End-of-Life Choice, Death with Dignity, Palliative Care and Counseling

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Calif. Death-with-Dignity Plaintiffs Vow to Appeal Case’s Dismissal

Cite Similar, Successful Suits in Other States 

(San Diego, CA – July 24, 2015) Gravely ill plaintiffs vowed to appeal a judge’s dismissal today of their suit asserting the California constitution and existing state law allow terminally ill adults the option of death with dignity, also known as medical aid in dying.

Compassion & Choices has won two similar suits asserting state law and/or state constitution allow medical aid in dying in Montana in 2009 and New Mexico in 2014. Compassion & Choices is providing legal advice in a similar, current suit filed in Tennessee.

The terminally ill lead plaintiff in the California suit, Christy O’Donnell, a Christian, Republican, single mom, civil rights attorney and former LAPD sergeant, is dying from brain, liver, lung, rib, and spine cancer. Christy cried after she watched the judge announce the dismissal of the case at end of the hearing.

“This is not the outcome I had prayed for, but as a lawyer, I am confident the appeals court will see our case in a different light,” said O’Donnell, who turned 47 today and lives in Santa Clarita with her 21year-old daughter, Bailey. “I don’t have much time left to live and that is why I support all end-of-life options, whether they are authorized by litigation or legislation. These options are urgent for me.”

The ruling came a few weeks after Superior Court Judge Gregory Pollack granted the plaintiffs’ motion to expedite review of the case because doctors say O’Donnell, who is morphine intolerant, is likely to die in agony within a few months if she cannot utilize medical aid in dying.
Judge Pollack concluded in his dismissal of the case today that: “It’s up to the legislature or the people to change the law, not a superior court judge.”

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling and intend to appeal,” said lead plaintiffs’ attorney John Kappos, a Newport Beach-based partner for O’Melveny & Myers. “We are hopeful an appeals court will recognize the rights of terminally ill adults like Christy O’Donnell, who are facing horrific suffering at the end of their lives that no medication can alleviate, to have the option of medical aid in dying.”

“We will continue to support Christy O’Donnell for courageously carrying on in the tradition of other gravely ill plaintiffs who successfully led the fight to authorize medical aid in dying in their states,” said
plaintiffs’ attorney Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “Like Bob Baxter in Montana and Aja Riggs in New Mexico, Christy understands this case means as much to other terminally ill adults as it does to her.”

Medical aid in dying gives mentally competent, terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take in their final days to end their dying process painlessly and peacefully. According to a bipartisan poll conducted last month by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research & Probolsky Research, 82 percent of California voters agree and 67 percent strongly agree that, “A terminally ill, mentally competent person should be able to make a private decision to end their own life, in consultation with their family, their faith, and their doctor.”

The suit also asserts that medical aid in dying is a more peaceful alternative to palliative sedation. Palliative sedation involves medicating the patient into a coma and withholding nutrition and fluids until the patient dies. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and California courts have recognized palliative sedation as a legitimate medical practice. The suit is posted at: www.compassionandchoices.org/userfiles/ComplaintCA-Lawsuit.pdf.

The second patient plaintiff present at the hearing was Sacramento resident Elizabeth Wallner, 51, who has stage IV colon cancer that has metastasized to her liver and lungs. She has fought the cancer with 18 rounds of weeklong chemotherapy treatments that made her “mind-bendingly sick,” four surgeries to remove parts of her liver and colon, radiation, radio-ablation, and other methods that offered even the slightest hope of extending her life. Elizabeth’s 19-year-old son, her Catholic father, and the rest of her family, support her end-of-life wishes—including the option of aid in dying.

“Despite this temporary setback, I remain optimistic that we will prevail in the end, so I can enjoy my last days with my son and my parents, instead of worrying about a painful death,” said Wallner.

The suit coincides with the legislative campaign to authorize the option of medical aid in dying in California by passing the End of Life Option Act (SB 128), which Christy O’Donnell testified in support of. SB 128 made history in the Golden State last month when the state Senate passed it, two weeks after the California Medical Association dropped its 28-year opposition to aid-in-dying legislation. The End of Life Option Act is closely modeled after the death-with-dignity law in Oregon, which has worked well for 17 years, without a single documented case of abuse or coercion. Currently, four other states authorize the option of medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.

“Terminally ill Californians with months, weeks or just days to live are running out of time to get relief from intolerable suffering,” said Toni Broaddus, California Campaign Director for Compassion & Choices. “They desperately want medical aid in dying as an end-of-life option by any legal means necessary. But our legislature still can—and should—establish additional safeguards for medical aid in dying by passing the End of Life Option Act before its Sept. 11 deadline.”

CMS Praised for Proposal to Reimburse Docs for End-of-Life Conversations

End-of-Life Choice Group Says Congress Should Complement Proposal by Passing Law

Daniel Wilson
Daniel Wilson

(Washington, DC – July 8, 2015) Compassion & Choices praised the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for proposing to reimburse doctors for communicating with patients about whether and how they would want to be kept alive if they become too sick to speak for themselves. The proposal follows the American Medical Association’s recommendation to make advance care planning services a separately payable service under Medicare.

Only one out of four Americans (26%) have completed an advance directive to ensure their end-of-life healthcare wishes are carried out if they are unable to speak for themselves, according to a study published in the January 2014 edition of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Nearly one out of four older Americans say that either they or a family member have experienced excessive or unwanted medical treatment. This CMS proposal is a positive step – but by no means a panacea – toward ensuring patients receive only the end-of-life care they want – no more and no less,” said Daniel R. Wilson, national & federal programs director for Compassion & Choices, a leading end-of-life choice advocacy group.

“This proposal would remove a barrier doctors have cited that prevented them from engaging in these conversations because they are not reimbursed for them,” said Wilson. “Now Congress needs to pass legislation to compensate doctors for initiating these conversations and penalize healthcare providers that do not honor patients’ express wishes for end-of-life care.”

Compassion & Choices has long advocated for compensating physicians for engaging in end-of-life care conversations, including it as part of the Affordable Care Act. But this provision was stripped from the bill before it became law.

In addition, Compassion & Choices is a founding collaborator in the Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment, a growing coalition of 19 organizations whose goal is to ensure that consumers are empowered and have access to a full range of well-coordinated medical care and treatment. The CMS proposal is a core objective of the campaign.

Compassion & Choices supports the Care Planning Act of 2015 that would create a Medicare benefit for people facing grave illness to work with their doctor to define, articulate and document their personal goals for treatment.  Sponsored by U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), this bipartisan bill will help patients avoid excessive or unwanted medical treatment and receive only the care they want, consistent with their wishes, across care settings.

New Legislation Would Give Patients More Power Over Their Own Care

Compassion & Choices Praises Senator Warner’s and Isakson’s Care Planning Act of 2015

(Washington, DC – June 11, 2015) Compassion & Choices, the nation’s leading nonprofit devoted to improving care and expanding choice at the end of life, praised yesterday’s introduction of The Care Planning Act of 2015 by U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), a member of the Senate Health Committee.

The bipartisan bill would create a Medicare benefit for people facing grave illness to work with their doctor to define, articulate and document their personal goals for treatment. It would further help patients avoid excessive or unwanted medical treatment and receive only the care they want, consistent with their wishes, across care settings.

Responding to the bill’s introduction, Compassion & Choices National and Federal Programs Director Daniel Wilson said:

Senator Warner’s and Isakson’s legislation empowers people to truly get the outcomes they want when they are facing serious illness at the end of life. Too often during a health crisis, patients defer to a medical system that is so focused on keeping a body alive, it can forget the person inside. A focus on the person is what we need and what this bill provides.

For many Americans, spending their final weeks or months undergoing noncurative, exhausting, debilitating treatments is not the life they want. Individuals deserve choice at the end of life, and whether they choose a maximum quantity of days or a maximum quality of perhaps fewer days, their doctors need to support them. The Care Planning Act of 2015 goes a long way toward helping patients achieve personal clarity about their priorities, and helps healthcare providers honor those priorities. Compassion & Choices is proud to support this legislation.

Full details of the Care Planning Act of 2015 are available by clicking here.


California Legislation Remains in Play

july featureIgnore headlines to the contrary: California’s End of Life Option Act, SB 128, remains viable. Erroneous stories spread when bill sponsors decided not to present the bill at the Assembly Health Committee as scheduled Tuesday in order to give assemblymembers more time to consider the bill.

Our team is currently pursuing several strategies that will keep the bill moving, and calls on supporters to keep up the pressure to see it pass. “SB 128 is still alive and well,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “Seven out of every ten California voters want to see this bill become law, so we will not stop until we make that happen.” More

Volunteer Spotlight: Dick and Ginny Walters


Inspired by passage of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, Dick and Ginny Walters wanted the same peace of mind, choice and control for people in their home state of Vermont. So they decided to take action, founding the enormously impactful advocacy organization Patient Choices Vermont in 2002. “We gathered a dedicated group who thought likewise; most of them were physicians,” said Dick. “We created a website. We translated the Oregon law into Vermont language. I started calling legislators, got about 30 or 35 to sign off on the idea, and we were off and running.”

After years of diligence and persistence – and nearly a decade of legislative defeats – they succeeded in helping to pass the Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life bill in 2013. More