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

Compassion & Choices

San Mateo Daily Journal publishes story about C&C advocate Jennifer Glass’ painful passing

By Katie Wingo

With deep sadness, Compassion & Choices bid farewell to our close friend and ally, Jennifer Glass, on Aug. 11. She worked tirelessly to pass California’s End of Life Option Act until she died from stage IV cancer. Unfortunately, the California legislature did not pass the bill in time for Jennifer to utilize the end-of-life option she so tenaciously fought for: medical aid in dying. Her hometown newspaper, The San Mateo Daily Journal, published a touching story about her advocacy work.

The paper interviewed her husband, Harlan Seymour, and her sister, Mavis Prall, about Jennifer’s end-of-life experience. She opted for palliative sedation. The process involves medicating the person into a coma, then withholding liquids and nutrients until death occurs. Opponents of the End of Life Option Act often claim that medical aid in dying is an unnecessary option for dying patients who have access to proper palliative care, and if necessary, palliative sedation. But Jennifer’s family said palliative sedation was not as peaceful an option for her.

 “As her lungs filled with fluid making breathing difficult and her pain increased, [Jennifer] opted to undergo palliative sedation.

“It took her more than five days to die, a disheartening time marked by her awakening from the coma in a panic one evening,” Seymour said.

“By the time she started palliative sedation, she was in so much pain, she really couldn’t say goodbye to people. If there was an end-of-life option [of medical aid in dying], she could have started earlier, even just one day, she could have said goodbye to her loved ones and had a quiet death. Palliative sedation is really just a slow motion version of what the end-of-life option [of medical aid in dying] offers. Instead of a seven-day, dragged-out death in a coma, it’s a death that could just last a few hours and allows for a better ending with one’s family … It would have been a great comfort to her if she had the choice to end her life in a faster manner. She would have suffered less.”

Prall also spoke about her sister’s experience, saying in the C&C news release:

“She did not want her loved ones to have to watch the life drain from her over a five-day period, nor to watch her lose all dignity as her body slowly shut down. Members of the California Legislature should be aware that their inaction has painful consequences. I urge them to pass the End-of-Life Option Act this year.”

C&C’s California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus addressed the legislature’s inaction in the San Mateo Daily Journal story:

“With Jennifer, [palliative sedation] did not work as effectively … It’s really important for people to understand that in reality, palliative sedation does not work for everyone and those folks need another option. Medical aid in dying is that option.”

We are grateful we got the chance to fight alongside Jennifer and learn from her experience, and vow to continue fighting in her honor for passage of California’s End of Life Option Act to provide relief to other terminally ill Californians.

You can read the full San Mateo Daily Journal article by clicking here.

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.

California Aid-in-Dying Bill Still Under Consideration

Supporters Feel Optimistic about Bill Despite Hearing Postponement


(Sacramento, CA – July 7, 2015) The authors of a bill that would allow terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication to shorten their dying process decided not to present it, SB 128, before the Assembly Health Committee to give Assemblymembers more time to consider the bill.

“SB 128 is still alive and well, even though we weren’t ready for it to be heard before the Assembly Health Committee,” 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.”

A bipartisan poll last month showed 69 percent of California voters, including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics, support SB 128, also known as the End of Life Option Act. The bill is authored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning, Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk and Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman.

The End of Life Option Act was inspired by the public advocacy of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer. She had to move to Oregon last year to utilize its death-with-dignity law to end her unbearable suffering so she could die peacefully.

“This issue is urgent for dying Californians like Jennifer Glass, Christy O’Donnell, Michael Saum and hundreds of others who are suffering unbearably at the end of their lives,” added Broaddus.  “We are redoubling our commitment to passing the End of Life Option Act for all other Californians who want and need the option of medical aid in dying.”

The End of Life Option Act was 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. Four other states authorize the option of medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.

“This battle is far from over,” added Broaddus. “We owe it to Brittany Maynard’s family and terminally ill Californians to pursue every available path to give them relief from unbearable suffering.”

Olmos Joins Prominent Latino Voices Endorsing California Death-With-Dignity Bill

By Maureen Kennedy

Actor/Director Edward James Olmos has added his voice to the community of Latino supporters of California’s End of Life Option Act (SB 128). Best known for his Academy Award-nominated performance as renowned educator Jaime Escalante in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, Olmos is a veteran social activist. He founded Latino Public Broadcasting, served as an international ambassador for UNICEF and helped clean up the streets of Los Angeles after the Rodney King riots.

In a letter sent July 1, Olmos urged all Assembly members to support SB 128. Olmos’ letter is particularly timely because six Latino Legislative Caucus members serve on the 19-member Assembly Health Committee that is scheduled to vote on the bill on July 7. Olmos’ letter concludes:

“Americans are free to choose how they live—and when the time comes, how they die. All Americans should be able to make this private, personal decision—in consultation with their doctor and family—free from government interference. 

We need your vote on SB 128. Can I count on you to support this legislation?”

Olmos joins other prominent Latino activists who support the End of Life Option Act, including legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers with César Chávez, and actor Mauricio Ochmann from the popular Telemundo telenovela “El Señor de los Cielos.”

Nearly seven in ten California voters (69%), including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics, support SB 128, according to a bipartisan poll conducted June 16-21 by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research and Probolsky Research.

You can read entire text of Olmos’ letter by clicking here.

You can read full results from the bipartisan poll by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research and Probolsky Research by clicking here.