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

Press Releases

Vermont Becomes First Legislature to Approve Death-with-Dignity Legislation

by Compassion & Choices Staff

CONTACT: Sean Crowley, 202-550-6524
[email protected]

Politics Shift as Lawmakers Embrace Nationwide Support for End-of-Life Choices

(Washington, D.C. – May 13, 2013) The nation’s leading end-of-life choice advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, praised the Vermont legislature for becoming the first legislative body in the nation to approve death-with-dignity legislation. Gov. Peter Shumlin has vowed to sign the bill into law.

“This historic legislative victory proves that the aid-in-dying issue is no longer the third rail of politics. In fact, it’s a winning issue on which Gov. Shumlin campaigned,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant who co-authored the nation’s first Death-with-Dignity law in Oregon and was a senior advisor for the nation’s second Death-with-Dignity law in Washington state, both approved by ballot initiatives. “We congratulate Patient Choices Vermont for its leadership of this multi-year campaign. Their success shows aid in dying has become a legislative winner.” More

Montel Williams Speaks Out for Death with Dignity in New Issue of Compassion & Choices Magazine

CONTACT: Sean Crowley, 202-550-6524
[email protected]

by Compassion & Choices staff
May 2, 2013

TV Host Calls End-of-Life Choice for Terminally Ill “Personal Decision”

(Washington, D.C.) Emmy Award-winning television host Montel Williams advocates for end-of-life choice, including aid in dying, in the spring issue of Compassion & Choices Magazine. Williams, who revealed in 1999 that he has multiple sclerosis (MS) and is an active healthcare advocate, expressed support for the right of terminally ill people with unbearable suffering to control the time and manner of their death.

Appearing on the cover and in the magazine’s “Voice of Choice” column, Williams states, “I do not believe people should be deciding what level of pain other people should endure, especially knowing they have no chance for recovery. It is a personal decision.” More

New Poll: New Jersey Voters Overwhelmingly Support Death With Dignity

by Compassion & Choices staff
April 24, 2013

Contact: Timothy White, (201) 465-8038, [email protected]

Support strong among divergent interest groups; issue transcends party lines and religion

(Trenton, NJ) – A recent public opinion survey conducted by Momentum Analysis, a public opinion research firm based in Washington, D.C., shows 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 with six months or less to live to receive a prescription for medication to end their suffering. Support is very deep, with nearly half (49%) strongly in favor of supporting death with dignity. Majorities across party lines and religions support death with dignity.

“This poll shows that opinions about death with dignity among New Jersey voters are for the most part consistent with public opinions in other states throughout the country,” said Mark Dann, New Jersey Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices. “Regardless of race, religion, political affiliations or socio-economic conditions, people in New Jersey value their right to have end-of-life choices and to preserve their dignity in the instances of terminal illness,” Dann added.

Nearly two-thirds of New Jersey voters (65%) want the legal option for a peaceful death if they are terminally ill; far fewer report they would not want this option (25%). Majorities across party, racial, regional, gender, socio-economic status and other groupings report they want to have this option for a measure of control in their own life.

“It’s not everyday you see an issue with such widespread support across demographic groups,” said Margie Omero, President of Momentum Analysis, the firm that conducted the survey. “Voters don’t just support death with dignity legislation, but as an option for themselves personally. That’s very powerful.”

“A good death is not a failure of medical care.  It is a goal that probably most of us will strive to achieve when the time comes,” said Dr. Stacey Bachrach of Flemington, NJ. “Legislative measures offering comprehensive end-of-life options will help make this goal a reality for more New Jerseyans.”

Support for death with dignity is favorable among New Jersey voters who also support Pope Francis (51%), among those who support the Right to Life Movement (46%) and among those who support Governor Christie (67%).

The Death with Dignity Act (Assembly Bill No. 3328 and Senate Bill No. 2259) was introduced in New Jersey in the fall of 2012. In February 2013, the Assembly Health Committee released the bill with a favorable 7-2-2 vote.

This poll results are based on a survey of 601 likely November 2013 voters in New Jersey. The survey, commissioned by the national non-profit Compassion & Choices, was conducted by telephone during March 20-24, 2013. Voters from the state voter file with a history of voting in odd-year elections were contacted and further screened to include only likely voters. The margin of error for the sample overall is +/-4.1 percentage points.

Huge Victory: Aid in Dying Preserved in Montana

by Compassion & Choices staff
April 17, 2013

Choice at life’s end scored a major victory yesterday! The Montana Senate defeated a bill to criminalize aid in dying, which was made legal by the 2009 state Supreme Court ruling in Baxter v. Montana.

As a Compassion & Choices supporter, you share credit for this impressive win. We prevailed against anti-choice zealots who worked for more than three years to undo the landmark Baxter ruling and quash the right of terminally ill Montanans to die with dignity on their own terms.

Make no mistake: This is a resounding victory for Compassion & Choices, our supporters in Montana and across the country, and for the principle of self-determination. Please take a few moments to savor it and the extraordinary effort that made it possible.

1) The Montana Senate actually reversed course to defeat HB505. We called it the “Physician Imprisonment Act of 2013″ because it would have incarcerated doctors for up to 10 years for providing aid in dying to terminal patients. Once predicted to pass, the bill was defeated instead, by a bipartisan vote of 27-23.

2) The Senate vote was the direct result of sustained on-the-ground activism by Compassion & Choices Montana. For more than two years, this dynamic campaign fielded staff and volunteers to alert residents to the threat of HB505. Its multi-tactical campaign included:

• an education drive that reached tens of thousands of Montanans in all corners of the state and encouraged them to telephone their legislators and otherwise make their voice heard;
radio and print ads urging Montanans to contact their legislators to oppose the bill;
outreach to newspaper editorial boards and other opinion leaders, and an aggressive letter-to-the-editor campaign;
mobilization of doctors to publicly oppose the bill and affirm their support for the practice of aid in dying;
in-person lobbying of lawmakers in Helena and their home districts;
social media and other efforts to spread the word and summon voters to action.

3) A high point in our campaign came when long-time supporter Dr. Eric Kress, a family physician at Western Montana Clinic, publicly disclosed that he had written aid-in-dying prescriptions for three of his patients since the 2009 Baxter decision.

Dr. Kress narrated our radio ad, appeared in print ads, authored a powerful op-ed for The Missoulian newspaper and delivered courageous testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We cannot overstate the importance of his eloquent and persuasive support, and the influence it had on lawmakers and the public alike.

4) We backed up our advocacy with a poll of Montana voters, which confirmed that 73 percent opposed HB505 and 67 percent were less likely to vote for a legislator who supported it.

5) The victory maintains Montana’s status as the third state where aid in dying is expressly legal. That status was the direct result of Compassion & Choices’ landmark Baxter v. Montana lawsuit, which confirmed that physician aid in dying did not violate state public policy in Montana.

6) The victory also underscores the growing level of public willingness to take personal action to defend the right to death with dignity, and to oppose zealots who seek to pass draconian laws like HB505 and use misinformation, scare tactics, moral judgments and other means to deny people their most sacred rights at life’s end.

Special thanks goes to the thousands of Montanans who took action to defeat HB505, and to hundreds of Compassion & Choices Montana volunteers who worked the phones, knocked on doors, talked to neighbors and loved ones, and otherwise devoted themselves to make sure that truth and reason prevailed.

Without our shared commitment, HB505 would be law today. The fact that it isn’t is a true testament to the leadership of Compassion & Choices Montana and the dedication of our wonderful supporters.

BCL and JG Sign

Bill to Imprison Doctors for Aid in Dying Defeated in Montana Legislature

CONTACT: Sean Crowley, 202-550-6524, [email protected]
Jessica Grennan, 202-699-2738, JGrennan@compassionandchoices.org

Senate Reverses Course from Last Week

(Helena, Mont. – Apr. 15, 2013) The nation’s leading end-of-life choice advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, praised the Montana Senate today for reversing course and rejecting a House-passed bill that would imprison doctors for up to 10 years if they provide aid in dying to terminally ill patients. The 27-23 bipartisan vote against the so-called Doctor Imprisonment Act, HB505, came after both Democrats and Republicans spoke out against the legislation. Just last week, the Senate voted 31-17 to approve a motion to “blast” the legislation out of committee to the Senate floor.

“This bipartisan vote is a win for Montanans and the doctors who honor the wishes of their terminally ill patients by supporting their choice to die with dignity on their own terms,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, a nurse and physician assistant for 25 years before becoming a private attorney and a Chief Petitioner of the first-in-the nation 1994 Oregon Death with Dignity Act. “The legislature did the right thing by honoring the wishes of the vast majority of Montanans who don’t want the government dictating their medical treatment at the end of their lives. Today’s vote is in line with the national trend to approve aid in dying, not criminalize it.”

If HB 505 had become law, it would have gutted a 2009 Montana Supreme Court ruling in Baxter v. Montana, a case brought by Compassion & Choices. The court confirmed it does not violate state public policy in Montana for a physician to provide aid in dying to a mentally competent, terminally ill adult.

“If HB505 had passed, I could have gone to prison for providing the medical care my terminally ill patients request,” said Dr. Eric Kress, a family physician at Western Montana Clinic, who has written aid in dying prescriptions for three patients since the Baxter decision. Kress narrated a statewide radio campaign opposing HB 505, appeared in print ads featuring quotes from other doctors opposed to HB 505 and authored an oped opposing HB 505 published last week in The Missoulian. “The overwhelmingly positive public support I have received has strengthened my resolve to ensure this right is never taken away.”

In contrast to Montana, efforts promoting patient choice at the end-of-life are underway in numerous other diverse states, including Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont. In February, the Vermont Senate gave final approval to a “Death with Dignity” bill that would protect doctors from criminal or civil liability when treating terminally ill patients who choose to end their lives.

A national poll last May by Republican pollster Frank Luntz showed 84 percent of voters agree that: “How a terminally ill person chooses to end his/her life should be an individual decision and not a government decision.”

A poll of 605 likely Montana voters conducted this month by Global Strategy Group shows 73 percent of them oppose HB 505, including 81 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans. The poll also reveals that 67 percent of voters will be less likely to vote for a legislator who supported HB 505, including 53 percent who said they will be much less likely. Nearly seven out 10 voters (69%) support allowing a mentally competent adult who is dying of a terminal disease and in extreme pain to choose to end his or her life in a humane and dignified way, including 48% who strongly support such a choice.