End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Expanding Choice State by Stateby Sonja

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Not long ago, we could only advance our issue in one state at a time; Compassion & Choices now has the strength, expertise and momentum to battle the injustice of limited end-of-life choice in various states across the country simultaneously. Our power on the ground comes from the experience and influence gained through decades of leading the charge for end-of-life liberty. Right now, in fact, we have active campaigns to secure end-of-life choice in five states: Connecticut, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico and Massachusetts, and plans underway for California, New Jersey and Vermont.

In Connecticut, Compassion & Choices is currently educating citizens, organizing advocates and working with lobbyists toward passage of a bill establishing an explicit legal permission for aid in dying. Our newly formed volunteer team, the Connecticut Executive Council, has been instrumental in raising awareness and building grassroots support there. Our Connecticut team hasn’t missed a beat; legislative visits occurred right at the beginning of the 2013 session.

Our legal experts have determined that current law in Hawaii does not prohibit doctors from engaging in the medical practice of aid in dying. The local Physician Advisory Council for Aid in Dying (PACAID), which we founded last year, has since been advising doctors and patients about the practice, and we are continuing our efforts to move forward policy supportive of aid in dying with the Hawaii Oncology Society (HOS). The HOS board will consider the policy draft at its Jan. 19 meeting, and we’re optimistic it will be adopted.

Montana activists and supportive legislators continue to prevail over opponents of end-of-life choice who have been trying to undermine the landmark Supreme Court Baxter decision and the subsequent Montana Board of Medical Examiners policy backing aid in dying. For the past two years Compassion & Choices’ on-the-ground advocates have protected aid in dying from legislative repeal, woven it into citizens’ understanding of their medical rights and integrated it into medical best practices. With an energetic and dedicated fleet of volunteers in our corner, as well as a skilled legal team, we are prepared to thwart any threats that arise.

In New Mexico Compassion & Choices is pressing on with Morris v. New Mexico, a case to clarify the status of aid in dying in the state. Supporters packed a recent legislative briefing, where Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee testified alongside plaintiffs Dr. Katherine Morris and Aja Riggs, and our partners from the ACLU of New Mexico. Dedicated campaign staff continuously work to increase awareness about the case and of the issues at stake by hosting grassroots advocacy activities all across the state.

After the narrow defeat of an aid-in-dying ballot initiative last fall in Massachusetts, we’re continuing to work with supporters to plan the next steps to bring aid in dying to citizens. Our organizers are convening a statewide strategy meeting in February. And in New Jersey, where an aid-in-dying bill has been introduced, we are in the early stages of forming alliances with stakeholders and lobbyists that will help us expand choice in the Garden State. It is also likely that in Vermont an Oregon-style bill will be introduced this legislative session; Compassion & Choices is looking at various options to ensure that Vermonters are able to access the full range of end-of-life options.

Finally, we’ve spearheaded an effort in California to assess the variety of options available to move aid in dying and other end-of-life issues forward. We plan to address unwanted medical treatment by building a strong stakeholder group, growing the grassroots and potentially working with a handful of interested legislators to end this tragic, frequent abuse.

It is Compassion & Choices’ growth – which your generous support has made possible – that permits us to engage in this expanded strategic activity. And the enthusiasm and commitment of our volunteer advocates in more and more areas of the country will send the message that now is the time to empower all adults with the full range of end-of-life options. If you’d like to learn about what’s happening where you live or how you can assist in our efforts, please check your state’s page on our Web site and contact your local representative. There are a variety of large and small ways you can help increase our successes, and we can’t do this work without you!