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

General News

Bill to Charge Doctors With Homicide for Practicing Aid in Dying Defeated in Montana House

Compassion & Choices Praises Bipartisan Group of Legislators for Rejecting Physician Imprisonment Act

(Helena, MT – Feb. 17, 2015) Compassion & Choices praised the Montana House for rejecting a bill that would have charged a doctor with homicide for writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication to a terminally ill adult who wants that option to end their suffering. Doctors also would have lost their license to practice medicine under the bill, which would trump a Montana State Supreme Court ruling.

A bipartisan group of legislators voted 51 to 49 to reject the bill, HB328, which opponents call “The Physician Imprisonment Act.” The Montana House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Wednesday on another draconian bill, HB477, that would imprison a doctor or up to 10 years for writing an aid-in-dying prescription. A 2013 poll showed 69% of Montana voters support authorizing physicians to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication.

“We thank the House for rejecting this bill that would have charged physicians who honor a dying patient’s request for medical aid in dying with homicide and take away their medical license.” said Compassion & Choices Montana Campaign Manager Emily Bentley. “Now we urge the House not to reverse course on HB 328 on the final reading of the bill and to reject HB 477 that would put doctors who practice aid in dying in prison for up to 10 years.”

In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in Baxter v. Montana  that state law authorizes physicians to prescribe aid-in-dying medication to a terminally ill adult who requests it. The Court said: “The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act clearly provides that terminally ill patients are entitled to autonomous end-of-life decisions.” The court required four safeguards: The patient must be 1) terminally ill, 2) mentally competent, 3) over 18 years old, and 4) must self-administer the medication. Five years later, many doctors across Montana have written aid-in-dying prescriptions for terminally ill people who request it.

Compassion & Choices Congratulates Death-with-Dignity Advocates in Canada on Historic Day

Barbara Coombs Lee Comments on Canadian Supreme Court Ruling

(Portland, OR – Feb. 6, 2015) Today, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that individuals have a right to aid in dying under certain circumstances and gave Canadian lawmakers 12 months to craft rules to protect patients and physicians who choose to exercise their rights under the law. In the unanimous ruling striking down the country’s ban on assisted suicide, the judges wrote that an individual’s ability to confront a terminal prognosis as they choose “is a matter critical to their dignity and autonomy.”

Responding to the ruling, Compassion & Choices President, Barbara Coombs, Lee said:

“We applaud and thank the Canadian Supreme Court for placing the patient at the center of fundamental end-of-life decisions. The eloquence of this ruling will inspire everyone who believes in individual freedom at life’s end. We in the U.S. agree that denying people the ability to determine their own medical treatments and the degree of suffering they endure curtails liberty.  We are heartened, as availability of aid in dying in Canada will have an impact here, especially in border states like New York and Maine. Lawmakers know their citizens should not have to travel to another country to achieve peace of mind and comprehensive end-of-life options.”

Increasing Momentum for Death with Dignity Seen in New York

Compassion & Choices Comments on Death-with-Dignity Lawsuit Brought By Doctors and Terminally Ill New Yorkers

(Portland, OR – Feb. 4, 2015) Today, a group of doctors and terminally ill residents of New York filed a lawsuit in the state’s Supreme Court “to clarify the ability of mentally competent, terminally ill New York patients to obtain aid in dying from their physician.” The suit asks the court “to declare that patients facing the end of life have a right under the New York State Constitution to make autonomous decisions about their bodies.”

Compassion & Choices, the oldest and largest organization committed to improving end-of-life care, is working in Albany and throughout the state to make death with dignity available to New Yorkers. A forthcoming bill, similar to Oregon’s 20-year old Death with Dignity Act, would give a mentally competent, terminally ill adult New York resident the option to request a prescription for aid-in-dying medication that they can take – when and whether they choose – if their suffering becomes unbearable.

Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee commented on today’s news of the lawsuit as follows:

“News of this lawsuit is more evidence of the momentum that Brittany Maynard’s campaign with Compassion & Choices has created. Nationwide, we expect 22 legislatures to consider bills modeled on Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act this year. The Oregon law’s 17-year, completely transparent record of practice shows that the medical option of aid in dying improves end-of-life care overall, and benefits those who access it.

“Compassion & Choices New York continues to work with legislative champions, Senators Diane Savino and Brad Hoylman, on crafting a law based on the one that has worked so well in Oregon. When Brittany Maynard’s widower, Dan Diaz, met with Senator Savino in January, he thanked her for advancing the kind of law his wife had wanted to see in every state. Legislation is the best way to ensure New Yorkers have long-term access to aid in dying, and that physicians have the support and assurances they need to provide this end-of-life option.

“It is notable that this suit is sponsored by a disability rights organization. We know support for death with dignity is strong among individuals with disabilities. This suit should put to rest the argument that death with dignity poses risks to people in the disability community.”

Time Magazine Publishes Op-Ed About Brittany Maynard’s Legacy

By Katie Wingo

This week, the online version of TIME Magazine published an op-ed by Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee recalling Brittany Maynard’s remarkable story that continues to act as a catalyst for progress in the death-with-dignity movement. The most recent demonstration of this progress was the California End-of-Life Option Act introduced by Senators Bill Monning and Lois Wolk, alongside Maynard’s family.

“Brittany devoted her waning days and energies to outspoken advocacy for legal reform in California and every other state. Before she died, the videos she recorded were viewed, shared on Facebook and tweeted around the world. The story of her death on People.com was the most-read story in the site’s history.”

The magnitude of her story’s reach is nothing short of phenomenal, and can be directly connected to the introduction of legislation or the pledge to do so in Washington, D.C., and at least 13 states in addition to California.

                “ … since Brittany’s death, nationwide demand for similar state laws has skyrocketed.”

“Recent national polls show 74 percent of Americans and 54 percent of U.S. physicians want aid in dying to be an authorized medical option.”

With the momentum Brittany’s story has created, including nearly 4,000 stories appearing since her death, Barbara notes that policymakers can no longer ignore the public demand to pass aid-in-dying legislation:

“ … this time around, Brittany is here to stand up for the dying through her family and friends. This time, 100 million Americans know about Brittany Maynard and why she needed aid in dying as an accessible medical option. This time, the 17-year Oregon experience has moved aid-in-dying beyond a policy debate.”

You can read the full TIME.com story here.

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.