dignity law in Oregon, which has worked well for 17 years, without a single documented case of abuse or coercion. Currently, four other states authorize the option of medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.

“Terminally ill Californians with months, weeks or just days to live are running out of time to get relief from intolerable suffering,” said Toni Broaddus, California Campaign Director for Compassion & Choices. “They desperately want medical aid in dying as an end-of-life option by any legal means necessary. But our legislature still can—and should—establish additional safeguards for medical aid in dying by passing the End of Life Option Act before its Sept. 11 deadline.”

California Aid-in-Dying Bill Still Under Consideration

Supporters Feel Optimistic about Bill Despite Hearing Postponement

MichaelSaum3

(Sacramento, CA – July 7, 2015) The authors of a bill that would allow terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication to shorten their dying process decided not to present it, SB 128, before the Assembly Health Committee to give Assemblymembers more time to consider the bill.

“SB 128 is still alive and well, even though we weren’t ready for it to be heard before the Assembly Health Committee,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “Seven out of every ten California voters want to see this bill become law, so we will not stop until we make that happen.”

A bipartisan poll last month showed 69 percent of California voters, including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics, support SB 128, also known as the End of Life Option Act. The bill is authored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning, Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk and Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman.

The End of Life Option Act was inspired by the public advocacy of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer. She had to move to Oregon last year to utilize its death-with-dignity law to end her unbearable suffering so she could die peacefully.

“This issue is urgent for dying Californians like Jennifer Glass, Christy O’Donnell, Michael Saum and hundreds of others who are suffering unbearably at the end of their lives,” added Broaddus.  “We are redoubling our commitment to passing the End of Life Option Act for all other Californians who want and need the option of medical aid in dying.”

The End of Life Option Act was closely modeled after the death-with-dignity law in Oregon, which has worked well for 17 years, without a single documented case of abuse or coercion. Four other states authorize the option of medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.

“This battle is far from over,” added Broaddus. “We owe it to Brittany Maynard’s family and terminally ill Californians to pursue every available path to give them relief from unbearable suffering.”

Olmos Joins Prominent Latino Voices Endorsing California Death-With-Dignity Bill

By Maureen Kennedy

Actor/Director Edward James Olmos has added his voice to the community of Latino supporters of California’s End of Life Option Act (SB 128). Best known for his Academy Award-nominated performance as renowned educator Jaime Escalante in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, Olmos is a veteran social activist. He founded Latino Public Broadcasting, served as an international ambassador for UNICEF and helped clean up the streets of Los Angeles after the Rodney King riots.

In a letter sent July 1, Olmos urged all Assembly members to support SB 128. Olmos’ letter is particularly timely because six Latino Legislative Caucus members serve on the 19-member Assembly Health Committee that is scheduled to vote on the bill on July 7. Olmos’ letter concludes:

“Americans are free to choose how they live—and when the time comes, how they die. All Americans should be able to make this private, personal decision—in consultation with their doctor and family—free from government interference. 

We need your vote on SB 128. Can I count on you to support this legislation?”

Olmos joins other prominent Latino activists who support the End of Life Option Act, including legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers with César Chávez, and actor Mauricio Ochmann from the popular Telemundo telenovela “El Señor de los Cielos.”

Nearly seven in ten California voters (69%), including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics, support SB 128, according to a bipartisan poll conducted June 16-21 by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research and Probolsky Research.

You can read entire text of Olmos’ letter by clicking here.

You can read full results from the bipartisan poll by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research and Probolsky Research by clicking here.

Calif.-Pac. United Methodist Church Endorses Aid-in-Dying Bill

Assembly Health Committee Scheduled to Vote on Legislation on Tuesday

(Los Angeles, CA – July 2, 2015) Compassion & Choices praised the California-Pacific Conference of The United Methodist Church today for unanimously passing a resolution to support the End of Life Option Act (SB 128). The endorsement is timely because the California Assembly Health Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill this Tues., July 7.

SB 128 would allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication that they could take to die painlessly and peacefully if their suffering becomes unbearable.

The California-Pacific Conference is a regional body of The United Methodist Church. The group includes 80,000 members from nearly 360 local churches throughout Southern California, parts of Central California, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, Guam and Saipan.

“Endorsements by respected Christian organizations are key to the passage of the End of Life Option Act,” said Toni Broaddus, California Campaign Director. “Everyone should have the option, together with our families, our faith leaders and our doctors, to make the end-of-life decisions that are right for us in the final stages of a terminal illness.” More

Legislation that Could End Unwanted Medical Treatment

 

081-001The following is an excerpt from an op-ed written by Compassion & Choices Daniel R Wilson, published on June 24th, 2015 on thehealthcareblog.org:

By Daniel R Wilson

Roughly 25 million Americans have been subjected to unwanted medical treatment at some point in their lives, and that means we have a healthcare system that is not listening to patients. We all say we believe in patient-centered health care, and now we have a bill in the U.S. Congress that would put our money where our mouths are. Literally.

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced legislation this month that would make sure Medicare recipients and their doctors know how much or how little treatment those patients would want as they approach the end of life. The Care Planning Act of 2015 would specifically create a Medicare benefit for people facing grave illness to work with their doctor to define, articulate and document their personal goals for treatment. Doctors will be rewarded with reimbursement for helping patients make very important end-of-life decisions when there is time and space to do so thoughtfully, before a crisis and when the patient can advocate for herself.

Given my organization’s commitment to improving care and expanding choice at the end of life, we believe this legislation sets the right goals and is smart about how it achieves them. More…