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

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Help Sen. Warner Build Support for the Care Planning Act of 2015

Sen. Warner speaks at a luncheon hosted by the Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment and the National Academy of Social Insurance

By Khalid Pagan

“Our discussion shouldn’t be based in fear; it should be based in science, morality, and respecting people’s rights and views.”– Sen. Warner

At a luncheon hosted by The Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment and the National Academy of Social Insurance, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) spoke movingly and personally about a story that is familiar to too many of us- the difficulties that he and his family faced when being forced to make decisions about his mother’s end of life care. After his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, his father and sister cared for her at home until the final year of her life. The family had not discussed his mother’s preferences for the end of her life, and when her time came, it was difficult for the family to understand what she wanted and respect her wishes.

“This is about respecting what our parents, our grandparents, or ourselves want.” – Sen. Warner

The senator also paid tribute to audience member Amy Berman, a nurse who was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer four years ago. After her doctor told her that she likely had fewer than five years to live, Berman pursued palliative care to manage her symptoms rather than an aggressive plan of treatment that would likely have not cured her of cancer but would have reduced the quality of her final years. Instead of spending the past few years in a hospital, she has been able to scale the Great Wall of China, continue working at a job she loves and spend time with her friends and family. Patients should be empowered to make choices like Berman’s.

Sen. Warner believes that the country is due to have end-of-life conversations in every community, worship hall, and medical facility in the country. He emphasized the importance of all of us reaching out to our loved ones to have these discussions. More than 25 million Americans have been subjected to unwanted medical treatment at some point in their lives, proof that the health care decision isn’t listening to patient preferences. It’s an experience that too many of our parents, siblings and friends have gone through.

That’s why Sens. Warner and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced the Care Planning Act, a bill that creates a Medicare benefit for people facing grave illness to work with their doctor to define and record their end-of-life healthcare decisions. The bill would also reward doctors for participating in end-of-life discussions before a medical crisis, and would fund a program that measures how closely health care providers follow a patient’s documented care plan.

Let’s help Sen. Warner get this bill passed so we can empower families to make the informed choices that suit their values.

“These kinds of stories are different than the rote emails or pre-functioned telephone calls we get on issues of the day. These are stories that touch people’s lives.” – Sen. Warner

Sen. Warner called on all of us who support the goals of the Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment to share our personal stories with our senators. We need to show that there is overwhelming and unyielding support in each of their communities for increased patient control at the end of life. Your story helps ensure that this issue is seen as what it is- a family issue, a bipartisan issue, and a family issue.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW: The Care Planning Act currently has 6 bipartisan cosponsors, and Sen. Warner emphasized the importance of recruiting even more supporters from both parties. Can we count on you to help recruit your senators? Click here to write a letter to your senators and ask them to cosponsor The Care Planning Act of 2015. Make sure to include your personal story about your parents, grandparents, spouse, friend, or other loved one.

The Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment and the National Academy of Social Insurance host occasional lunch briefings in Washington DC. Compassion & Choices is a founding member of the Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment, a coalition of 19 organizations representing the interests of health care consumers and seniors. Compassion & Choices is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Care Planning Act of 2015. The bill’s goal is to make sure every American can talk to their health care providers – doctors, nurses, even social workers – about how much or little treatment they’d want if they were gravely ill. Over 60 other organizations have endorsed the bill, which now has 6 Senate co-sponsors – 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans. Senator Warner is determined to take the politics out of this issue and get his bill passed.

Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill Lands on CA Gov.’s Desk

Supporters Optimistic Gov. Brown Will Allow Bill to Become Law

CHP_6726(Sacramento, Calif. – Sept 25, 2015) The clock is ticking for California Gov. Jerry Brown to decide whether he will allow a bill to become law to give terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying. The bill would authorize adults with six months or less to live who are facing unbearable suffering to request a doctor’s prescription for medication that they could take to die painlessly and peacefully in their sleep.

Today Gov. Brown received the legislation, known as the End of Life Option Act (ABX2-15), authored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, and coauthored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk. Brown has 12 days, until Oct. 7, to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action by midnight on Oct. 7, the legislation automatically becomes law.

“We hope Gov. Brown honors the will of the majority of Californians of every faith and demographic group by allowing the End of Life Option Act to become law.” said Compassion & Choices Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “Californians just want to know that if they become terminally ill and their suffering becomes unbearable, they have the option to take prescription medication so they can die gently in their sleep.”

Three out of four Californians support the End of Life Option Act (ABX2-15), according to a poll released last month by the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at the University of California, Berkeley. Support levels included 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents, 67 percent of Republicans and at least 69 percent across all other demographic categories, from gender to educational, income and age levels.

“We urge Gov. Brown to look into his heart and make his decision based on what it tells him the people of California want and need,” said Christy O’Donnell, a 47-year-old single mom, attorney and former LAPD sergeant from Santa Clarita, who is dying from lung, brain, spine, rib and liver cancer. “Some terminally ill Californians like me are dying painfully because no hospice or palliative medication can relieve our suffering. We just want the option to die peacefully and end our suffering in our final days.”

The legislature passed the End of Life Option Act on Sept. 11, 10 months after the death of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer. She brought international attention to this issue when she had to move to Oregon to utilize its death-with-dignity law last November. In the final weeks of her life, Maynard and her family partnered with Compassion & Choices to launch a campaign on Oct. 6, 2014, to make aid in dying an open and accessible medical option.

The End of Life Option Act is closely modeled after the death-with-dignity law in Oregon. It has worked well for 17 years, without a single documented case of abuse or coercion. Currently, three other states authorize medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana and Vermont. In addition, A New Mexico appellate court recently overturned a district court ruling that aid in dying is a fundamental right under the state constitution. But the case will be heard by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

“No parent should have to watch his or her child suffer like I did,” said Dr. Robert Olvera, a Harvard-trained physician from Santa Ana, whose 25-year-old daughter, Emily Rose, suffered horribly for 17 years from leukemia in her brain before her death last year. “Gov. Brown, please give Californians the option to die peacefully instead of living their last days in excruciating, unbearable pain.”

Story Highlights C&C’s Use of Social Media, Technology to Advance Death with Dignity

By Katie Wingo

Peninsula Press, a project of Stanford Journalism, published a story last week recognizing Compassion & Choices’ smart use of social media and technology to turbo-charge the death-with-dignity movement.

On Oct. 6, 2014, Compassion & Choices launched its partnership with death-with-dignity advocate Brittany Maynard by posting a video of her that catapulted the option of medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults into the forefront of national media attention and legislative initiatives.

“Almost 12 million people saw Brittany Maynard’s final days battling terminal brain cancer in a video requesting the right to die …

“It was not Maynard or her family who widely shared the video that attracted national attention to the issue of aid-in-dying legislation. Maynard reached out to Compassion & Choices, said Toni Broaddus, California campaign director for the organization. The nonprofit … promoted Maynard’s video, organized primetime interviews, perpetuated a national conversation and continued to share her story after her death.

“Compassion & Choices and other such organizations have taken advantage of the latest digital technologies to bolster the conversation about the right to die.

“‘It’s clear that social media is the reason this issue has gained so much momentum so quickly because it is now possible for a story like Brittany’s to go global in just a matter of hours,’ Broaddus said.”

Bill Monning, Toni Broaddus, Dan Diaz, Lois Wolk

After analyzing more than 25,000 tweets from April and May 2015 from nonprofits, journalists and individuals with a large following, the Peninsula Press concluded the tweets from established organizations generated the highest amount of conversation about the option of medical aid in dying.

The global recognition of Brittany’s story garnered the attention of California Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk, who subsequently sponsored the End of Life Option Act (SB 128).

“Senators Bill Monning and Lois Wolk, SB 128’s sponsors, approached Compassion & Choices regarding the bill shortly after Maynard’s death in November of last year. The senators officially introduced the bill in January 2015.

“ … it marked the first time that legislators reached out to the nonprofit and not the other way around. Compassion & Choices was not planning to go to the Legislature during 2015, Broaddus said. The nonprofit, however, was ready to seize the opportunity the senators presented them.”

The story notes the national attention on Brittany’s story undoubtedly played a significant role in prompting the California Medical Association (CMA) to drop their long-standing opposition to medical aid in dying, a key moment in the successful campaign to persuade the legislature to pass the bill.

“One of the key shifts in the legislation’s likelihood for success came after the California Medical Association (CMA), a historic opponent to aid-in-dying legislation stated on May 20, that it was neutral on the passage of the legislation.”

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to receive the revised version of End of Life Option (ABX2-15) by the end of this week. Compassion & Choices continues to utilize social media and other technology to educate and connect with supporters, urging them to tell Gov. Brown to sign the bill into law.

You can read the full Peninsula Press report here.

Death With Dignity Wins in California!

FeatureCompassion & Choices achieved an enormous victory on Friday when, after months of frenzied strategizing, campaigning and lobbying, California lawmakers gave final approval to the End of Life Option Act. Following emotional debate, the Assembly passed the bill with support 43 to 34 on Wednesday, and senators approved it on a 23 to 14 bipartisan vote on the final day of the legislative session. There is only one more important step before the Golden State has a death-with-dignity law – the governor’s signature. “Our hope, our fervent hope, is that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign this bill and bring relief to hundreds of dying Californians,” said Campaign Director Toni Broaddus in an NPR story on the landmark event.


Volunteer Spotlight: Marilynn Freeman

IMG_20150911_084713765_HDR (1)Holistic health practitioner Marilynn Freeman of Silver City, New Mexico, became involved in issues surrounding death and empowerment more than 20 years ago. “I think that end-of-life choices really incorporate holistic-health living,” says Freeman. “I see so many people who follow what they believe to be a holistic path. Then as soon as they run into trouble, they hand themselves over to the medical community instead of looking for holistic answers and looking at their belief system.”

Freeman learned about Compassion & Choices when her husband, James “Kelly” Kindig, who had been in declining health since 2003, began seeking a way to end his increasing suffering. “There wasn’t any way that we knew of that wouldn’t implicate me. The chaplain from hospice had become friends with my husband, and he gave us a 3×5 card that read, ‘Call Compassion & Choices.’” More