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

Compassion & Choices

Calif. Medical Assoc. Praised for Dropping 28-Year Opposition to Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill

C&C President Barbara Coombs Lee

By Sean Crowley

Compassion & Choices today praised the California Medical Association for dropping its decades-long opposition to legislation that would protect physicians from criminal prosecution for providing terminally ill adults with the option of medical aid in dying.

CMA’s announcement states that it is “the first state medical association in the nation to change its position on the long-debated issue of physician aid in dying” by taking a ‘neutral’ position on the End of Life Option Act (SB 128). It also marks the first time CMA has not opposed such legislation since 1987.

The CMA’s president said: “it’s up to the patient and their physician to choose the course of treatment best suited for the situation – and CMA’s new position on physician aid in dying allows for that.” The timing of this announcement is important because the deadline for the Senate to pass the End of Life Option Act is June 5, only two weeks away. If the Senate passes the bill, the deadline in the Assembly to pass it is Sept. 11.

Brittany Maynard and husband, Dan Diaz

“The California Medical Association’s new ‘neutral’ position on medical aid in dying is a major milestone because its prior opposition to this legitimate medical practice doomed previous bills,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an ER and ICU nurse for 25 years before she became an attorney and coauthored the Oregon Death with Dignity Act that is the model for SB 128. “We are seeing an enormous shift among medical organizations that is more reflective of the opinion of practicing physicians. This shift helps advance medical aid-in-dying legislation in California and throughout the nation.”

“With deep appreciation, I thank the California Medical Association for showing its leadership and wisdom in adopting its neutral policy stance,” said Dan Diaz, Brittany Maynard’s husband.  “It supports Brittany’s position: ‘This decision is mine to make, mine alone.”

Debbie Ziegler and her daughter, Brittany

“After months of research and collaboration, the California Medical Association has chosen to adopt a forward thinking, medically sound policy that will further the ability of California doctors  to properly treat terminally ill patients. Today, I strongly feel my daughter, Brittany Maynard, smiling down on her beloved home state, and I am confident that California legislators will take note of this important message from the CMA as they move forward in their efforts to pass Senate Bill 128, the California End of Life Option Act. Thank you to the CMA from the bottom of my mother’s heart,” said Deborah Ziegler, Brittany’s Maynard’s mother.

“As I’m now in bed nauseous and in pain from chemo, the CMA’s new position warmed my heart and was the highlight of my day,” said terminally ill Christy O’Donnell, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit Compassion & Choices filed on her behalf last week asserting that the California state constitution and existing state law allow medical aid in dying. “I was proud that my fellow Californians in the CMA chose to issue an opinion that now accurately reflects the medical needs and desires of the people of this state.”

Christy O’Donnell and daughter, Bailey

American physicians believe by a 23 percent margin (54% vs. 31%) that patients with an “incurable and terminal” disease should have the option of medical aid in dying, according to a 2014 Medscape survey of 17,000 U.S. doctors representing 28 medical specialties. The previous Medscape survey in 2010 showed physicians supported medical aid in dying by only a five percent margin (46% vs. 41%).

A significant number of individual doctors and medical groups support medical aid in dying, including the American Nurses Association/California, American Public Health Association, American College of Legal Medicine, American Women’s Medical Association, Gay & Lesbian Medical Association, and American Medical Student Association.

Read the CMA press release by clicking here.


Dying Single Mom Leads Suit Asserting Calif. Law Allows Aid in Dying

New YouTube Video Released of Woman Spending Final Days to Bring Peaceful Endings to Others

(San Diego, CA – May 18, 2015) Compassion & Choices filed suit on Friday on behalf of three Californians with terminal or advanced diseases and a physician asserting that the California constitution and existing state law allow the medical practice of aid in dying. 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, ending unbearable pain and suffering.

“Some dying people face unbearable suffering in their final days that even the best hospice and palliative care cannot relieve,” said Compassion & Choices National Director of Legal Advocacy Kevin Díaz, who also worked with death-with-dignity advocate Brittany Maynard. “As Brittany Maynard recognized, these people desperately need the option of medical aid in dying so they can die painlessly, peacefully in their sleep – and they need it now – before it’s too late.”

In conjunction with filing the suit in California Superior Court in San Diego County, Compassion & Choices released a new video featuring Christy O’Donnell, the lead plaintiff, who has a terminal prognosis of less than six months to live. She is a Christian, Republican civil rights attorney who lives in Santa Clarita and is a former sergeant in the LAPD. Despite receiving chemotherapy every week for the last nine months, O’Donnell’s physicians have told her that she will likely die painfully within the next few months from lung cancer that has spread to tumors in her brain, spine, ribs and liver. The video of her story is posted at: www.compassionandchoices.org/new-litigation-in-california and https://youtu.be/ZKnrjK8N5q4. More

LA City Council Passes Resolution to Support State Aid in Dying Bill

Adds to Momentum Behind End of Life Option Act Inspired by Brittany Maynard 

(Los Angeles, CA – May 6, 2015) Compassion & Choices praised the Los Angeles City Council for unanimously passing a resolution today to support the End of Life Option Act (SB 128) currently being considered in the state legislature.

The bill would allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults the option to request a prescription from a doctor for medication that they could take to die peacefully if their suffering becomes unbearable. Los Angeles is the largest jurisdiction in California to pass such a resolution, but not the first. So far, the City of West Hollywood, Cathedral City, Santa Barbara County, Alameda County, Santa Cruz County and Mar Vista Community have all endorsed the End of Life Option Act.

“This is another victory that creates a pathway for the passage of end of life options in the Golden State,” said Toni Broaddus, California Campaign Director. “All Californians should have the option, together with their families, their doctors and their faith, to make the end-of-life decisions that are right for them in the final stages of a terminal illness.”

The passage of the City Council resolution comes a few weeks after the End of Life Option Act SB 128 cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Health Committee in Sacramento. The next vote on the California bill will take place in the Appropriations Committee, after which it goes on to consideration by the full senate. More

End-of-Life Liberty Survives Another Legislative Session; In a Victory for Terminally Ill Montanans, Aid in Dying Remains a Medical Option

Compassion & Choices Praises Legislature for Respecting Dying Montanans’ Independence as It Adjourns for the Session

(Helena, MT – April 28, 2015) By adjourning today, the third legislative body in six years officially rejected further attempts to jail doctors for writing aid-in-dying prescriptions for terminally ill adults who wish to end their suffering at the end of life. This medical option was authorized for Montanans by a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling in Baxter v. Montana. Since that ruling, multiple attempts have been made by a small group of lawmakers to repeal the end-of-life options the court made available. Each time, a bipartisan majority of legislators has defeated their effort as they did today, delivering a victory for Montanans.

“Enough,” said Emily Bentley, Compassion & Choices Montana campaign manager. “Our courts have told us that end-of-life autonomy is protected under state law, and aid in dying is working exactly as intended for Montanans. It has given peace of mind to so many whose worlds were turned upside down by a terminal prognosis.”

Bentley thanked the bipartisan majority of lawmakers for “respecting the rule of law and trusting Montanans to make their own medical decisions.” She implored opponents, “Stop trying to overrule public opinion and our judiciary. Stop introducing these intrusive, oppressive bills.”

Despite a series of efforts to criminalize medical aid in dying this session, the legislature adjourned on April 28, 2015 without passing HB477 or a similar bill, HB328: “The Physician Imprisonment Acts.” There were a total of three hearings, three committee votes and four floor votes. More

Jeb Bush’s Suggestion to Require Medicare Recipients to Complete Advance Directives Called “Step in Right Direction”

Compassion & Choices Says Enforcement of Advance Directives Is Better Solution 

(Portland, OR – April 17, 2015) Likely GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush’s suggestion to require Medicare recipients to complete an advance directive is a step in the right direction, according to Compassion & Choices, the nation’s leading end-of-life choice organization.

Bush made the suggestion today in Manchester, NH, while defending his role as Florida governor to keep alive a brain-dead woman, Terry Schiavo. Her family battled over whether she would continue to receive artificial feeding after being in a vegetative state for 15 years.

But Compassion & Choices proposes an alternative solution: providing incentives to Medicare beneficiaries to complete advance directives and discuss their end-of-life wishes with healthcare providers, as well as denying payment to healthcare providers who fail to honor patients’ end-of-life wishes.

“We favor a carrot-and-stick approach because without an enforcement mechanism, advance directives often are ignored,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an attorney who was an ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant for 25 years. “Terry Schiavo was a young woman, so her case is exhibit A of why adults of all ages should complete an advance directive and discuss their end-of-life wishes with their loved ones.”

One out of four older Americans say that either they or a family member have experienced excessive or unwanted medical treatment, the equivalent of about 25 million people, according to a poll last year conducted by the research division of Purple Strategies, one of the top-five most accurate polling firms in the 2012 election.

The Compassion & Choices website allows users to access advance directives for every state: www.compassionandchoices.org/what-we-do/advance-directive/.