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

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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.

Comprehensive “Five Years of Dignity” Chronicles People and Events That Give Montanans End-of-Life Freedom

2009 Ruling in Baxter v. Montana Ensures Liberty, Is Under Threat

Montanans owe their freedom to die with dignity to innumerable individuals, past and present. Heroes like Bob Baxter, a former Marine who allowed his imminent death to become the basis of the landmark legal ruling, and his daughter Roberta, who shares her late father’s commitment to end-of-life liberty. Champions like Mark Connell, the lawyer who argued Baxter’s case to end his suffering before the cancer made his life torture, and jurists like Dorothy McCarter and James Nelson, who ruled in favor of compassion in the Baxter case.

To celebrate the pioneers who brought death with dignity to Montana, and the fighters who protect that freedom every day, Compassion & Choices Montana has issued a groundbreaking and comprehensive report called Five Years of Dignity: The Baxter Ruling and End-of-Life Freedom in Montana. You can read the report here.

Thousands of Big Sky residents over the years have organized and advocated for access to aid in dying. Compassionate volunteers and committed citizens help fellow Montanans understand that peace of mind and personal autonomy are at the heart of death with dignity, and that it is worth defending against those who would roll back Baxter’s freedoms.

So far, legislators from across the political spectrum have listened to their constituents, and to the overwhelming majority of Montanans who want to preserve access to aid in dying, and efforts to undermine Baxter have failed.

So far, anyway. Right now, there are legislators in the state capitol aiming to pass a law that would criminalize aid in dying. That means someone like Dr. Eric Kress, a physician in Missoula who has spoken publicly and testified to helping his dying patients achieve a peaceful death on their own terms, would go to jail. This new law would also make Ethel Byrnes and her sons criminals for standing by their father, Erwin Byrnes, and holding his hand as he drifted off after taking his aid in dying prescription.

Read Five Years of Dignity and meet the courageous, independent Montanans who are part of the nationwide movement for death with dignity. Meet the principled lawmakers, the generous physicians, the campaign experts and the tireless volunteers who make sure the court ruling that bears Bob Baxter’s name continues to protect the very freedoms he wanted for his fellow Montanans.

Also visit a new online feature! Intimate portraits of 42 Montanans using 6 words to say why they believe in death with dignity. View the slideshow here.

 

Legislators Unveil California Aid-in-Dying Bill

California enjoyed a major moment yesterday. Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Sen. William Monning, D-Carmel, introduced the End-of-Life Options Act, catalyzed by the heartbreaking heroism of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard. Modeled after Oregon’s 1997 Death With Dignity Act, the bill now becomes the central focus of Compassion & Choices’ multi-year California campaign.

Maynard, dying of aggressive brain cancer, moved with her family to Oregon last year to access legal aid in dying there because she couldn’t in her home state. Then, amidst the trauma of terminal illness and uprooting her life, she ignited the push for choice in dying not only in California but nationwide. Her mother, Debbie Ziegler, and widower, Dan Diaz, both dedicated to fulfilling her mission, joined a Compassion & Choices board member and other advocates before nearly 50 journalists at the Wednesday news conference announcing the bill at the State Capitol in Sacramento.

“Until a loved one is faced with a debilitating, cruel terminal diagnosis, it is hard to understand just what this basic human right means,” said Ziegler in emotional testimony. “My daughter was full of life and love and energy. She was determined that she would live her life to the fullest and then depart this earth before the brain tumor ate away the fabric of who she was.”

Beyond the fact that more than 70% of Californians support aid in dying, the senators who authored the legislation both have personal motivations to expand end-of-life options in California. Monning, whose wife is a physician, has witnessed the needless suffering of close friends in their final days. And Wolk was only 17 when she watched her mother die from cancer. “It was pretty brutal … a transformational experience for me,” she said.

In the week prior to the exceptionally moving news conference, which you can view here, Maynard’s family and Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee appealed to the American public throughout major media – the first interviews Diaz conducted since his wife’s death on Nov. 1. Their appearances included The Meredith Vieira Show, Today, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC and People magazine.

Maynard’s ordeal highlights that terminally ill adults in most states cannot access death with dignity where they live. Introduction of California’s bill just months after Maynard’s story broke on Oct. 6 echoes the momentum across the country that has spurred lawmakers to vow similar bills in Washington, D.C., and at least 11 states: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming. It’s also powering Compassion & Choices’ campaigns to pass pending bills in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey, and to defend legally authorized aid in dying in Montana, New Mexico and Vermont.

“Having aid in dying as an end-of-life option provided great relief to Brittany,” said Diaz. “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.” Her mother restated this passion to fulfill Maynard’s noble wish, “Please help me carry my daughter’s legacy so we can have the option to die peacefully in California, surrounded by our loved ones and in our home.”

Find out how you can help fulfill their pledge here.

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Jim McCreedy

“Years and years ago, it dawned on me that we needed something better for terminally ill people who were having difficulties for whatever reason,” explains retired physician Jim McCreedy about his belief in allowing adults the full range of end-of-life options. The Pennsylvania native received his medical degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The board-certified internal medicine physician started practicing in Kalispell, Montana, in the late ‘60s out of a desire to go where he could make a difference. At the time, no one else there was trained in internal medicine.

During his years of practice, he cared for numerous patients in their final days. “Many slipped away peacefully, but there were those who suffered a slow, agonizing, degrading end. It was not uncommon for them to ask for death,” he says. “Unfortunately, practicing then, it was not legal to help somebody.”

McCreedy, who now lives in Highwood, became formally involved in the movement when Montana’s Baxter decision – the State Supreme Court ruling authorizing aid in dying – came under attack. He volunteers with Compassion & Choices now contacting local legislators and has penned a guest editorial in the Great Falls Tribune in support of death with dignity. “It’s not for everybody,” he explains. “There are people who have religious convictions and other considerations that stand in their way. But to take away the opportunity for people who do believe in it seems wrong to me.”

He is most heartened these days by the great boom in support for aid in dying across the nation and even in his own state, where it’s been available since 2009. “I have Parkinson’s disease; there’s no cure, and it’s going to be progressive. How rapidly, no one knows for sure,” McCreedy says. “Somewhere along the line it’s very likely to get to the point where I don’t want to be around anymore, and I hope at that time that I’ll have good counsel. But right now there’s not a physician in Great Falls that I know of that is willing to take on that challenge.”

He also feels medical schools need to provide more education about end-of-life issues. “It’s all about healing and keeping people alive,” he says. “In fact some people claim aid in dying is against the Hippocratic Oath, which says, ‘Above all else, do no harm.’ But I personally believe that if you have it in your power to end someone’s grief and suffering, it’s doing harm if you don’t take that opportunity.”

Read about Jim McCreedy and other passionate Montana champions in a brand-new colorful report called Five Years of Dignity: The Baxter Ruling and End-of-Life Freedom in Montana.

C&C’s “First Thursday” Series Addresses Federal Issues

Daniel Wilson, National & Federal Programs Director

Policy experts in D.C. gathered to discuss the legislative outlook for advancing our movement at Compassion & Choices’ latest “First Thursday” event in early January. C&C’s National & Federal Programs Director Daniel Wilson hosted speakers Brian Lindberg, executive director of the Consumer Coalition for Quality Healthcare; Robert Blancato, president of Matz, Blancato & Associates; and Andrew MacPherson, principal at Healthsperien.

Both Blancato and MacPherson predict deeper Medicare reform. “Probably the most comprehensive piece of legislation circulating in the Senate would establish Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for advance care planning – actually for a team of healthcare professionals to provide voluntary advance care planning services,” explained MacPherson. “It also gives money to test new models of care around advanced illness and management. That goes well beyond the planning aspect.” The bipartisan legislation would also fund a significant public education campaign, which would go a long way toward increasing the number of adults who complete advance directives.

Another favorable bill with bipartisan support is Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s Personalize Your Care Act, which he discussed with Compassion & Choices and our co-collaborators at a Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment luncheon last year. The act would provide Medicare and Medicaid coverage for voluntary consultations between patients and their doctors about advance care planning, and also allows for portability of advance directives across state lines.

In sum, achieving progress in 2015 will involve building the bipartisan alliances that have formed in recent years and working together on the most impactful end-of-life legislation on which to establish common ground. MacPherson concluded, “I do think there are opportunities.”

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