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

General News

Calif. Gov.’s Signing of Aid-in-Dying Bill Should Spur Action in Other States

Brittany Maynard’s Story, Victory in Nation’s Most Populous State Will Have Ripple Effect for Death-With-Dignity Movement

(Sacramento, Calif. – Oct. 5, 2015) Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of California’s End of Life Option Act today should spur legislators in other states to advance bills to allow terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying to end unbearable suffering, advocates say.

The bill’s signing into law comes one year after Brittany Maynard and her family launched a partnership with Compassion & Choices on Oct. 6, 2014, to authorize this end-of-life option in California and other states nationwide. Maynard was a 29-year-old Californian who brought international attention to the issue when she had to move to Oregon to utilize its death-with-dignity law, which she utilized to end her suffering from terminal brain cancer on Nov. 1, 2014.

“This is the biggest victory for the death-with-dignity movement since Oregon passed the nation’s first law two decades ago,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, a lawyer, former ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant, who coauthored the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

“This victory is hugely significant in both substance and scope,” Coombs Lee observed. “Enactment of this law in California means we are providing this option to more than 1 in 10 Americans.” More

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.”

FullSizeRender
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.

Calif. Legislature Passes Historic Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill

Supporters Optimistic Gov. Brown Will Sign Bill by Looming Deadline

CHP_6726(Sacramento, Calif. – Sept. 11, 2015) For the first time in five tries since 1995, the California legislature has passed a bill to allow terminally ill adults facing unbearable suffering the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication that they could take to painlessly die in their sleep.

Today the Senate passed the by a vote of 23 to 15. On Wed., the Assembly passed AB2-15 with bipartisan support 44 to 35. Gov. Jerry Brown has 12 days to sign or veto the bill after he receives it from the legislature, which is expected to be the end of next week. If he takes no action in 12 days, the legislation automatically becomes law.

“Passing this historic bill is a monumental victory for terminally ill Californians like Christy O’Donnell who just a want a way to end horrific suffering in their final days,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, a lawyer, former ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant who coauthored the Oregon Death With Dignity Act. “We are optimistic Gov. Brown will sign this law because he is a compassionate person who understands Californians in agony cannot wait another year.”

Dozens of supporters, some in wheelchairs with oxygen tanks, shed tears as legislators debated the issue on the Senate floor. Some closed their eyes as others held hands before the Senate passed the legislation.

“I thank our legislature for responding to the voices of terminally ill Californians who are pleading for the option of medical aid in dying,” said Compassion & Choices Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “We urge Gov. Brown to sign this bill to give them this option to die peacefully if their end-of-life suffering is too great to endure.”

The End of Life Option Act was co-authored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk.

“Yesterday I was visited in my office by Christy O’Donnell, who has been a warrior for this cause while fighting terminal cancer, and all I can think of now is of her, of her struggle, of her daughter, of their courage and strength, and the comfort that I hope that we have provided to her, and the many more for whom she has been called to speak so powerfully,” said Assemblymember Eggman. “This is their day.”

The news brought tears to the eyes of Christy O’Donnell, a 47-year-old single mother from Santa Clarita dying from lung, brain, spine, rib and liver cancer, who testified in support of the bill before the Senate and the Assembly. Unfortunately, her doctors say she will likely die painfully within the next few months from the rapidly spreading cancer.

“The second win today in the Senate reaffirms to my daughter, Bailey, and I that our legislators are finally listening and ‘representing’ us — the thousands of terminally ill Californians,” she said. “Bailey and I are crying tears of joy! I do not want my daughter to carry with her forever the emotionally damaging memory of watching me die painfully over several days or weeks. I ask the governor NOW to open his heart and mind to signing this bill.”

Senator Monning thanked legislators for “listening to the overwhelming public sentiment supporting this issue and responding with a sense of compassion and urgency.”

Senator Wolk also urged the governor to sign the bill.

”I trust the governor to recognize the importance, urgency and significance of this legislation and to answer the pleadings of those terminally ill Californians who want this option and the strong majority of all Californians who support making it available,” she said.

The legislature’s passage of the End of Life Option Act comes 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.

“I am very grateful to the senators who have honored Brittany’s dying wish by voting to give other dying Californians facing intolerable suffering the option to die painlessly and peacefully as she did,” said Maynard’s husband, Dan Diaz, who lives in Alamo. Diaz testified before the Assembly last week in support of the End of Life Option Act and has met with legislators urging them to vote for the bill since the introduction of the first version of the legislation, SB-128, in January.

“Brittany would be very proud if Gov. Brown signs this bill and her home state becomes the first state to pass medical aid-in-dying legislation since she died.”

Maynards’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, stood in disbelief as senators cast their vote. She broke into tears as her husband, Gary Holmes, assured her the vote tally was final.

“How does one say thank you to legislators who offered the option of a peaceful death to terminally ill patients who face a prolonged and agonizing death?” said Ziegler, who lives in Carlsbad. She has testified before the Senate in support of the End of Life Option Act and also has met with lawmakers one-on-one urging them to vote for the bill since its introduction in January. “From the bottom of my heart and in memory of my daughter, Brittany, thank you, kind statesmen and women.”

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, three other states authorize medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana and Vermont.

Three out of four Californians support the End of Life Option Act, including 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents and 67 percent of Republicans, according to a new poll released last week by the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at the University of California, Berkeley. Yet, two decades after Oregon voters passed our nation’s first death-with-dignity law in 1997, California still has not authorized this end-of-life option.

Dr. Robert Olvera, a Harvard-trained physician from Santa Ana, caressed the photo of his 25-year-old daughter, Emily Rose, who suffered horribly from leukemia before her death in 2014.

“My daughter did not die in vain,” he said tearfully. “This is what she wanted for herself to end her suffering. Gov. Brown, please sign our bill and give dying Californians that option so they don’t have to suffer the way my daughter did.”

On Eve of CA Assembly Vote on ABX2-15, Writer Rejects Opponents’ Language

By Katie Wingo

On the eve of the California Assembly’s bipartisan vote to pass the End of Life Option Act (ABX2-15), the Ventura County Star’s  Sacramento-based writer Timm Herdt examined the language debate over aid in dying, explaining why opponents are wrong to call it “suicide.” In his column, he cites court cases and the opinions of several psychological associations about this end-of-life option to prove that not only is the term “physician-assisted suicide” inaccurate, but it can be damaging to the mentally sound, terminally ill people seeking to end their suffering.

“… A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that challenged the legality of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, a coalition of social workers and psychologists asserted plainly: ‘The comparison to “suicide” is simply inapposite.’”

“… A working group of the American Psychological Association [stated] the reasoning used by a terminally ill person to base a decision to end life ‘is fundamentally different from the reasoning a clinically depressed person used to justify suicide.’”

“… The New Mexico Psychological Association made the same argument to that state’s Supreme Court. ‘Suicidal ideology arises from impaired cognition of temporary problems that are actually treatable; aid in dying on the other hand, arises from accurate cognition of physical conditions that are truly incurable.’”

“In a policy paper arguing for value-neutral language, psychologists in Washington said use of the term ‘suicide’ is ‘disrespectful to individuals with terminal illness who wish to have choice regarding death with dignity, and can be distressing and problematic emotionally, socially, psychologically and financially for family members and loved ones of dying individuals.”

When the California Senate debated the original version of the End of Life Option Act introduced in January (SB-128), Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) suggested anyone seeking to end their life could do so by other means, such as slitting one’s wrists. Herdt responded to this suggestion by concluding:

“Before the Assembly debate begins, let us hope both sides can stipulate this: The act of slitting one’s wrists, for whatever motivation is suicide and is wrong. The act of a terminally ill patient taking life-ending drugs prescribed by his doctor after following carefully prescribed procedures may or may not be morally right, but suicide it is not.”

The full column is only available if you have a subscription to the Ventura County Star by clicking here.