End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Legal Aid in Dying

Gearing Up in New Jersey

It’s July, and students across the country are on summer vacation. But not activists for end-of-life liberty in New Jersey, who head this month to “lobbying school.” Advocates will learn from Compassion & Choices campaign staff about the Death with Dignity bill moving in the state legislature. They’ll train on how to persuade lawmakers, educate people about the bill and use their own experience to connect their advocacy to personal stories.

“Lobbying school is just one component of a multi-faceted New Jersey operation,” said Campaign Manager Mark Dann. “We’ve already seen success and we’re building momentum.” The bill, modeled after Oregon’s law, advanced in February through a key legislative committee. A poll conducted in March showed strong support among New Jersey voters for death with dignity both as a personal option and as legislation. Nearly two-thirds (63%) support allowing mentally competent, terminally ill adults to request a prescription for medication to end their suffering.

“Our objective now,” said Mark, “is to find people who are willing to translate their support into activism.” Mark leads a team that is scouring the state for additional support. In June, supporter Delores Lewis, the Senior Advisor to the City Council for Newark’s 38 senior public housing facilities, agreed to help the campaign build connections in the state’s largest city.

Leaders in various faith communities are adding their support. Rabbi Richard F. Address wrote an opinion piece published in  The Times of Trenton examining how various traditions guide their followers’ end-of-life decisions. Volunteer advocates across the state are forging effective connections by talking with the clergy in their own houses of worship.

Advocates are gathering signatures from friends, family, community members and fellow congregants for a petition that urges New Jersey legislators to support the Death with Dignity Act. You can sign the online version of the petition at our Website: http://cqrcengage.com/compassionandchoices/newjersey

All this legwork will position Compassion & Choices well for when the legislature reconvenes in the fall. When that time comes, the growing number of activists will be ready to share their personal stories. We witnessed in February how powerful those stories can be.

As The Star-Ledger reported:

Claudia Burzichelli of Bridgewater told the Assembly Health Committee in Trenton she knows too many people in her life who would have benefited from [a Death with Dignity] law: her father, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease who shot himself in the head; a family friend with Crohn’s disease and other illnesses who asphyxiated himself in a motel room; and her mother-in-law, a cancer patient who stopped eating.

Then 18 months ago, she was diagnosed with a terminal disease — stage 4 lung cancer — the 54-year-old mother told the stunned committee, which includes her brother-in-law, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), who sponsored the legislation.

“On the days when I have struggled to breathe or think about the stresses on my family, I would hope I might have more options than starving myself or taking my life in a violent way,” Claudia Burzichelli said, fighting back sobs. “I don’t know how I will truly feel if and when that time may come. But it comforts me there could be a another way, other options.”

“I hope New Jersey will become a state that gives respect and dignity to those who are dying,” she added.

Barely four months later, cancer ended Claudia Burzichelli’s life. She gave the last full measure of devotion in an effort to secure compassionate options for people with a terminal illness. Mark Dann remembered her advocacy in a letter to The Times of Trenton:

Claudia will undoubtedly be remembered by most as a tireless advocate for the improvement of public education in New Jersey. I will remember her for her bravery in being one of the loudest and most sincere advocates for end-of-life choice in New Jersey.

If you’d like to get involved with Compassion & Choices’ New Jersey campaign or learn more about what we do, contact Mark Dann, mdann@compassionandchoices.org.

Elder Abuse – A National Tragedy

By Ashley Carson Cottingham
National Field Director

On June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we take time to acknowledge that an estimated 2.1 million older Americans fall victim to elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation each year. At Compassion & Choices we work diligently to protect older adults by upholding their rights at the end of life, sometimes when they are no longer able to speak for themselves. And this year we became proud members of the Elder Justice Coalition in Washington, D.C.

Elder abuse occurs on a regular basis, affecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society. What’s even worse is that for every reported case of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, experts believe there are five that go unreported. We must put an end to it.

Our work has exposed a form of elder abuse that is rarely discussed. It occurs when an older adult’s expressed wishes at the end of life are ignored, and as a result they are subjected to unwanted and invasive medical treatment. We believe this unwanted treatment absolutely constitutes elder abuse. More

Victory in Vermont

Vermont made history last month when its legislature became the first to authorize access to aid in dying. “Gov. Peter Shumlin and Vermont legislators have shattered a barrier by becoming the first politicians to show the courage to enact a death-with-dignity law,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee about the impactful win. Vermont is now the fourth state to affirmatively allow physician aid in dying and the first in the East. Oregon and Washington both sanctioned the practice through ballot initiatives, while Montana affirmed this option for the terminally ill via a state Supreme Court ruling in Compassion & Choices’ Baxter v. Montana case.

The Vermont bill is also unique in that it starts with rigorous requirements similar to the Oregon and Washington laws, including mandates for waiting periods, second opinions and extensive physician reporting. But after three years it transitions to a model governed by best practice standards, as in Montana. “Professional practice standards guide all of medicine, and it is appropriate for aid in dying to be governed in this manner,” explained Compassion & Choices Legal Affairs Director Kathryn Tucker, who testified before both the Vermont House and Senate in favor of the bill and also served as lead counsel in the Baxter case. More

Compassion Drives ‘Aid in Dying’ Movement

By Mary Steiner

Jun 02, 2013

Vermont recently approved historic legislation allowing aid in dying, sometimes referred to as “death with dignity.”

Its The Patient Choice at End of Life Act represents a tremendous advance for citizens of that state and the entire movement to expand end-of-life choice. Although widely covered in media on the East Coast, this important development received little attention in Hawaii.

Aid in dying allows terminally ill, mentally competent adult patients to request, and physicians to prescribe, life-ending medication when they their suffering unbearable to bring about a peaceful death.

Vermont is the first state to enact such a law legislatively. Oregon and Washington passed death-with-dig- nity acts by referendum, while the Montana Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that physicians there may provide aid in dying.

The new Vermont law, which the governor signed on May 20, contains provisions similar to Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act and policies in Hawaii. It follows Oregon’s model, but after three years, those requirements expire, at which time professional practice standards will prevail, as they do in Hawaii. More

Help Doctors Like Me Protect End-of-Life Liberty

Dear friends,

For a while, it looked like I was in serious trouble.

I’m an old-school family physician in Missoula, Montana, just like my dad before me. I had written aid-in-dying prescriptions for three patients since the Montana Supreme Court’s Baxter decision made it legal to do so in 2009.

But now, the Baxter decision was about to be upended by state legislators. Working with anti-choice zealots, they proposed a bill to put doctors in jail for up to ten years for writing those legal prescriptions.

Compassion & Choices, which spearheaded Baxter and made physician aid in dying possible for my patients, was still on the scene—protecting the decision from all manner of legislative and activist mischief. Thankfully, they were ready to defeat this latest attack. More