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

General News

CA Assembly Public Health Committee Clears Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill

Emotional Hearing on Brittany Maynard-Inspired Bill Draws Hundreds of Supporters

(Sacramento, CA – Sept. 1, 2015) The California Assembly Public Health and Developmental Services Committee today approved a bill with bipartisan support by a 10 to 3 vote to give terminally ill adults facing unbearable suffering the option of medical aid in dying. The legislation, called the End of Life Option Act (ABX2-15), now moves to the Assembly Finance Committee, and if that committee approves it, the full Assembly will vote on it.

IMG_1066The approval of the End of Life Option Act comes a week after California legislators re-introduced the legislation as one of a handful of health-related bills in special session. While the special session operates under different rules than the full legislature, it is expected that it will run through Sept. 11 and adjourn at the same time as the legislature.

“The Assembly Public Health Committee’s stamp of approval of the End of Life Option Act is a major step toward passing a law to give terminally ill Californians the option to shorten an unbearable dying process,” said Toni Broaddus, California campaign director for Compassion & Choices. “The compelling stories of people touched by this issue clearly won over the committee. We hope Assemblymembers will continue to listen to the impassioned voices of terminally ill Californians who desperately need medical aid in dying as an end-of-life option.”

Nearly seven out of 10 California voters (69%), including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics voters, support the End of Life Option Act, according to a bipartisan statewide poll.

The End of Life Option Act would give mentally capable adults with a terminal prognosis of six months or less to live the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication that they could take to painlessly and peacefully shorten their dying process.

The bill includes the strongest safeguards of any law or legislation of its kind in the country.

The dying person is required to make two oral requests for the medication, 15 days apart, followed by a written request. In addition, two witnesses must confirm in writing that the dying person is acting voluntarily and is not being coerced into requesting aid-in-dying medication. Prior to providing a prescription, doctors are required to confirm that the applicant is fully informed about alternatives to medical aid in dying, including comfort care, hospice care and pain control, also known as palliative care.

“I appreciate the support from my Assembly colleagues on the Public Health and Developmental Services Committee who passed this important piece of legislation,” said Senator Monning. “Every successful milestone moves us one step closer to providing a compassionate alternative for terminally ill patients who have run out of other treatment options.”

Senator Wolk thanked her colleagues in the Assembly for demonstrating “their compassion for those facing the end of life.”

The End of Life Option Act was inspired by Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer who moved to Oregon to utilize its Death with Dignity Act last year.

According to a new study published by the Journal of Palliative Medicine, the Oregon law “has resulted in or at least reflects more open conversation and careful evaluation of end-of-life options, more appropriate palliative care training of physicians, and more efforts to reduce barriers to access to hospice care and has thus increased hospice referrals and reduced potentially concerning patterns of hospice use in the state.”

Only three other states authorize the medical option of aid in dying: Washington, Montana and Vermont. In the final weeks of her life, Maynard partnered with Compassion & Choices to launch a campaign to make aid in dying an open and accessible medical option in California and other states nationwide.

Hundreds of End of Life Option Act supporters, clad in yellow T-shirts, heard testimony by Christy O’Donnell, a single mom with terminal lung cancer that has metastasized to her brain, liver, spine and rib.

“I have excruciating headaches. I’m nauseous, I have intense neck and back pain, she said. “I have painful shingles and excruciating neuropathy in my hands and feet. As I am morphine intolerant my palliative care doctor has struggled in finding any pain medications that work.”

During the hearing, Assemblymembers also heard testimony from Dan Diaz, the widower of Brittany Maynard.

“It is offensive to hear people judge those of us who want the option of having a gentle and peaceful dying process,” he said. “There are certain diseases that produce horrific and needless suffering at the end of life; Brittany’s case was one of those.”

Diaz fought back tears as he recalled the painful death of his friend, Jennifer Glass, who stood next to him during a January news conference to announce the bill introduction.

“My wife Brittany passed away gently; Jennifer’s death was not as gentle,” he said.  “In either case it was the individual determining that it was their time, and in either case the result was the same, death.  But the manner of getting there was quite different.   Shouldn’t the individual have the option of which they would choose for themselves?”

An oncologist from Palo Alto, Dr. Mike Turbow, whose disabled son died three years ago, testified about the thousands of dying patients he treated in hospice and palliative care during his medical career of nearly 40 years.

“This law does not target the disabled; it is about relieving suffering in terminally ill patients,” said Dr. Turbow. “So long as a patient with a terminal illness, whether disabled or not, can make a rational decision, medical aid in dying should be an option, along with palliative care and hospice, available to all Californians.”

Libertarian, Washington Post syndicated columnist George Will Endorses Death With Dignity!

By Sean Crowley

g willThe [Maryville, TN] Daily Times pre-empted The Washington Post by publishing a column today by WP syndicated columnist George Will, a self-described libertarian, endorsing death with dignity, also known as medical aid in dying, for terminally ill adults who want to the option to peacefully end unbearable suffering. Yesterday, Will’s research assistant confirmed to Compassion & Choices that this column will be published in Sunday’s The Washington Post.

To put this endorsement in perspective, The Wall Street Journal called Will “perhaps the most powerful journalist in America.”

Will’s column quotes death-with-dignity advocates Brittany Maynard (“I’m not killing myself. Cancer is killing me.”), who died last Nov. 1, and Jennifer Glass (“I’m doing everything I can to extend my life. No one should have the right to prolong my death.”), who died on Aug. 11.

Doctors_0358It also extensively quotes Dr. Lynette Cederquist, the physician plaintiff in a suit filed by Compassion & Choices asserting an 1874 California law prohibiting assisted suicide does not apply to physicians who offer medical aid in dying. She is a board certified physician in internal medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, and a clinical professor of medicine from La Jolla, California.

Physician-assisted dying has been done surreptitiously “as long as we have been practicing medicine,” Cederquist tells Will.

The column is timely because the California legislature is considering whether to pass the End of Life Option Act that would authorize medical aid in dying in the Golden State during its special session on healthcare that ends on September 11. New York is among the 23 others states that are considering or have introduced death-with-dignity legislation this year, along with the District of Columbia.

Will’s column concludes:

britt and dog-001“There is nobility in suffering bravely borne, but also in affirming at the end the distinctive human dignity of autonomous choice. Brittany Maynard, who chose to be with loved ones when she self-administered her lethal medications, was asleep in five minutes and soon dead.”

It will be interesting to see if Will discusses his column endorsing death with dignity on Fox News Sunday at 2pm ET.

You can read the full column by clicking here.

Dying Mom Asks CA Court to Grant Her Emergency Relief from Unbearable Suffering

(San Diego, CA – Aug. 27, 2015) A dying California single mom filed an emergency petition today asking a state appellate court in San Diego to rule that an 1874 state law prohibiting assisted suicide does not apply to doctors who offer medical aid in dying to terminally ill adults who want this option to end unbearable suffering. Aid in dying gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take to painlessly and peacefully end an unbearable dying process in their sleep. The petition is posted at: www.compassionandchoices.org/userfiles/2015-08-27-CONFORMED-PWM-Donorovich-v.-Harris.pdf.

“I do not want to die, but the harsh reality is I only have a few months left to live. I need emergency relief from the unbearable suffering I am virtually certain to experience,” said 47-year-old Christy O’Donnell, the lead plaintiff in the suit, Donorovich-Odonnell v. Harris. She is a Christian, Republican civil rights attorney and former LAPD sergeant who lives in Santa Clarita with her 21-year-old daughter, Bailey.

Christy and Bailey O'Donnell
Christy and Bailey O’Donnell

“I don’t want to die in agony from the cancer ravaging my body,” said O’Donnell, who has been diagnosed with stage IV cancer in her left lung that has metastasized to her brain, liver, spine and rib. She is morphine intolerant and cannot benefit from many of the most common and effective forms of pain relief. “I don’t want my daughter’s last memory of me to be watching me die in agony,” O’Donnell concluded. The video of Christy and Bailey O’Donnell’s story, which was recorded on March 4, is posted at: www.compassionandchoices.org/new-litigation-in-california and bit.ly/ChristyOdonnellVideo

The attorneys in Donorovich-Odonnell v. Harris are seeking emergency judicial relief for Christy O’Donnell now because her death is imminent. They will be seeking judicial relief for the other two patient plaintiffs in the case with advanced cancer, Elizabeth Wallner of Sacramento and Wolf Breimer of Ventura, in the near future.

“The California assisted-suicide law that supposedly prohibits medical aid in dying actually doesn’t prohibit it. It was written in 1874, over a century before this medical option was even contemplated,” said Jon B. Eisenberg, an Oakland-based appellate specialist for Horvitz & Levy LLP, which filed the petition, along with O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Arnold & Porter LLP and Compassion & Choices.

“In 1874, you did not even need a doctor’s prescription for medication,” Eisenberg added. “The legislators back then never intended for this 141-year-old law to apply to physicians who want to offer terminally ill adults the option of prescription medication they can take to end intolerable suffering in their last days of life.”

Wolf Breiman
Wolf Breiman

“The California assisted-suicide law requires direct participation in the person’s death,” said John Kappos, a Newport Beach-based partner in the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP. “The statute was never intended to penalize a doctor who writes a prescription to someone who already is dying from a terminal disease and that allows the person to end their suffering.”

Compassion & Choices won a similar suit asserting other existing state laws and/or state constitutions authorize physicians to offer terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying. For example, in Baxter v. Montana, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that: “a physician who aids a terminally ill patient in dying [by prescribing medication] is not directly involved in the final decision or the final act.”

“California courts have ruled the state Constitution’s privacy clause protects the right of a terminally ill adult to end an agonizing dying process by refusing medical treatment, including voluntarily stopping eating and drinking,” said Compassion & Choices National Director of Legal Advocacy Kevin Díaz. “We believe this same constitutional right to privacy applies to medical aid dying.”

“Christy is dying painfully, and her death will likely occur just a few months from now,” said Lynette Cederquist, M.D., a plaintiff from La Jolla who is a board certified physician in internal medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, and a clinical professor of medicine. “As she nears death, her pain may become excruciating, and even the best palliative care may not provide her sufficient relief. I urge the court to grant our emergency request so I can write her an aid-in-dying prescription and she can die gently.”

The suit coincides with the legislative campaign to authorize medical aid in dying in California by passing the End of Life Option Act (ABX2-15). The deadline to pass the End of Life Option Act is Sept. 11. It 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. Besides Oregon, there are three other states that currently authorize medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana and Vermont. In addition, a New Mexico appellate court recently overturned a district court ruling last year that aid in dying is a fundamental right under the state constitution, but the case is being appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. A June bipartisan poll shows California voters support the medical option of aid in dying by more than a 3-1 margin (69 percent vs. 20 percent).

Elizabeth Wallner
Elizabeth Wallner

“Compassion & Choices is pursuing all options to authorize medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults like Christy O’Donnell to bring them relief from extreme suffering before it is too late. We are asking the courts to affirm Californians’ right to access this option and to clarify existing law does not prohibit it,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “And we are asking the legislature to establish state policy and procedure that allow the practice of medical aid in dying.”

Compassion & Choices is the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life. More information is available at: www.compassionandchoices.org

The Re-Introduction of the End of Life Option Act (ABX2 15)

By Toni Broaddus, California Campaign Director

Talamentes-EggmanI am happy to announce that the End of Life Option Act has been reintroduced (with a new bill number: ABX2 15) in a special session of the California legislature by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, with Senators Bill Monning & Lois Wolk as principal co-authors. The special session was called by the governor to address healthcare issues, so this is an ideal way for us to keep the bill moving forward.

With your help, we can still pass the End of Life Option Act this year!

A “special” session is essentially a mini-legislative session that works much the same way as the regular legislative session — with more flexibility in the rules. Our newly introduced End of Life Option Act will be heard in special session Assembly committees beginning next week.  

In fact, we expect to work with the bill authors to champion the bill through four special session committees and two floor votes over the next four weeks! We are going to reach out to you during this time. Dying Californians cannot wait.

This issue is urgent for terminally ill Californians from all walks of life who cannot afford to wait for relief from unbearable suffering in their final days. Every Californian should be able to make end-of-life decisions that are right for them and their families — including the option to request medical aid in dying.

This is a critical moment for our bill.

Click here to send a letter to your legislators in support of the End of Life Option Act. Your voice can help make a difference for terminally ill Californians!

If you’d like to learn more about the End of Life Option Act and how to get involved,  join us for a telephone town hall this Wednesday, August 19, from 6 to 7 p.m. by clicking here.

Thank you for supporting the End of Life Option Act. Please forward this email to friends, family and neighbors. Let’s continue the momentum to win this campaign!

Re-Introduction of End of Life Option Act Gives Dying Californians Hope

Bill’s Passage in Special Session Would Give Terminally Ill Californians Peace of Mind

(Sacramento, CA – Aug. 18, 2015) California lawmakers have reintroduced the End of Life Option Act as one of a handful of health-related bills they will consider during their special session. While the special session operates under different rules than the full legislature, it is expected that it will run through Sept. 11 and adjourn at the same time as the legislature.

Talamentes-Eggman
Assemblymember Susan Talamentes-Eggman

This time, the California bill was introduced by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, with Senators Bill Monning and Lois Wolk acting as the primary co-authors.

“This issue is urgent for terminally ill Californians from all walks of life who cannot afford to wait for relief from unbearable suffering in their final days,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus during a news conference to announce the bill reintroduction at the state Capitol. “These Californians are dying in a very painful way, without access to medical options that could help them die peacefully.”

The safeguards in this legislation are so strong that the California Medical Association, which has historically opposed similar bills, dropped its opposition to the End of Life Option Act in May. Two weeks later, the California Senate approved the bill, but it stalled in the Assembly Health Committee. The California bill would give terminally ill people in the final months and weeks of a terminal disease the option to request and receive a doctor’s prescription for medication they could take to end their dying process if their suffering becomes too great.

Nearly seven out of 10 California voters (69%), including 70 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of Catholics, support the End of Life Option Act, according to June bipartisan poll.

“We promised that we were committed to continuing to fight for expanded end-of-life care options for Californians, and we have kept that promise,” said Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, new author of the bill, ABX2-15, formerly numbered as SB 128. “We will not wait another year.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk, the original bill’s coauthors, urged immediate passage of the legislation.

“It is a disservice to these individuals and their families not to take action now,” said Senator Monning.

“Two California superior court judges have recently looked at this [issue] and told desperate and terminally ill patients it is the Legislature’s responsibility to act,” Senator Wolk said. “It’s time to act now.”

Elizabeth Wallner, a single mom with stage IV colon cancer spoke about the fears of leaving her family with memories of a haunting death.

“What scares me more is to have my only son, a teenager, and my family watch me die slowly and painfully from cancer,” she said. “I don’t want this agonizingly traumatic image to be their last memory of me.”

Delores and Dan
Advocates Delores Huerta and Dan Diaz

Dolores Huerta, labor leader and civil rights activist, recalled her mother’s death from breast cancer that metastasized throughout her body.

“My life-long work as an advocate for social justice has taught me that these difficult moments require our utmost compassion, the wisdom to imagine walking in another person’s shoes and the ability to respect the wishes of others,” she said.

The End of Life Option Act was inspired by Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian who chose to move to Oregon last year to utilize its medical aid-in-dying law to peacefully end her intolerable dying process from terminal brain cancer.

Her husband, Dan Diaz, recalled the recent death of his friend Jennifer Glass from San Mateo. Glass, a medical aid-in-dying supporter who fought until her last breath to help pass the End of Life Option Act, died last week (see newly released video she recorded last November at: bit.ly/JenniferGlassInterview). Glass was scheduled to testify in support of the bill before the Assembly Health Committee on July 7, but the hearing was cancelled.

“On that Tuesday morning I sat at her bedside, I saw my dear friend that I’d known for seven months, unconscious and withering away,” Diaz said. “The pain that Jennifer was experiencing from the tumor, that had now spread to her brain, had become unbearable. So at Jennifer’s request, she had been put into terminal sedation 5 days earlier. Jennifer died later that night, but that was not the dying process she had wanted. Why did Jennifer Glass have to endure those 5 days in that manner?”

The End of Life Option Act is closely modeled after Oregon’s Death-With-Dignity law, which has worked as intended for over 17 years without a single documented incident of abuse.