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

Press Releases

Another Attempt to Criminalize Doctors Who Provide Aid in Dying Rejected by Montana Lawmakers

Compassion & Choices Praises Legislature for Preserving End-of-Life Freedoms

(Helena, MT – March 13, 2015) Compassion & Choices praised the Montana House for rejecting a second bill in four weeks that would have criminalized writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication to a terminally ill adult who wants that option to end their suffering. The bill, which opponents call “The Physician Imprisonment Act” because it would have imprisoned a doctor for up to 10 years for this medical practice, was one of several in recent years intended to gut the state Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Baxter v. Montana.

A bipartisan group of legislators voted 50-50 to defeat the former bill, HB477, after the Montana House Judiciary Committee had approved it on Friday, Feb. 20. On Feb. 17, the Montana House rejected a bill that would have charged a doctor with homicide for writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication.

“We have been fighting frivolous bills like this for too long,” said Emily Bentley, Compassion & Choices Montana Campaign Manager. “Our courts have told us that existing state law protects end-of-life autonomy, and the overwhelming majority of Montanans agree. It’s time for these opponents of freedom to move on.”

A 2013 poll showed 69% of Montana voters support authorizing physicians to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication.

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. The court did not rule one way or the other on constitutional grounds. Five years later, many doctors across Montana have written aid-in-dying prescriptions for terminally ill people who request it.

Brittany Maynard Family, Compassion & Choices Making End-of-Life Care Progress

Aid-in-Dying Bills Introduced in 16 Legislatures, Hearings Proceeding 

(Portland, OR – March 10, 2015) Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and at least 15 states have introduced bills to authorize the medical option of aid in dying since Compassion & Choices released a video-recorded call to action by Brittany Maynard on Nov. 19, the same day that would have been her 30th birthday. Currently, only five states – Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico – authorize this medical practice.

All of the bills were introduced during a seven-week period between Jan. 8 and Feb. 24 in states across the political spectrum. They include five blue states (California, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island), four purple states (Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Wisconsin) and six red states (Alaska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming). Today, March 10, there is a hearing scheduled on the Maryland legislation before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Next Monday, March 16, a hearing is scheduled on the Connecticut bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In addition, aid-in-dying bills re-introduced in Connecticut and Massachusetts this year had 16 and 24 more sponsors, respectively, than when they were introduced last year. Finally, last November, the New Jersey Assembly passed an aid-in-dying bill on a bipartisan vote, only 12 days after Brittany died.

“This tidal wave of action and bill introductions is a testament to our powerful partnership with Brittany Maynard’s family to fulfill her mission to make aid in dying an authorized medical option for dying adults throughout America,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an attorney and former ER and ICU nurse who coauthored the Oregon death-with-dignity law that Maynard utilized to end her agonizing suffering from terminal brain cancer.

“I hope for the sake of other American citizens – all these people that I’m speaking to that I’ve never met, that I’ll never meet – that this choice be extended to you, this right. That we mobilize, that we vocalize, that we start to talk about it,” said Brittany in her call-to-action video posted at www.TheBrittanyFund.org. “I know my family will continue to carry this torch along for me”

Since then, Brittany’s husband, Dan Diaz, and her mother, Debbie Ziegler, have done numerous interviews promoting the cause. Debbie Ziegler recently appeared on the nationally syndicated Dr. Oz Show, and Dan Diaz was interviewed for Oprah Winfrey Network’s Where Are They Now? show that will air this Sunday, March 15, at 9 p.m. ET.

“Brittany’s wish is coming true. The tireless, very public advocacy of her husband, Dan Diaz, and mother, Debbie Ziegler, is a major reason for our auspicious campaign launch since Brittany’s call to action,” Coombs Lee said. “Now we urge Brittany’s thousands of supporters to visit www.TheBrittanyFund.org so they can tell their state legislators to pass these aid-in-dying bills in her honor.”

To date, over five million people have visited the www.TheBrittanyFund.org, and more than 50,000 people have sent letters urging state lawmakers to pass legislation to authorize medical aid in dying for mentally competent, terminally ill adults.

The jurisdictions, bill names and introduction dates in 2015 are listed below in chronological order.

Missouri Missouri Death With Dignity Act (HB 307) Jan. 8, 2015
Washington, D.C. Death with Dignity Act of 2015 (B21-0038) Jan 14, 2015
California End-of-Life Option Act (SB 128) Jan. 20, 2015
Iowa Iowa Death with Dignity Act (HF 65) Jan. 21, 2015
Montana Montana Death with Dignity Act (SB 202) Jan. 21, 2015
Wyoming Death With Dignity (HB 0119) Jan. 22, 2015
Connecticut Compassionate Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (SB 668) Jan. 23, 2015
Colorado Colorado Death with Dignity Act (HB 15-135) Jan. 27, 2015
Hawaii Death With Dignity (HB 1255) Jan. 28, 2015
Kansas Kansas Death with Dignity Act (HB 2150) Jan. 28, 2015
Oklahoma Oklahoma Death With Dignity Act (HB 1673/HB 1021) Feb. 2, 2015
Maryland Death With Dignity Act (SB 676) Feb. 6, 2015
Alaska Voluntary Termination of Life (HB 99) Feb. 9, 2015
Wisconsin SB 128 Feb. 11, 2015
Rhode Island Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act (H 5507) Feb. 12, 2015
New York New York End-of-Life Options Act (S3685/AO2129) Feb. 13, 2015
Utah Utah Death With Dignity Act (HB 391) Feb. 24, 2015

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.”

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.”