Recently Capitol Hill staffers pulled Compassion & Choices into federal politics, suggesting the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Donald Berwick, should be called before Congress to answer accusations that he is a member, or affiliated somehow with C&C. “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of Compassion & Choices?” Something like that.
It’s a new experience for us to occupy the center of a partisan battle. The issues our clients and constituents confront are intensely personal, never political and certainly not exclusive to people who ally themselves with one political party or another. Our supporters cover the landscape from right-wing libertarian to left-wing progressive. Polls consistently show majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents support end-of-life choice. Among our clients, those naturally averse to government intrusion in their personal decisions are over-represented.
Another reason we are a surprising target is that anyone familiar with advocacy organizations for end-of-life choices knows Compassion & Choices is probably the most moderate and broad-based of all. We believe options should include legal aid in dying for mentally competent, terminally ill adults. We also believe hospice and palliative care should be accessible and of the highest quality. So we work hard in courtrooms and statehouses to improve pain care education for doctors, raise accountability for under-treating pain, strengthen advance directives for health care and defend doctors who treat end-of-life pain well.
Our advocacy covers the entire continuum of autonomous, patient-centered decision-making for those with life-threatening illness. We are guided by Principles of Patient-Centered Care, including autonomy, informed consent and the importance of individual values and beliefs.
I found myself wondering, “If people think joining Compassion & Choices automatically discredits a person, who do they think our members are?” In fact, I can barely think of a category not represented among our members. Our membership includes the most devout people of all faiths, including Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Unitarians, and those of no faith at all. It includes surgeons, oncologists, neurologists and radiologists, as well as natural healers and those who spurn medicine of any kind. It includes Nobel laureates as well as physical laborers, criminal defense attorneys along with prison guards and counselors. If I would name two categories relatively rare in our society but overly represented among our members, it would be former governors and holocaust survivors. We seem to have a disproportionate number of each.
For the record, in my fourteen years with Compassion & Choices I do not recall any association of any kind with Dr. Berwick. But if he were a member of Compassion & Choices, he would join some of the most vital, patriotic, hard-working, intelligent and decent people in America.