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Calif. Medical Assoc. Praised for Dropping 28-Year Opposition to Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill

C&C President Barbara Coombs Lee

By Sean Crowley

Compassion & Choices today praised the California Medical Association for dropping its decades-long opposition to legislation that would protect physicians from criminal prosecution for providing terminally ill adults with the option of medical aid in dying.

CMA’s announcement states that it is “the first state medical association in the nation to change its position on the long-debated issue of physician aid in dying” by taking a ‘neutral’ position on the End of Life Option Act (SB 128). It also marks the first time CMA has not opposed such legislation since 1987.

The CMA’s president said: “it’s up to the patient and their physician to choose the course of treatment best suited for the situation – and CMA’s new position on physician aid in dying allows for that.” The timing of this announcement is important because the deadline for the Senate to pass the End of Life Option Act is June 5, only two weeks away. If the Senate passes the bill, the deadline in the Assembly to pass it is Sept. 11.

Brittany Maynard and husband, Dan Diaz

“The California Medical Association’s new ‘neutral’ position on medical aid in dying is a major milestone because its prior opposition to this legitimate medical practice doomed previous bills,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an ER and ICU nurse for 25 years before she became an attorney and coauthored the Oregon Death with Dignity Act that is the model for SB 128. “We are seeing an enormous shift among medical organizations that is more reflective of the opinion of practicing physicians. This shift helps advance medical aid-in-dying legislation in California and throughout the nation.”

“With deep appreciation, I thank the California Medical Association for showing its leadership and wisdom in adopting its neutral policy stance,” said Dan Diaz, Brittany Maynard’s husband.  “It supports Brittany’s position: ‘This decision is mine to make, mine alone.”

Debbie Ziegler and her daughter, Brittany

“After months of research and collaboration, the California Medical Association has chosen to adopt a forward thinking, medically sound policy that will further the ability of California doctors  to properly treat terminally ill patients. Today, I strongly feel my daughter, Brittany Maynard, smiling down on her beloved home state, and I am confident that California legislators will take note of this important message from the CMA as they move forward in their efforts to pass Senate Bill 128, the California End of Life Option Act. Thank you to the CMA from the bottom of my mother’s heart,” said Deborah Ziegler, Brittany’s Maynard’s mother.

“As I’m now in bed nauseous and in pain from chemo, the CMA’s new position warmed my heart and was the highlight of my day,” said terminally ill Christy O’Donnell, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit Compassion & Choices filed on her behalf last week asserting that the California state constitution and existing state law allow medical aid in dying. “I was proud that my fellow Californians in the CMA chose to issue an opinion that now accurately reflects the medical needs and desires of the people of this state.”

Christy O’Donnell and daughter, Bailey

American physicians believe by a 23 percent margin (54% vs. 31%) that patients with an “incurable and terminal” disease should have the option of medical aid in dying, according to a 2014 Medscape survey of 17,000 U.S. doctors representing 28 medical specialties. The previous Medscape survey in 2010 showed physicians supported medical aid in dying by only a five percent margin (46% vs. 41%).

A significant number of individual doctors and medical groups support medical aid in dying, including the American Nurses Association/California, American Public Health Association, American College of Legal Medicine, American Women’s Medical Association, Gay & Lesbian Medical Association, and American Medical Student Association.

Read the CMA press release by clicking here.


Dying Single Mom Leads Suit Asserting Calif. Law Allows Aid in Dying

New YouTube Video Released of Woman Spending Final Days to Bring Peaceful Endings to Others

(San Diego, CA – May 18, 2015) Compassion & Choices filed suit on Friday on behalf of three Californians with terminal or advanced diseases and a physician asserting that the California constitution and existing state law allow the medical practice of aid in dying. Medical aid in dying gives mentally competent, terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take in their final days to end their dying process painlessly and peacefully, ending unbearable pain and suffering.

“Some dying people face unbearable suffering in their final days that even the best hospice and palliative care cannot relieve,” said Compassion & Choices National Director of Legal Advocacy Kevin Díaz, who also worked with death-with-dignity advocate Brittany Maynard. “As Brittany Maynard recognized, these people desperately need the option of medical aid in dying so they can die painlessly, peacefully in their sleep – and they need it now – before it’s too late.”

In conjunction with filing the suit in California Superior Court in San Diego County, Compassion & Choices released a new video featuring Christy O’Donnell, the lead plaintiff, who has a terminal prognosis of less than six months to live. She is a Christian, Republican civil rights attorney who lives in Santa Clarita and is a former sergeant in the LAPD. Despite receiving chemotherapy every week for the last nine months, O’Donnell’s physicians have told her that she will likely die painfully within the next few months from lung cancer that has spread to tumors in her brain, spine, ribs and liver. The video of her story is posted at: www.compassionandchoices.org/new-litigation-in-california and https://youtu.be/ZKnrjK8N5q4. More

California Senate Committee Moves to Assess Budget Impact of Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill

Supporters of Legislation Express Confidence Appropriations Committee Will Approve Bill Soon

(Los Angeles, CA – May 11, 2015) Supporters of a California bill that would allow terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying are confident the Senate Appropriations Committee will approve it after the committee today moved the bill for a routine assessment of its budget impact.

After a hearing attended by hundreds of bill supporters, the committee moved to place the legislation, called the End of Life Option Act (SB 128), in a “suspense file” pending an assessment of its fiscal impact on the state’s General Fund. SB 128 would give mentally competent, terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take to die painlessly and peacefully to end unbearable pain and suffering in their final days.

“We are very optimistic that End of Life Option Act will clear this final committee hurdle before a Senate vote because similar legislation in other states has had minimal budgetary impact,” said Compassion & Choices California Campaign Director Toni Broaddus. “Clearly, legislators are hearing the voices of terminally ill Californians in desperate need of more end-of-life options.”

If the Senate Appropriations Committee approves SB 128, it would be eligible for a vote on the Senate floor. The deadline to pass bills originating in the Senate is June 5. If the Senate passes the legislation, it will then be sent to the Assembly, where the deadline pass it is Sept. 11.

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, four other states authorize medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. These states’ aid-in-dying policies have been proven to be good, safe medical practice.

California voters support the medical option of aid in dying by more than a 2-1 margin (64 percent vs. 24 percent). 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. Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian who had terminal brain cancer, 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 partnered with Compassion & Choices to launch a campaign to make aid in dying an open and accessible medical option.

Legislative Victories in Montana and Vermont!

Another legislative session, another batch of frivolous attempts to reverse sound aid-in-dying laws. But once again, choice wins!

Thanks to the Compassion & Choices’ Montana team, passionate volunteers and sensible lawmakers, Montana legislators defeated two bills to gut end-of-life options in the state. One was modeled after 2013’s “Physician Imprisonment Act,” and both would have sent doctors to prison for helping their terminally ill patients access medical aid in dying – a practice authorized under 2009’s state Supreme Court Baxter v. Montana decision. “Years-long grassroots work meant that personal Montana stories overcame hypocrisy and fear,” said National Director of Political Affairs & Advocacy Jessica Grennan of the inspiring victories.

Opponents also failed in their efforts to repeal Vermont’s two-year-old aid-in-dying law, which has worked as intended and without incident since implementation. Two separate amendments that would have dismantled the law met defeat on the House floor. To date seven people have accessed aid in dying in Vermont, yet many others derive comfort from knowing they have the option should they need it. As further affirmation, the Vermont Senate today gave final legislative approval to S.108, a bill that supports the state’s 2013 law. More

Volunteer Spotlight: Jill Weinberg

Illinois advocate Jill Weinberg gravitated to the end-of-life choice movement for both professional and personal reasons. A lawyer who works in research at the American Bar Foundation and as a sociology professor at DePaul University in Chicago, her areas of focus are choice and consent in everyday life. And last September, Weinberg’s husband, Davin, died suddenly. “I am 34; he was 40. It came very unexpectedly, and quite frankly I was not prepared for anything, both in terms of the emotional component and also logistically speaking,” she explains. “We had nothing in place. Because who would really think that would be something that would happen to either one of us?”

Weinberg’s experience opened her eyes to the importance of talking about and planning for the end of life – as early as possible. “It’s a conversation that needs to happen,” she said. “And from what I’ve seen, it’s a much more fulfilling process than you’d think.” Compassion & Choices’ efforts to promote advance planning to adults of all ages drew her to join the Chicago Action Team. “C&C speaks to broader issues, not just the aid-in-dying component – which is certainly very, very important – but also places great emphasis on end-of-life choices: how to talk about them, how to memorialize them effectively, how to change the culture so it’s not the morbid conversation people fear having.” More