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Advocate Jennifer Glass Dies Before Legislature Enacts End of Life Option Act

San Mateo Woman’s Death Highlights Urgency for Legislature to Pass Bill

(San Mateo, CA – Aug. 13, 2015) Jennifer Glass, a national end-of-life options advocate from San Mateo, Calif., passed away Tuesday night, Aug. 11. Glass, 52, died at home from the most common type of lung cancer seen in nonsmokers.

Before she died, Glass stated her final campaign request: that the fight to authorize medical aid in dying continue. Glass spoke eloquently and passionately at the Jan. 21 news conference in Sacramento to introduce the End of Life Option Act (SB 128) that would authorize medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults in California.

“Lung cancer is an ugly way to die. I would find great comfort in knowing I had another option,” Glass said (see news conference video here: bit.ly/JenGlassSB128introNewsConf). “We need your help so that every Californian knows what’s at stake for each of us as individuals.”

“No one was a stronger supporter of the End of Life Option Act than Jennifer Glass,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “It is a crying shame the Assembly Health Committee failed her by holding up the bill. But we can honor her memory by continuing to fight to authorize medical aid in dying for other terminally ill Californians who urgently need this end-of-life need option to relieve unbearable suffering.”

“I am deeply saddened by the news of Jennifer’s passing,” said California Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning, co-author of the End of Life Option Act. “My heart goes out to her family. We will continue to pursue Jennifer’s commitment to establish the right of terminally ill patients to have all end of life options made available to them.”

Before joining Compassion & Choices California campaign, Jennifer used her communications savvy to bring attention to the issue. She wrote a column about living with lung cancer, “At the Top of My Lungs,” for The Huffington Post. Her story was featured in dozens of media outlets, including PeopleThe Today Show, Good Housekeeping, NBC News, Oprah, The [London] Daily Mail[Japan] Mainichi Shimbun and South China Morning Post. Jennifer was a tireless advocate for passage of the End of Life Option Act until her dying breath. Despite her declining health, she was scheduled to testify in support of SB 128 before the Assembly Health Committee on July 7, but the hearing was cancelled (you can read the written testimony she prepared at: bit.ly/JenGlassSB128test).

At Jennifer’s request, Compassion & Choices has set up special web pages so people can donate to C&C’s national efforts to pass aid-in-dying laws, www.compassionandchoices.org/jennifer, and send letters to legislators, www.compassionandchoices.org/jennifer. The deadline for the California legislature to act is Sept. 11. The state Senate passed the legislation in June.

In January of 2013, Jennifer began aggressive chemotherapy and radiation, and took oral chemotherapy medication that had difficult side effects but contained the cancer. However, in June 2015, a CT scan (X-ray computed tomography) showed her cancer had spread to her lungs, liver, abdomen, pelvis and brain. She no longer could tolerate chemo and entered hospice on July.

“Jennifer said, ‘I am doing anything I can to extend my life. No one should have the right to prolong my death.’ But she lost the fight to die on her own terms,” said her husband, Harlan Seymour, who married Jennifer on August 25, 2012, only four months before her cancer diagnosis. He took her picture every day for a year after that date to chronicle her physical changes during chemo and radiation treatment (see video here: bit.ly/JenGlassCancerTreatmentPhotos).

“Jennifer underwent palliative sedation because her symptoms had become unbearable. She was unable to breathe and in enormous pain. Unfortunately, she was not able to take advantage of the end-of-life option — medical aid in dying — that she gave her precious time to make available.”

Palliative sedation involves medicating a person with end-of-life symptoms into a coma. Nutrition and fluids are withheld until the patient dies from the disease or dehydration. It can be a peaceful end-of-life option with proper medical supervision. However, the person can linger for days or weeks until death occurs. In Jennifer’s case, it took five days. She died at home, but in most cases, palliative sedation requires hospitalization. Some healthcare providers refuse to offer this option.

In contrast, medical aid in dying enables terminally ill adults facing unbearable suffering to obtain a doctor’s prescription for medication that they can choose to take at home to die peacefully in their sleep (in as little as 30 minutes, as in the case of Brittany Maynard), with their loved ones by their bedside.

“I have enormous love and respect for my sister, so I will carry on her mantle to ensure that other terminally ill adults do not suffer needlessly at the end of life,” said Mavis Prall, Jennifer’s sister, who is a healthcare communications professional. “Palliative sedation is not the quick, peaceful option Jennifer wanted to end her intolerable suffering.”

“She did not want her loved ones to have to watch the life drain from her over a five-day period, nor to watch her lose all dignity as her body slowly shut down,” said Prall. “Members of the California legislature should be aware that their inaction has painful consequences. I urge them to pass the End of Life Option Act this year.”

**Update: Thanks to Jennifer Glass’ work, California’s End of Life Option Act was signed into law October 5, 2015 by Governor Jerry Brown. The law goes into effect June 9, 2016.