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

General News

Brittany Maynard’s Family, Compassion & Choices Partner With California Lawmakers on End-of-Life Option Bill

Senators Bill Monning, Lois Wolk Craft Legislation to Authorize Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Adults in Golden State 

(Sacramento, CA – Jan. 21, 2015) Just a few months after 29-year-old Californian Brittany Maynard had to utilize an Oregon law to end her suffering from terminal brain cancer, two California senators today announced they have authored similar legislation in California. Brittany Maynard’s mother and husband, Compassion & Choices, and a diverse array of supporters praised the introduction of the bill, “The End-of-Life Options Act” (SB 128), at a 1:30 p.m. PT news conference at the state Capitol.

Watch the emotional press conference by clicking here.

“The time is right for California to advance the conversation about end-of-life options,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning, who coauthored the bill with Senator Majority Whip Lois Wolk.  “We are working together to establish a process that honors a  patient’s right to make informed decisions about dying and respects the individual’s beliefs after receiving a terminal prognosis.  We will continue to meet with parties interested in this issue, and are committed to an open and inclusive dialogue as the legislation moves forward.”

Maynard — who suffered debilitating, painful seizures caused by her terminal brain cancer — had to move to Oregon so she could access its death-with-dignity law because California does not authorize this end-of-life option. It gives terminally ill, mentally competent adults the option to request a prescription for aid-in-dying medication that they can choose to take if their suffering becomes unbearable.

California voters support the medical option of aid in dying by more than a 2-1 margin (64% vs. 24%). Yet, two decades after Oregon voters passed the nation’s first death-with-dignity law in 1994, California still has not authorized this end-of-life option.

“Support for this law runs across all demographic categories, from every ethnic, religious and economic background,” said Senate Majority Whip Wolk. “It is not a partisan issue.  It is about the most personal freedom there is and guaranteeing terminally ill Californians will have a right to exercise this option if they believe it is right for them.”

In the final weeks of her life, Maynard partnered with Compassion & Choices to launch a campaign on www.TheBrittanyFund.org to make aid in dying an open and accessible medical practice in her home state and throughout the country.

“It is unacceptable that Brittany Maynard had to leave her home, her family, her dogs, her medical team in order to die peacefully, in comfort and in control,” said Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, a board member of Compassion & Choices, which supports the California bill. “The Lord does not want his children to suffer.”

Debbie Ziegler spoke about her mission to keep her only daughter’s legacy alive.

“Brittany fought to the end for expanded availability of end-of-life options in California,” she said. “I will make my daughter, Brittany, proud by standing up and telling her story even if my voice shakes. Even if I choke back tears. I hope that no other Californian has to go through what Brittany did.”

“Having aid in dying as an end-of-life option provided great relief to Brittany,” said Dan Diaz, Brittany’s husband. “It enabled my wife to focus on living her last days to

the fullest, rather than having to worry about dying in agony from terminal brain cancer. I promised Brittany I would do everything in my power to fulfill her mission to make this end-of-life option available to all Californians.”

Rapid introduction of the bill mirrors the momentum behind similar legislation around the country.

Since Brittany Maynard’s story broke on Oct. 6, lawmakers have introduced similar bills, or pledged to so, in Washington, D.C. and at least 13 states, including California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Brittany’s story also is galvanizing Compassion & Choices campaigns to pass bills authorizing aid in dying in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey and to defend this legally recognized option in Montana, New Mexico and Vermont.

National and state polls consistently show the vast majority of Americans across the demographic and political spectrum want to maintain their right to choose their medical treatment at the end of their life.

The California bill is modeled after legislation in Oregon and other states where aid in dying has been proven to be good policy and medical practice.

  • It allows only qualified, terminally ill and mentally competent adults to request and obtain a prescription from their physician for medication that the patient can self-administer to bring about a peaceful and humane death.  Two physicians must confirm the prognosis is terminal.
  • It requires two witnesses to attest that the request is voluntary.
  • It protects physicians from civil or criminal liability, and from professional disciplinary action, if they fulfill an eligible  individual’s request. Participation by doctors is fully voluntary.
  • It provides safeguards against any coercion of patients: It establishes felony penalties for coercing or forging a request; and it honors a patient’s right to rescind the request.

Besides Oregon, aid in dying is authorized in Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.

Brittany Maynard’s Widower Urges Death-With-Dignity Advocates to Contact Lawmakers as State Legislatures Convene

Dan Diaz Conducts First Interviews Since Brittany’s Death With National Media, Including People, The Meredith Vieira Show, Today and Lawrence O’Donnell shows

(New York, NY – Jan. 14, 2015) Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee this week will join Brittany Maynard’s widower, Dan Diaz, and his brother, Adrian Diaz, for the Diaz family’s first interviews since Brittany utilized Oregon’s death-with-dignity law on Nov. 1.

Some of the interviews will air Wed., Jan. 14, on the nationally syndicated The Meredith Vieira Show, Today (aired at 7:40am), MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, and will be posted on NBC.com. The other interviews will appear in the Jan. 26 issue of People magazine that hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Wed., Jan. 14, and newsstands nationwide on Fri., Jan. 16, and be posted on People.com, and People’s daily online morning show, PEOPLENow.com.

Take action now to help move forward death with dignity legislation in your state. Click here.

A preview of the People interview is available now at: www.people.com/article/brittany-maynard-husband-dan-diaz-keeping-promise. The Today Show segment is available online at: www.today.com/health/brittany-maynards-husband-talks-about-letting-her-go-1D80424130. Interview highlights of The Meredith Vieira Show will be available online this afternoon at: www.meredithvieirashow.com. A preview is available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCKjtIOQjF8.

Coombs Lee and the Diaz brothers will ask death-with-dignity supporters to contact their state legislators via www.TheBrittanyFund.org and urge them to support bills to give mentally competent, terminally ill adults the option to access the medical practice of aid in dying. Compassion & Choices has been working with California Senators Lois Wolk and Bill Monning, and New York Senator Diane Savino to draft and introduce death-with-dignity bills this month. The bills would authorize dying adults to obtain a doctor’s prescription for medication that they can choose to take if their suffering becomes unbearable in their final days.

In addition, lawmakers have pledged to introduce similar bills in Washington, D.C., and at least 11 states: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Brittany’s story also is galvanizing Compassion & Choices campaigns in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

“She wanted to become an advocate so that other people would not have to leave their home state,” Coombs Lee told the Today show. “Every video that Brittany posted had an enormous impact on the public. They were tweeted and shared and Facebooked all across the world. She was able to connect with people in a very personal way.”

“Dan is Brittany’s legacy made visible,” Coombs Lee told People. “We couldn’t do it without him.”

“This is the moment for action to advance death with dignity,” said Coombs Lee following the interviews. “Brittany Maynard recognized the injustice that the vast majority of American adults would have to leave their home state to access aid in dying. We can honor her memory by helping Brittany’s family fulfill her mission to make aid in dying an accessible medical practice for every adult in the United States, from California to New York.”

Americans believe, by a record 5-to-1 margin, (74% support vs. 14% oppose) that terminally ill adults – in their final days and with no chance for recovery – should have the option of aid in dying to end their suffering, according to a HealthDay/Harris Poll released last month. Currently, only Oregon and four other states authorize aid in dying: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.

“My preference would be not to be in front of any cameras,” Dan Diaz told People. “But this was one thing Brittany had asked, that we make it a reality in California. I want to keep my promise to her.”

“You don’t want to let go of your loved one,” Dan told The Meredith Vieira Show.  “But to suggest that she should suffer for me, for anyone, no. Here’s the person I love and I don’t want to see her go, but the seizure that morning [Nov. 1] was a reminder of what she was risking because what was coming next was losing her eyesight, becoming paralyzed, inability to speak, and she’d be essentially trapped in her own body.”

“It truly was the most peaceful experience that you could ever hope for when you talk about a person’s passing,” Dan told the Today show. “The suffering and … the torment and everything she had gone through … that was finally lifted.”

American physicians believe by a 23-percent margin (54% vs. 31%) that adults with an “incurable and terminal” disease should have the medical option of aid in dying, according to a recent online survey conducted by Medscape of 17,000 U.S. doctors representing 28 medical specialties.

“She [Brittany] planned everything out,” Adrian told the Today show. “She wanted specific people in that room for her which she called it a ring of love. If I were sick the way she was, I would want to die in my sleep.”

D.C. Health Foundation CEO Joins Nation’s Leading End-of-Life Choice Organization

Nicholas Simmonds Hired as External Affairs Chief at Compassion & Choices 

(Washington, DC – Jan. 6, 2014) Compassion & Choices has hired Nicholas Simmonds, a former foundation CEO, as its new Chief External Affairs Officer. An award-winning fundraising executive, he will oversee development, marketing and communications from the Washington, D.C., office of the national end-of-life choice organization.

“Nick’s dedication to our cause and deep understanding of philanthropy, marketing and communications will help us enter a new era of funding and visibility for the booming end-of-life choice movement,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an attorney, former ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant for 25 years before she coauthored the nation’s first death-with-dignity law in Oregon. “His 30 years of expertise will help us maximize our amazing opportunity to expand the growing support for end-of-life options.”

Simmonds most recently was CEO/President of Providence Health Foundation. It provides support for Providence Hospital, the longest continually operating hospital in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Development & Public Affairs for Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville, Maryland. During his tenure there, he produced over $100 million in philanthropic revenues in 15 years.

“I am excited about this wonderful opportunity to join the organization that is the undisputed leader in advocating for end-of-life choice in our country,” said Simmonds. “I look forward to working with our dedicated staff to reform our healthcare system to ensure that all dying Americans can pass away peacefully. I want to help Compassion & Choices expand its reach to match the demand for autonomy at the end of life.”

Simmonds is a former president of the Washington DC Metro Chapter of Association of Fundraising Professionals, was named its Outstanding Fundraising Professional in 2007 and won the Campbell & Company AFP Award for Excellence in Fundraising in 2001. He earned a master’s degree in International Relations from Sussex University in Brighton, England. He also holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in International Relations & Political Science from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.

About Compassion & Choices:

Compassion & Choices is the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life. Leading the end-of-life choice movement for more than 30 years, we support, educate and advocate. More information is available at: www.compassionandchoices.org.

Post-Brittany Maynard Poll: Most U.S. Doctors Now Support Aid in Dying

By Sean Crowley

For the first time, most American physicians believe by a 23 percent margin (54% vs. 31%) that patients with an “incurable and terminal” disease should have the option to choose death with dignity, also known as the medical practice of aid in dying.

That is the conclusion of an online survey conducted by Medscape of 17,000 U.S. doctors representing 28 medical specialties.

The previous Medscape survey on this issue in 2010 showed physicians support medical aid in dying by a five percent margin (46% vs. 41%).

“It represents a remarkable shift,” said Arthur Caplan, founding head of the division of bioethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, in an interview with NBC News. “If physician opposition continues to weaken, it is likely that despite fierce resistance from some religious groups and some in the disability community, more states will follow Oregon, Washington and Vermont, and legalize.”

The exact question wording in both the 2014 and 2010 surveys asking physicians if they support or oppose aid in dying, respectively, are below:

“I believe terminal illnesses such as metastatic cancers or degenerative neurological diseases rob a human of his/her dignity. Provided there is no shred of doubt that the disease is incurable and terminal, I would support a patient’s decision to end their life, and I would also wish the same option was available in my case should the need arise.”

“Physicians are healers. We are not instruments of death. This is wrong.”

Medscape conducted the 2014 poll between Sept. 18 and Nov. 12, so it received a significant part of the responses after the Oct. 6 launch of Brittany Maynard’s joint campaign with Compassion & Choices to authorize aid in dying in states nationwide.

In addition to death-with-dignity laws enacted in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, courts in Montana and New Mexico have authorized aid in dying.

New Jersey Lawmakers Moving Quickly on Death with Dignity Option

Key Senate Committee Passes Aid in Dying Measure

December 15, 2014 (Trenton, NJ) – A bill to authorize the medical option of aid in dying in New Jersey passed another hurdle today.  One week after an initial hearing on the legislation, the New Jersey Senate Heath, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted to release the bill without recommendation. The legislation can now be brought to the floor for a full Senate vote.

Today’s vote in favor of New Jerseyans’ rights to choose aid in dying comes on the heels of the passage of the bill in the full Assembly last month.

State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney has joined Senator Nicholas P. Scutari as a prime sponsor of the legislation.

“The New Jersey legislature moved one step closer to honoring the will of the people and passing Death with Dignity legislation,” said Barbara Lee Coombs, President of Compassion & Choices. “We thank these lawmakers for moving deliberately to empower their constituents, and for their dedication to ensuring care and peace for people close to the end of life.” More