Category Archive: Newsletter

  1. Host a “Finish Strong” Book Club!

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    A fantastic way to introduce others to Finish Strong: Putting YOUR Priorities First at Life’s End, and to our movement, is to bring them 

    together for a book club. “I feel totally inspired by this book,” said Nancy Hoyt, vice chair of Compassion & Choices’ board of directors and active advocate since 2000. “You know when you’ve read a great novel and you want to tell everyone about it? I feel like that about this book. That’s why I did a book club.”

    Nancy invited a multigenerational group: her two daughters and son-in-law in their early 30s, a young couple who are 40 and 41, and a couple in their late 60s who Nancy hardly knew. “But he’s a retired MD, so I thought this would be something that would interest them. I loved all the different perspectives.”

    Not only did everyone come prepared to discuss the book, but they plan to continue. “We are having a second meeting,” says Nancy. “One of the participants suggested we discuss how each of us left and what changes and alterations we’re making as a result of our reading, and how we can ensure we have a good death. The book evoked all kinds of conversation. It’s just an incredible roadmap. We have to get this in the hands of as many people as possible!”

    Interested in hosting your own Finish Strong book club? Compassion & Choices has tools to help you start a robust and interesting discussion here.

  2. Volunteer Spotlight: Shirley Tabb

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    A member of Compassion & Choices’ African American Leadership Council and Dementia Leadership Council, Shirley Tabb has made a career out of helping others.

    She currently works for the Office of Health Care Ombudsman and Bill of Rights in Washington, D.C. Before that, for eight years she served as a Medicaid contract social worker helping seniors who wanted to “age in place;” in other words, stay at home instead of going into a nursing home. The previous 14 years were spent working with victims of child abuse and neglect for the Child and Family Services Agency as the adoption and foster parent recruitment supervisor “trying to find forever homes for children,” she explains. Shirley also produced an award-winning television program aimed at familiarizing people with Medicaid home health services.

    After her father’s death, Shirley moved her mother into her home and cared for her as she struggled with mounting health issues and dementia. “That’s how I started getting really interested in long-term care,” says Shirley, who chose to work in home health after her mother’s passing. “Sometimes I have patients who are terminally ill. I was always interested in death and dying, so when I had a chance to be closer to it, I really embraced it.”

    When D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the D.C. Death With Dignity Act in 2015, Shirley got involved immediately: “I called up Councilmember Cheh’s office and said, ‘How can I assist you? Whatever I can do to help, I’d like to do it.’” Shirley met with Councilmember Cheh’s communications manager several times, who ultimately referred her to Compassion & Choices. “It’s been wonderful working with Compassion & Choices,” Shirley says. “I like being a part of something that’s so good. Going to conferences, representing at booths, speaking … I feel blessed to be a part of this organization. It provides a wonderful service to the nation.”

  3. State Campaigns in Full Swing

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    Advocates at Maryland Lobby Day.

    Thirteen states have introduced legislation to authorize medical aid in dying so far this year, and we anticipate bills in at least seven more. Expert leaders have turned out at multiple hearings showing their support for medical aid in dying with more hearings to come. In New Mexico, Maryland and New Jersey, Compassion & Choices was on site working with teams on the ground to help pass legislation so more Americans can have access to this end-of-life option.

    On January 28, legal, medical and movement experts, including Compassion & Choices CEO, Kim Callinan, appeared before New Mexico’s House Health & Human Services Committee to testify in support of the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act. The bill passed the committee in a 4-3 vote. The House Judiciary Committee heard the measure February 8 and is expected to vote soon. The next day, supporters returned to the capitol to lobby lawmakers. Compassion & Choices staff gave each legislator aa book filled with moving personal stories of New Mexicans with terminal illnesses and their families.

    On January 29, over 100 supporters gathered at Maryland’s capitol to urge legislators to pass the Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer End of Life Option Act. Constituents from across the state visited 158 legislative offices, echoing the theme of the day: the time is now. They were joined by a diverse group of 68 cosponsors, the largest number of cosponsors yet in the state, to hold a press conference that garnered coverage from major media outlets. Tom Quash, Chief Marketing and Program Officer, Compassion & Choices told the crowd, “terminally ill Marylanders with six months or less to live are counting on their lawmakers to pass this bill this year, so they do not suffer needlessly at the end of their life.”

    In New Jersey, Compassion & Choices continued a media campaign to bring a medical aid-in-dying law to the Garden State. Geared at supporters and lawmakers, the campaign includes a video featuring Susan Boyce, a terminally ill New Jerseyan. On February 7, lawmakers in the Senate Health Committee heard testimony from Compassion & Choices staff, again including CEO, Kim Callinan, and supporters. Susan Boyce told the committee, “I would like the option of medical aid in dying as a last resort to ease my final days. I know it will give me peace of mind simply having the medication, even if I never use it. It will make it easier for me to fully live out the time I have left.” The committee voted to move the bill forward by a vote of 6 to 3 for consideration by the full Senate. Passage by the Senate and full assembly are all that is needed to pass the law.

    Legislators are listening to the majority of their constituents who want medical aid in dying as an option. Each of these steps is critical to bring us closer to our goal of ensuring every American has access to a full range of end-of-life options. To keep up with the latest developments, visit In Your State on our website.

  4. California Appeals Court Overturns Ruling That Imperiled End of Life Option Act

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    A California appeals court on November 27 directed a superior trial court to nullify its judgment from last May that suspended the state’s medical aid-in-dying law before the appeals court granted a stay in June reinstating it. A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeals in California found the plaintiffs had no right to sue to block the End of Life Option Act. The court said they failed to show harmed because participation is optional.


    In a majority 2-1 ruling, the appeals court in Ahn v. Hestrin, stated:

    “… we conclude that the Ahn parties lack standing for any of the theories they have asserted in this appeal. We have no way of knowing whether, on remand [sending the case back to superior court], they will be able to amend their complaint so as to allege standing, whether the trial court will grant them leave to do so, or whether they will be able to prove up their amended allegations.”

    The appeals court ruling followed a hearing on Oct. 8, featuring oral arguments by the plaintiffs, the state attorney general’s office and attorneys working with Compassion & Choices representing two terminally ill adults and a physician.

    “The good news is that the law remains intact for the foreseeable future, so doctors can write prescriptions for terminally ill Californians who need the option of medical aid in dying,” said Kevin Díaz, chief legal advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices, whose sister organization, Compassion & Choices Action Network, led the campaign to pass the End of Life Option Act. “But we know from experience over the last 2½ years in this case that our opponents will pursue every possible legal tactic to overturn the law. We will fight them at every turn to protect it.”

    “This appeals court ruling is an important legal precedent that strengthens our chances of successfully defending the law,” said John Kappos, a partner in the O’Melveny law firm working with Compassion & Choices who presented oral argument to the appeals court. “But the harsh reality is this case is likely to last several more years because the plaintiffs are hell-bent on depriving Californians of their constitutional right to end-of-life care options that ensure terminally ill Californians have access to a peaceful death, free of unbearable suffering.”

    “The plaintiffs must show legal standing or they will not be able to continue the case,” said Jon B. Eisenberg, an expert in appellate law working with the Compassion & Choices legal team.  “But the appeals court provided the plaintiffs with a roadmap for doing so, which they will likely attempt to do once the case is sent back to the superior court. And it is also possible that the California Supreme Court will take the case instead and rule directly on the constitutionality of the End of Life Option Act.”

    On July 18, the appeals court granted an emergency motion by the two terminally ill adults and a physician represented by Compassion & Choices for an automatic stay to immediately suspend a lower court’s judgment on May 30, 2018, invalidating the End of Life Option Act. The appeals court ruling reinstating the law was retroactive to June 1, 2018, when Compassion & Choices filed a notice of appeal.  

  5. Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Charles Miller

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    An active supporter of Compassion & Choices since 2012 as well as a member of our Doctors for Dignity program, Charles Miller’s firm belief in end-of-life options came from his more than 40 years as a medical oncologist. “Taking care of dying patients for that long a period of time, I always felt like a patient should have some say in how their life ends,” he explains. “Once you’re an oncologist, it takes some years of maturing to recognize or put into perspective that it’s not the right thing to always treat the patient; sometimes it’s best to stop treatment. It takes a while for all doctors to get used to that. In general, the patients know exactly what they want. I believe it should be our job, as physicians, to support our patients in their end-of-life choices whatever they are.” (more…)

  6. Compassion & Choices Attorney Honored for Diversity Work

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    In November, Compassion & Choices Staff Attorney Jonathan Patterson received the Oregon State Bar (OSB) President’s Diversity & Inclusion Award. According to the OSB’s website, the award “recognizes members who have made significant contributions to the goal of increasing minority representation in the legal profession.”

    An integral member of the Compassion & Choices legal team, which works on behalf of individuals and their families across the country to protect end-of-life liberty, Jonathan helps ensure that people receive the care they want and are in charge of their options as they near the end of their lives.

    He also serves as the current chair of the OSB Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and was past-chair of the OSB Diversity Section. In these positions, he used his experience as an attorney in “movement law” to speak on Continuing Legal Education panels. Jonathan also spent three years as president of Oregon’s chapter of the National Bar Association (NBA) and currently serves on its national board. There, he led the effort to create the NBA LGBTQ Division and serves as its inaugural chairperson.

    Jonathan’s efforts have also exposed the work of Compassion & Choices to other attorneys, including those from a law firm that donated over a million dollars in free legal assistance by representing Compassion & Choices’ first legal client of color, Ana Romero. Romero, the widow of Juan Fernando Romero, was sued by his family to take away her authority to make healthcare decisions for him when he fell ill. In March 2018, a judge ruled she was rightfully in control of his medical care.

    Jonathan’s groundbreaking work at the Oregon State Bar, for the National Bar Association and in the legal community as a whole supplements his efforts at Compassion & Choices to protect the healthcare decision-making rights of all Americans.

  7. Compassion & Choices Attorney Honored for Diversity Work

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    The Oregon State Bar selects Jonathan Patterson for their 2018 President’s Diversity & Inclusion Award.

    In November, Compassion & Choices Staff Attorney Jonathan Patterson received the Oregon State Bar (OSB) President’s Diversity & Inclusion Award. According to the OSB’s website, the award “recognizes members who have made significant contributions to the goal of increasing minority representation in the legal profession.”

    An integral member of the Compassion & Choices legal team, which works on behalf of individuals and their families across the country to protect end-of-life liberty, Jonathan helps ensure that people receive the care they want and are in charge of their options as they near the end of their lives.

    He also serves as the current chair of the OSB Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and was past-chair of the OSB Diversity Section. In these positions, he used his experience as an attorney in “movement law” to speak on Continuing Legal Education panels. Jonathan also spent three years as president of Oregon’s chapter of the National Bar Association (NBA) and currently serves on its national board. There, he led the effort to create the NBA LGBTQ Division and serves as its inaugural chairperson.

    Jonathan’s work has also exposed the work of Compassion & Choices to other attorneys, including those from a law firm that donated over a million dollars in free legal assistance by representing Compassion & Choices’ first legal client of color, Ana Romero. Romero, the widow of Juan Fernando Romero, was sued by his family to take away her authority to make healthcare decisions for him when he fell ill. In March 2018, a judge ruled she was rightfully in control of her husband’s medical care.

    Jonathan’s groundbreaking work at the Oregon State Bar, for the National Bar Association and in the legal community as a whole supplements his efforts at Compassion & Choices to protect the healthcare decision-making rights of all Americans.

  8. California Court Overturns Ruling That Imperiled End of Life Option Act

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    (L) Kevin Díaz, chief legal advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices, and (R) outside counsel John Kappos speaking to journalists after court hearing in 2017.

    Justices find opponents lack legal standing to file their lawsuit opposing medical aid in dying in the Ahn v. Hestrin case.

    A California appeals court on November 27 directed a superior trial court to nullify its judgment from last May that suspended the state’s medical aid-in-dying law before the appeals court granted a stay in June reinstating it. A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeals in California found the plaintiffs had no right to sue to block the End of Life Option Act. The court said they failed to show harmed because participation is optional.


    In a majority 2-1 ruling, the appeals court in Ahn v. Hestrin, stated:

    “… we conclude that the Ahn parties lack standing for any of the theories they have asserted in this appeal. We have no way of knowing whether, on remand [sending the case back to superior court], they will be able to amend their complaint so as to allege standing, whether the trial court will grant them leave to do so, or whether they will be able to prove up their amended allegations.”

    The appeals court ruling followed a hearing on Oct. 8, featuring oral arguments by the plaintiffs, the state attorney general’s office and attorneys working with Compassion & Choices representing two terminally ill adults and a physician.

    “The good news is that the law remains intact for the foreseeable future, so doctors can write prescriptions for terminally ill Californians who need the option of medical aid in dying,” said Kevin Díaz, chief legal advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices, whose sister organization, Compassion & Choices Action Network, led the campaign to pass the End of Life Option Act. “But we know from experience over the last 2½ years in this case that our opponents will pursue every possible legal tactic to overturn the law. We will fight them at every turn to protect it.”

    “This appeals court ruling is an important legal precedent that strengthens our chances of successfully defending the law,” said John Kappos, a partner in the O’Melveny law firm working with Compassion & Choices who presented oral argument to the appeals court. “But the harsh reality is this case is likely to last several more years because the plaintiffs are hell-bent on depriving Californians of their constitutional right to end-of-life care options that ensure terminally ill Californians have access to a peaceful death, free of unbearable suffering.”

    “The plaintiffs must show legal standing or they will not be able to continue the case,” said Jon B. Eisenberg, an expert in appellate law working with the Compassion & Choices legal team.  “But the appeals court provided the plaintiffs with a roadmap for doing so, which they will likely attempt to do once the case is sent back to the superior court. And it is also possible that the California Supreme Court will take the case instead and rule directly on the constitutionality of the End of Life Option Act.”

    On July 18, the appeals court granted an emergency motion by the two terminally ill adults and a physician represented by Compassion & Choices for an automatic stay to immediately suspend a lower court’s judgment on May 30, 2018, invalidating the End of Life Option Act. The appeals court ruling reinstating the law was retroactive to June 1, 2018, when Compassion & Choices filed a notice of appeal.  

  9. Compassion & Choices Launches New Website

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    As our organization has grown and more of our audience has sought to access our information, tools and services online, the need for a more comprehensive, navigable website became apparent — and direct feedback from people confirmed our notion. Said Compassion & Choices Chief Executive Officer Kim Callinan, “I started my tenure as CEO with a nationwide listening tour of our supporters, volunteers and donors. One thing that I heard, time and again, was that our website was difficult to use. So, we set about improving our website based on that feedback. Now I’m happy to say that the new and improved Compassion & Choices website is ready!”

    On our revamped website, still at CompassionAndChoices.org, you’ll find an updated resources section where you can now easily search by a keyword or type of document. We reorganized our Plan Your Care section so that you can more easily find the documents you’ll need based on where you are in the planning process. The news section can now be filtered by state and year so you can find the articles and blogs that are of the most interest to you.

    We hope that you find these improvements helpful as you take action to advocate for end-of-life options and plan your end-of-life care. If you notice any links that don’t work, please send a note to [email protected], and we will address your concerns as quickly as possible.

  10. Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Omega Silva

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    Retired Washington, D.C., physician Omega Silva, who lives with three cancer diagnoses, taught and practiced medicine for over 50 years, served as the first woman president of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association and was former president of the American Medical Women’s Association. She has been on board as an active advocate for medical aid in dying with Compassion & Choices since nearly the beginning.

    “In contrast to many other doctors, I never felt a physician’s only goal is to keep people alive no matter what. I think you need to look at the quality of life they have and what they think life is. Maybe life isn’t being on a respirator or having an NG [nasogastric] tube just to stay here a few more days,” she explains. “It was early on in my career that I came to grips with death, but a lot of physicians would rather not talk about death at all. I had to confront death early in my family too: My uncle got shot in his laundromat, and then his wife died shortly after that, and even their son died — he got cancer. What in the world is a 23-year-old doing with kidney cancer that kills him within a month or two? It happens though.”

    Recently, Dr. Silva has provided written and spoken testimony to lawmakers, recorded public service announcements for Compassion & Choices to educate D.C. residents about end-of-life options, and participated in the National Academy of Sciences workshops on medical aid in dying. But she has filled her life pursuing numerous interests. Once an aspiring fashion designer, she made all her own clothes from the time she was in junior high until she was a second-year resident. And she and her husband, both fond of trains, belong to the National Railway Historical Society and ride the rails across the United States and Canada. “I’ve done a lot that has nothing to do with medicine!”

  11. American Academy of Family Physicians Moves to “Engaged Neutrality” on Medical Aid in Dying

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    The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), broke ranks with the American Medical Association (AMA) in early October by adopting a new position of “engaged neutrality” on the issue of medical aid in dying.

    Since the new position by AAFP, the second largest component society of the AMA with more than 120,000 members, is at odds with the 1993 AMA Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 5.7 opposing “assisted suicide,” the resolution required a two-thirds supermajority vote to approve it. AAFP delegates approved the resolution, which ”captured the spirit” of resolutions introduced by the California, New Mexico, New York and Washington Academy of Family Physicians, by voice vote with no objections.

    “The action taken today allows the AAFP to advocate for engaged neutrality on this subject at future AMA House of Delegates meetings,” said Michael Munger, MD, board chair of the AAFP. “Through our ongoing and continuous relationship with our patients, family physicians are well-positioned to counsel patients on end-of-life care, and we are engaged in creating change in the best interest of our patients.”

    “As a former delegate for the American Academy of Family Physicians, I am proud that the organization has adopted a position of engaged neutrality to ensure its members can advise terminally ill patients about all end-of-life care options and provide them,” said Compassion & Choices National Medical Director Dr. David Grube, who was honored as Family Physician of the Year by the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians in 1986 and Oregon Medical Association Doctor Citizen of the Year in 2009. “I believe many AMA constituent societies will follow suit, so it is only a matter of time before the AMA does as well.”

    “By supporting the AMA’s opposition to medical aid in dying, some members feel the AAFP is telling them that they are unethical,” concludes the resolution. “Overall, the testimony provided in the hearing supported development of an AAFP position of engaged neutrality toward medical aid in dying as a personal decision made by the patient in the context of the physician-patient relationship … the American Academy of Family Physicians [sic] reject the use of the phrase ‘assisted suicide’ or ‘physician-assisted suicide’ in formal statements or documents and [sic] direct the AAFP’s American Medical Association (AMA) delegation to promote the same in the AMA House of Delegates.”

    Last June, the AMA House of Delegates voted 56 to 44 percent to reject a report by its Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) that recommended the AMA maintain its Code of Medical Ethics’ opposition to medical aid in dying. Instead, the House of Delegates referred the report back to CEJA for further work.

    In fact, the CEJA report implicitly acknowledged that medical aid-in-dying laws improve end-of-life care by spurring conversations between physicians and terminally ill patients about all end-of-life care options, such as hospice and palliative care:

    “Patient requests for [medical aid in dying] invite physicians to have the kind of difficult conversations that are too often avoided. They open opportunities to explore the patient’s goals and concerns, to learn what about the situation the individual finds intolerable and to respond creatively to the patient’s needs …”

  12. California Court Issues Tentative Ruling in Our Favor

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    The court of appeals suggests that opponents had no standing to bring the case Ahn v. Hestrin, which aims to invalidate the End of Life Option Act.

    The California Court of Appeals has released an encouraging tentative ruling in the Ahn v. Hestrin lawsuit to overturn the End of Life Option Act. At the moment, the court’s position is that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the case and the trial court erred in allowing the suit to proceed in the first place.

    The tentative ruling states: “The Ahn parties’ terminally ill patients may be divided into two groups. One group, upon receiving their diagnosis, will want to request assisted suicide. The Ahn parties, however, brought this action to prevent them from doing so. They cannot possibly ‘speak for’ this group of patients, even if they claim to be doing so for their benefit. The other group will not want to request assisted suicide. In that event, however, all they have to do is not request it. The Act simply does not affect them; thus, it also does not affect the Ahn parties.”

    This opinion is only preliminary, however. After hearing oral arguments from both sides, which are scheduled for October 9, the court could choose to change or amend the tentative ruling. Even if we prevail at the appellate level, opponents could appeal to the California Supreme Court.

    As parties in this case, Compassion & Choices and cooperating counsel will be at the court during the oral arguments representing two patients and a physician. Meanwhile our legal team continues preparing a vigorous defense of the law. Says Compassion & Choices National Director of Legal Advocacy Kevin Díaz, “While we are hopeful that the result stands, it can completely change, and we’re poised to protect the law regardless of the outcome at the Court of Appeals.”

  13. Volunteer Spotlight: Yasuyo Tanii

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    “Since I was a child I always believed, naively, that when to finish your life would be entirely your choice. But as I got older, I realized that’s not true,” says Compassion & Choices volunteer . “You can be forced to live with excruciating pain. I think it seems so wrong, illogical and cruel.”

    Yasuyo, a retired flight attendant with Japan Airlines and real estate agent, lived in Tokyo until she was 35 before moving to Honolulu, Hawai’i, with her husband and then settling in Portland, Oregon. Stories she heard throughout the years about people’s difficulties in dying only made her beliefs about end-of-life autonomy stronger.

    “My father had Alzheimer’s disease,” she recalls. “He wasn’t himself anymore, and I knew this was not how he would want to live. I hoped for a way to relieve everyone of this suffering, but there was none. That was a hard time, heartbreaking.”

    Recently at a barbecue, Yasuyo ran into a friend she hadn’t seen for over a decade who works for Compassion & Choices. “When she told me about it I said, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what I’m interested in.’ So she asked me if I wanted to volunteer. I had never volunteered, but I thought that this was something I wanted to be part of.”

    Yasuyo now helps out in the Portland office with administrative tasks and other duties. “Basically I’m doing whatever nobody else wants to do or has time for, and I’m happy to do it,” she says. “It feels liberating. Whenever I come into the office, I have no idea what I’ll end up doing, and that’s fun for me.”

    Oregon supporters: Come to Compassion & Choices Oregon’s signature fall fundraising event October 17 featuring jazz legend Chuck Israels! Click here for more details and to register.

  14. Santa Fe City Council Passes Medical Aid-in-Dying Resolution

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    The city will formally support a bill authorizing the practice when it comes before the New Mexico Legislature next year.

    The Santa Fe City Council passed a bipartisan resolution in support of medical aid-in-dying legislation in New Mexico six votes to two on September 12. This makes Santa Fe the second jurisdiction in New Mexico after Albuquerque to endorse medical aid in dying. The resolution will be transmitted to New Mexico state legislators.

    The resolution was co-sponsored by Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth. “My father died earlier this year. As a witness to his dying process, it became clear to me that people should have the option to legally choose death with dignity when their suffering becomes unbearable,” she said.

    “The Council’s vote shows the growing momentum for medical aid-in-dying legislation in New Mexico,” said Elizabeth Armijo, multi-state campaign and outreach organizer, and New Mexico campaign manager for Compassion & Choices. “In 2019, our lawmakers will have the opportunity once again to pass this vital legislation, which 80 percent of New Mexicans support. It is our hope that this bill advances in time to make it a reality for the people of New Mexico living with the unbearable pain of a terminal illness.”

    Community supporters showed up in force and gave compelling testimony on the positive impact the future legislation could have on terminally ill New Mexicans.

    If the End of Life Options Act is enacted into law, it would make New Mexico the ninth jurisdiction in the nation to authorize medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option. The state has been actively engaged in efforts to authorize medical aid in dying for a number of years. In fact, in January 2014, New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court issued a landmark decision asserting that terminally ill, mentally competent patients have a fundamental right to medical aid in dying under the New Mexico State Constitution. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals reversed this ruling in August 2015 in a 2-1 split decision. Upon further appeal, in late June 2016 the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled against recognizing a constitutional right to this end-of-life option, and indicated that this matter should be considered and decided by the New Mexico Legislature.

    In the fall of 2016, the New Mexico End-of-Life Options Coalition was established to advocate for enactment of such legislation. The Coalition identified bill sponsors for both the House and Senate, drafted medical aid-in-dying legislation and mounted a full campaign during the 2017 legislative session. The bill had one successful hearing in the House and two in the Senate. Despite the monumental efforts of advocates and health professionals from across the state, the New Mexico End-of-Life Options Act failed to pass. Following an hour-long debate by the full Senate, SB 252 was narrowly defeated 22-20. The bill will be presented again in the 2019 legislative session.

  15. Constituency Work Grows in Prominence

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    “I have devoted my life to teaching people that our creator is a loving God who does not want people to suffer,” says Rev. Madison T. Shockley, pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California, and new Compassion & Choices board member. “That’s why I am honored to help Compassion & Choices expand end-of-life care options that enable people to die peacefully at home, surrounded by their loved ones.”

    A native of Los Angeles, Rev. Shockley was educated at Harvard College and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He holds the Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City and has done advanced graduate work at Claremont Graduate University in New Testament Studies. He has long been involved with Compassion & Choices, and served as a volunteer advocate and spokesperson during the campaign to pass California’s law. Rev. Shockley was appointed to the organization’s African-American Leadership Council (AALC) last November. Other outreach over the past month includes our constituency team’s Brandi Alexander and Donna Smith presenting at the National Baptist Convention Christian Education week in Jacksonville, Florida, to 200 members, resulting in Compassion & Choices being invited to additional upcoming events. They, along with some of our AALC members, also attended and hosted exhibit tables at the NAACP annual convention, the National Urban League annual convention and the National Black Nurses Association national convention. Numerous polls show a majority of Americans across the ethnic, political and religious spectrum support medical aid in dying. Our constituency initiatives aim to ensure the end-of-life choice movement is inclusive for all.

  16. California’s Law Back in Effect

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    Although Compassion & Choices succeeded in helping restoring access to the End of Life Option Act, it remains under attack.

    In an encouraging turn since our last newsletter, when we reported that California’s medical aid-in-dying law had been suspended, an appeals court granted emergency motions by the two terminally ill adults and a physician represented by Compassion & Choices for an “automatic stay” to immediately suspend a lower court’s judgment invalidating the End of Life Option Act. The appeals court also granted a motion by Attorney General Xavier Becerra for a “discretionary stay” of the lower court ruling. The rulings reinstated the law, effective immediately. As a result, physicians are once again able to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication to terminally ill adults who qualify under the California End of Life Option Act … for now. In other words, eligible Californians will be able to access medical aid in dying pending further review by the courts.

    “The appeals court made the legally correct decision by reinstating the status quo of the law being in effect, before the lower court ruling, until the courts resolve this case,” said John Kappos, a partner in the O’Melveny law firm working with Compassion & Choices, which has filed several motions in the case. “Ultimately, we are confident the courts will rule the law is constitutional and valid.”

    The ultimate fate of the California End of Life Option Act stands in legal limbo, however. This victory is only the beginning of what is likely to be a long legal battle in an already two-year-old suit. Winning this case in California will be expensive and time consuming, possibly taking several more years to resolve, because the lower court has ruled on only one of the plaintiffs claims: that the state Legislature violated the state constitution by passing the law during a special session limited to healthcare.

    The plaintiffs also claim the law violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the California constitution because it fails “to make rational distinctions ”between terminally ill adults“ and the vast majority of Californians not covered by the Act.” In short, even if the appeals court and state supreme court dismiss the special session claim, the case may be sent back to the lower court to resolve the other claims and then be appealed to higher courts again.

    “This stay is a huge win for many terminally ill Californians with six months or less to live because it could take years for the courts to resolve this case,” explains Compassion & Choices National Director of Legal Advocacy Kevin Diaz, who continues to work vigorously on the case. “Thankfully, this ruling settles the issue for the time being, but we know we have a long fight ahead before we prevail.”

     

     

  17. Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Don Zimmerman

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    A near-death experience compels the University of New Orleans professor to shift his career focus and steers him toward the end-of-life choice movement.

    Volunteer Don Zimmerman spent the first 20 years of his career as a policy researcher in D.C. working with Congress and executive agencies on a wide variety of national health policy issues. He then turned to full-time academic work at the University of Maryland University College as professor and director of their Graduate Healthcare Administration Program. Four years ago, however, Don was hospitalized with a massive medical event — a thoracic aneurysm and ensuing septic shock — that not only threatened but changed his life.

    “After being in the ICU for 43 straight days, close to dying, I went through something called ‘ICU delirium,’ which it turns out affects two- to three-million people a year,” Don explains. “The way I describe it is as your worst nightmare that then gets worse, and then doesn’t end. It’s a horrible experience.” (more…)

  18. American Medical Association Rethinks Its Opposition Position

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    At its annual  House of Delegates meeting, the AMA rejects a recommendation to maintain its opposition of medical aid in dying.

    In early June, the American Medical Association (AMA) decided not to reaffirm its position against medical aid in dying, which it has held since 1993. A recommendation by its Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) that the AMA maintain its opposition was rejected in June, with delegates at the annual meeting in Chicago instead voting for the organization to continue reviewing its stance on the issue.

    Following a debate, the House of Delegates voted by a margin of 56 to 44 percent to have the CEJA keep studying the current guidance, which labels the practice “physician-assisted suicide” and calls it “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.”

    This is encouraging progress since the AMA House of Delegates voted two years ago to refer Resolution 015 – Study aid-in-dying as end-of-life option – to the AMA Board of Trustees in light of the continuing evolution of thinking in this area. The council spent two years reviewing resolutions on whether to take a neutral stance on the increasingly accepted practice. The group’s report sought to find consensus, noting, “Where one physician understands providing the means to hasten death to be an abrogation of the physician’s fundamental role as healer that forecloses any possibility of offering care that respects dignity, another in equally good faith understands supporting a patient’s request for aid in hastening a foreseen death to be an expression of care and compassion.”

  19. California Law in Peril

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    Compassion & Choices’ legal team (L to R), Kevin Diaz and Jonathan Patterson

    A Riverside County judge declared California’s landmark End of Life Option Act unconstitutional, rendering the law inaccessible. Compassion & Choices is working nonstop to restore it.

    Last Thursday, May 24, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia filed a judgment in the two-year-old lawsuit Ahn vs. Hestrin seeking to overturn the California End of Life Option Act.

    Judge Ottolia’s judgment invalidated the California End of Life Option Act that authorizes medical aid in dying as an option for mentally capable, terminally ill adults in the state to peacefully end their suffering if it becomes unbearable.

    This Tuesday, May 29, Compassion & Choices filed a motion on behalf of a physician and two terminally ill Californians urging the judge to reverse his decision. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also filed a separate motion the same day to vacate the judgment on different grounds. The judge scheduled a hearing on June 29 to consider the attorney general’s motion but denied ours, so we are currently exploring the best possible option to appeal this ruling in a higher court where we will have another opportunity to reinstate the law in a more impartial courtroom.

    Tragically, for now, unless another court ruling reverses and suspends this judgment, physicians are no longer explicitly authorized to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication under the law.  

    This dire development followed Ottolia’s granting a motion May 15 to invalidate the California End of Life Option Act. He claimed the Legislature violated the state constitution by passing it during a special session limited to healthcare issues.

    Compassion & Choices leapt into action immediately and has been working nonstop to restore access to medical aid in dying for terminally ill California residents, and ally Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed an emergency request to reverse this ruling within the five days he was given by the judge, unfortunately, to no effect. Staff across the organization, those on the ground in California and our in-house legal advocacy team in partnership with the California-based law firm O’Melveny continue to work hand-in-hand with all of the key stakeholders including Gov. Brown’s office, our legislative champions and the attorney general’s office to defend and protect this law, which has worked well in the state.

    Last June, Compassion & Choices released a report estimating that 504 Californians have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying since it took effect on June 9, 2016. Last July, the California Department of Public Health released a report showing 191 terminally ill Californians received prescriptions from 173 doctors for aid-in-dying medication during the nearly seven month period from June 9, 2016 until Dec. 31, 2016; 111 of those individuals (58%) decided to self-ingest the medication.

    Polling shows 76 percent of Californians across the political and demographic spectrum support medical aid in dying. This majority support includes 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents, 67 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of whites, Latinos and Asian Americans, and 52 percent of African-Americans.

    Compassion & Choices National Director of Legal Advocacy Kevin Díaz offers, “This is a long process, and we have a very concrete plan to restore the law.”

  20. Supporter Spotlight: Fred Cohen

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    As C&C transitions its former model of local chapters into regional Action Teams, we acknowledge Fred Cohen, a chapter founder and president, whose devotion helped pave the path to New Jersey’s unstoppable momentum.

    Fred Cohen, front right, with Barbara Coombs Lee and other friends and family

    Fred Cohen, front right, with Barbara Coombs Lee and other friends and family

    With enough votes necessary to move their medical aid-in-dying bill out of Assembly in the coming days, Compassion & Choices looks back at the influence of Fred Cohen, who helped build the state’s Delaware Valley chapter, served as president, was instrumental in helping the chapter make the transition to an Action Team and continued as a tireless campaigner until his death.

    Fred became involved in the movement after watching his friend Max die a horrendous death from throat cancer. Fred went into detail of that suffering when being interviewed on the radio, speaking to groups or testifying at hearings.

    A successful engineer, entrepreneur and Korean War vet, Fred kept busy even in retirement on a variety of projects and became dedicated to the end-of-life options movement, lobbying state legislators on behalf of the earliest laws that would allow people to control how and when they died.

    Always physically active, he played singles tennis into his mid seventies until he suffered a rare and sudden spinal event which left him wheelchair bound and in constant pain for the last eight years of his life. He still pressed on with great zeal, however, and when asked how he was doing in these last years, the answer was always the same: “I’m rolling along.” He died at the age of 83, unable to recover from the last of the numerous life-threatening health events he suffered in his final years.

    Fred is fondly remembered and missed, and his legacy as a leader in the movement continues to grow.

    Learn how to become involved in an Action Team in your area.

  21. Compassion & Choices Takes on Broadway

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    Compassion & Choices CEO Kim Callinan, second from left, and New York State Campaign Director Corinne Carey with cast and creators of “Goodbye New York”

    Our New York team brought together C&C supporters, board members and staff, including CEO Kim Callinan, to join the creators and cast of Goodbye New York, a new musical about end-of-life issues, for a special preview event on April 10.

    There’s nothing like a full-blown theater production about your issue to let you know it’s gaining interest. A new musical called Goodbye New York tells the story of a young woman in New York CIty who considers traveling to Oregon to access medical aid in dying. So C&C staff partnered up for an event to preview the work, which is designed to use entertainment to bring visibility to the issue of expanding patient-driven, end-of-life care options. Over 75 supporters attended.

    The musical was composed by Andrew Beall, international soloist and composer; and directed by Markus Potter, founder and artistic director of NewYorkRep, a nonprofit organization that produces new plays and musicals that inspire and compel social change by telling stories that expose the travesty and beauty of humanity. Potter was recently honored with an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination and the New York Times Critics’ pick for NewYorkRep’s production of Stalking The Bogeyman. Other collaborators at the event included David Don Miller, who wrote the book, and lyricist Evan McCormack.

    “I am a CEO by day and a Broadway wannabe by night, so I was thrilled to meet Andrew Beall, the composer for Goodbye New York, and learn about this exciting new musical,” said Compassion & Choices Chief Executive Officer Kim Callinan. “It felt serendipitous to me.”  

    Members of the cast performed several songs from the musical, and the audience also heard remarks from Callinan, Beall, Potter, Miller, McCormack and Compassion & Choices New York State Campaign Director Corinne Carey.

  22. Volunteer Spotlight: Karen Morin Green

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    Karen Morin Green, a Los Angeles nurse who has worked with AIDS patients, in oncology and in hospice, helped C&C pass California’s law and now coordinates End-of-Life Consultation volunteers. “Of course it’s sad sometimes, but it’s sadder when you hear about people who can’t get what they want, who are struggling, who are suffering in ways most people couldn’t understand and don’t have options.”

    Karen Morin Green’s background is in nursing — first in an AIDS unit, then in oncology and hospice before working at a cancer support center. “I really got to understand both sides of the care, and what people were experiencing and what they needed,” says Karen.

    It was during that time that her husband became ill and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. “At first we thought, ‘Oh, it’ll be five or 10 years,’ but he died within 13 months. So I worked for a little longer, then I said alright, I need to take a break from this cancer stuff for a bit,” Karen explains. “Somewhere I had heard that Compassion & Choices was working on passing the medical-aid-in dying law, and I became very interested. So I called up and said I wanted to get involved because I had seen death and dying from a number of perspectives, and I really felt strongly that this was something that we needed.” (more…)

  23. Hawai‘i Makes Eight!

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    After 20 years of diligent campaigning by C&C and local advocates, Hawai‘i joins seven other U.S. jurisdictions to pass a medical aid-in-dying law.

    Compassion & Choices and hundreds of dedicated advocates achieved another momentous victory on April 5 when Governor David Ige signed HB 2739, the Our Care, Our Choice Act, authorizing medical aid in dying in the state of Hawai‘i. Advocates for medical aid in dying had tried to pass legislation in the state for two decades before the Hawai‘i Legislature approved the bill last month by a veto-proof margin (39–12 in the House and 23–2 in the Senate). The law goes into effect after nine months, on January 1, 2019.

    “This legislation has been written to ensure that the patient is in full control,” Ige said. “When I think about this law it is impossible not to think of friends and family who have struggled through a difficult prognosis … We know that our loved ones will eventually die, but they don’t need to suffer.”

    “What this is about is … it’s a choice that an individual can make so that they are able to think about how they want to live the rest of their life,” said House Majority Floor Leader Della Au Belatti, who helped author the bill. “It is a bill not simply about the choice to die.”

    “I am grateful that I have lived to see this day, and I salute Gov. Ige, our lawmakers, other advocates, volunteers and allied organizations for their work throughout the years to finally bring this option to Hawai‘i,” said John Radcliffe, who has stage 4 terminal colon cancer that has metastasized to his liver. “I, along with the overwhelming majority of people in Hawai‘i, want this end-of-life care option to ensure I do not have to suffer needlessly in my last months, weeks or days of life.”

    Compassion & Choices Hawai‘i will now spearhead a volunteer-led Access Campaign, similar to those launched in other authorized states including California and Colorado, to educate providers and the public, and ensure terminally ill adults in Hawai‘i can actually use the law. But early signs are positive, with a number of health systems and hospices already on board.

    “The Access Campaign is built on our 20+ years of experience helping to implement medical aid-in-dying laws in the six other states that have authorized the practice,” said Kat West, Compassion & Choices national director of policy and programs. “There are terminally ill people in Hawai‘i right now who need this law, so it is urgent for doctors and healthcare systems to understand this compassionate medical practice and respect the decisions of terminally ill individuals who want this option for the comfort and peace of mind it brings to them.”

    Track what’s happening in your area — or learn how to get involved — by visiting our state pages.

  24. C&C Connects at National Medical Association Annual Convention

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    The variabilities in healthcare between African-American and white patients are well documented, but the disparities in care between these groups specifically at the end of life are less so. In an effort to raise awareness around this issue, representatives from Compassion & Choices attended the 115th Annual National Medical Association Convention and Scientific Assembly. The event brings together African-American physicians and other health professionals from across the country to exchange ideas and share their experiences. (more…)

  25. Department of Health and Human Services’ New “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” Threatens End-of-Life Choice

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    Leave a comment by TOMORROW, March 27, promoting patient autonomy and objecting to proposed rules that would impose a doctor’s religious beliefs on their patients.

    This January, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Civil Rights created the “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division.” Its aim is to protect healthcare providers who object to certain procedures on religious or moral grounds. This is a monumental threat to the end-of-life choice movement and patient-centered care. (more…)

  26. Volunteer Spotlight: Susan Lynch

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    Medical aid-in-dying keeps moving closer to passage in Hawai’i, and advocate Susan Lynch has been working to bring this option to the state since 2002.

    Hawai’i’s latest medical aid-in-dying bill just passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and part of Compassion & Choices’ phenomenal on-the-ground team is volunteer Susan Lynch. Susan, who has been actively working to secure the law in her state since 2002, started volunteering for C&C in 2013 — attending marches, speaking at health fairs, testifying at hearings and more. (more…)

  27. C&C’s Legal Team Helps Woman Honor Unresponsive Husband’s Wishes

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    A Los Angeles Judge rules that 37-year-old Juan Fernando Romero’s wife, Ana, who was being sued by his family, has the authority to remove him from life support.

    Right before Christmas of 2016, C&C’s Legal Advocacy department received a desperate call from Ana Romero and her attorney in Los Angeles to discuss a case involving Ana’s husband, Juan Fernando Romero. In 2015, while Ana was pregnant with their second child, Juan Fernando, then 35, suddenly became ill and suffered severe brain damage from lack of oxygen. It left him in a permanent vegetative state with no chance of recovery. After Juan Fernando suffered numerous bouts of infection and pneumonia for more than a year, Ana, his healthcare proxy, reluctantly accepted his looming death and arranged for him to receive palliative care in their home.  

    Unfortunately, on Dec. 9, 2016, the day before Ana had arranged to bring Juan Fernando home to die in peace, his sister and parents filed two lawsuits sponsored by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, a antichoice law group, suing Ana to wrest decision-making rights away from her. (more…)

  28. Black History Month

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    From L to R: AALC members Shawn Perry, Beverly Morgan, Dr. Lucille Ridgill, Ottamissiah “Missy” Moore, Donna Smith, Rev. Charles McNeill

    C&C’s newly formed African-American Leadership council came together for a two-day retreat, and some of our movement’s standout black advocates received recognition throughout the month.   

    “We want to change the way the African-American community approaches the end of life,” says Compassion & Choices National Constituency Director Brandi Alexander, who hosted our African-American Leadership Council (AALC) in D.C. for two days of meetings with lawmakers and strategic planning. Created to educate disproportionately underserved black Americans on end-of-life issues, the Leadership Council aims to also develop recommendations for C&C to better engage with and empower them. Membership includes 10 accomplished advocates representing a range of backgrounds and perspectives. (more…)

  29. Volunteer Spotlight: Reverend Charles McNeill

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    D.C. pastor Rev. Charles McNeill works to raise awareness of and clear misconceptions about medical aid in dying: “To see someone go from doubt to really understanding and accepting, that is enlightening for me.”

    Reverend Charles McNeill, pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., takes every opportunity to speak with his congregation about end-of-life issues. “I wasn’t sure about the D.C. [Death with Dignity] bill when I first heard about it; I must admit I was skeptical. I wondered why such a law would be needed. But once Compassion & Choices’ Donna Smith and Brandi Alexander spoke to me about the bill, I realized that it would indeed help people who were suffering unnecessarily at the end.”

    Smith, Compassion & Choices D.C. field and legislative manager, approached Rev. McNeill about helping C&C reach the African-American community and start the discussion surrounding end-of-life issues, including medical aid in dying. Rev. McNeill put C&C staff in touch with hundreds of pastors over the country to establish a network of faith leaders who will speak out about end-of-life issues and in defense of medical aid-in-dying laws.

    Rev. McNeill is the newest member to join the Compassion & Choices African-American Leadership Council, a dynamic group of advocate leaders focused on raising awareness, identifying materials that will empower African-Americans around end-of-life medical decision-making, and strategizing enhancements to Compassion & Choices’ policies and priorities specific to the needs of the African-American community.

    He also serves as president of the National Capital Baptist Convention, which serves over 100 churches in the Washington, D.C., metro area. “As I shared what I learned with members of my church and community, I heard that people in general were for it when they were clear what it was about. We hold seminars about end-of-life issues with our congregation at least once a month. People are very open to the discussion when they find out what the law is really about. I think there are misconceptions, and once the law is explained to them, the doubt goes away.”

    “To see someone go from doubt to really understanding and accepting, that is enlightening for me,” says Rev. McNeill, who has also spoken to legislators, testifying recently in front of the D.C. Council and in his home state of Maryland. “It’s an honor to speak in front of lawmakers about this issue. I’m willing to help in any way.”
    (more…)

  30. Nationwide Progress in the New Year

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    From passing resolutions to advancing legislation around the country, C&C is already having a winning 2018.

    Compassion & Choices rounded out the first month of this year with two encouraging developments. First, the Hawai‘i State AFL-CIO passed a resolution calling for lawmakers to enact legislation authorizing medical aid in dying. “This exciting news demonstrates that the local community is moving consistently and decisively to support medical aid in dying as a legitimate end-of-life option,” Compassion & Choices Hawai‘i Communications Officer Aubrey Hawk said.

    Not long after, on January 30, the Alaska House Health & Social Services Committee voted 5-2 in favor of passing an end-of-life options bill sponsored by Representative Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage). The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee, and C&C volunteers in the state have since been diligently engaging committee members and motivating residents to contact their representatives to encourage support of the legislation.

    On February 5, the New York team spoke with lawmakers in Albany. They were joined by our lobbyists at meetings with Senate Coalition Leader and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein’s staff, our Senate bill sponsor Senator Diane Savino, our Assembly bill sponsor Amy Paulin, and Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried. They also met with Assembly member staff to inspire more backing for New York’s bill.

    Three days later, our on-the-ground New Jersey campaign gathered with supporters in Trenton to bring more than 450 messages of congratulations to the Garden State’s new governor, Phil Murphy, and urge him to support the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and Assembly members John J. Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro), Tim Eustace (D- Bergen) and Joe Danielson (D-Franklin Township).

    Compassion & Choices Chief Executive Officer Kimberly Callinan joined more than a dozen supporters to present the messages to Gov. Murphy, including Mount Laurel resident Mary Creagan. Mary shared her story when handing them over to Vinnie Funelas, the governor’s director of constituent relations: “My brother, Michael, died three years ago after terminal throat cancer spread to his brain. Although he was in hospice care at home, he was heavily sedated and in a lot of pain. His greatest wish was to have a peaceful end to his suffering. He spent most of the final weeks of his life begging for help to be let go. Medical aid in dying is a decision he should have been able to make for himself; a peaceful, sound option when his pain and suffering became too much to bear.” The legislation is pending in both the General Assembly and the Senate, and we hope to see it move through committee in March.

    The following morning, Congress passed a two-year budget deal that did not include the harmful Harris Amendment that would block funding for D.C.’s Death with Dignity Act and repeal it. This puts us one step closer to a final appropriations bill being passed with D.C.’s law left intact.

    Finally, on Feb. 22, the New Hampshire Senate voted to reject legislation that would have established a commission to study end-of-life care options in the state, including medical aid in dying. Now Compassion & Choices is calling for the state’s Legislature to bring forward a bill to authorize medical aid in dying rather than study a practice with a combined 40-year track record in six jurisdictions with no instance of abuse or coercion in its entire history.


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