The death-with-dignity movement suffered a great loss with the passing of former chairman of the Compassion & Choices board of directors, member and dedicated friend, Paul Spiers. Paul died yesterday in Danvers, Massachusetts. He was 62.
Paul was a neuroscientist and a teacher first, and an activist second. The misfortune of his 1994 horseback-riding accident left him paralyzed from the chest down and vitally concerned with the rights of patients. He began to speak out on the importance of end-of-life choices. As a person with a disability, speaking in opposition to disability rights leaders, his voice mattered. It took courage to speak out against the disability party line, and this Paul had in abundance. He did not shy away from debate, and enthusiastically made appearances and filed legal briefs in support of the work of Compassion & Choices until shortly before his death.
Our movement took great evolutionary leaps in the early years of this millennium, and Paul Spiers was the force behind that evolution. He broadened the focus of the Hemlock Society to include political advocacy and, as chair of the board, led it to change its name and mission.
In January 2003 he courageously distanced the organization from movement extremists and clarified the limitation of its advocacy of aid in dying to the terminally ill and mentally competent. In July of that year the Hemlock Society became End-of-Life Choices and began to realize opportunities for growth and leadership that continue at Compassion & Choices today.
When Paul announced the changes to the Society’s members he noted, “The time has come to face the challenges of a new age in our movement, and for us to expand and reach out to the public.”
We all owe him a great debt for his service to our organization. We would not be where we are today without his plan for the unification of two prominent organizations over nine years ago. We remember him with warmth and gratitude for his leadership, vision and courage.