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

Press Releases

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.”

Brittany Maynard’s 30th Birthday Spurs National Call to Action for Death With Dignity

New “Call to Action” Video Narrated by Brittany Released

(Portland, OR – Nov. 19, 2014)  Compassion & Choices today launched a national initiative for expanded access to death with dignity on what would be Brittany Maynard’s 30th birthday. The organization released a new “call to action” video narrated by Brittany and featuring death-with-dignity activists from across the nation, including Anita Freeman of California, Sara Meyers of Connecticut and Dustin Hankinson of Montana. Brittany calls on all those touched by her story to contact their state lawmakers using an easy action tool at www.TheBrittanyFund.org, where the video will debut at 3pm ET.

Response to Brittany’s story, including from policymakers, proves the time is now to fix the nation’s unjust end-of-life healthcare system. The New Jersey Assembly passed an aid-in-dying bill last Thursday, 12 days after her death. At least one lawmaker who decided to support the bill cited Brittany’s story during the floor debate as a deciding factor: Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.  In her honor, legislators in California and at least 11 other states have pledged to introduce bills that authorize death with dignity. The other states include: Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-WY), who plans to introduce a death-with-dignity bill, and Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-PA), who introduced a death-with-dignity bill on Oct. 15 — nine days after Brittany’s story broke — are among the lawmakers whom Brittany inspired. Rep. Rozzi’s father died of brain cancer, as Brittany did.

“As we mark what would be her 30th birthday, we recall Brittany’s selfless efforts to help ensure that other dying Americans get access to the death-with-dignity choice,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, Compassion & Choices president and an attorney who co-authored Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which Brittany Maynard utilized. “Brittany carried a torch of human freedom this far. We must carry it to the finish line. We ask supporters to use every communication channel to tell their lawmakers to support death with dignity.”

“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, that this right.  That we mobilize, that we vocalize, that we start to talk about it,” says Brittany in the video, which was recorded Aug. 2.

“I know my family will continue to carry this torch along for me, that they all believe in the importance of what I’m doing,” concluded Brittany in the video. “If there’s one message to come away from everything that I’ve been through, it is no matter what life kind of presents you with, is never be afraid to use your own voice. And even if you are uncertain, even if your voice is shaking, ask the questions you want to ask, speak up for yourself, advocate.”

A panel of experts, including Reps. Rozzi and Zwonitzer, discussed nationwide momentum to expand access for terminally ill adults to the medical practice of aid in dying during a national press conference call on Nov. 19.

Death with Dignity Option Wins in Watershed Assembly Vote

Aid in Dying Law Now More Likely for People of New Jersey

November 13, 2014 (Trenton, NJ) – In a move that brings the people of New Jersey one step closer to having the medical option of aid in dying, the New Jersey State Assembly voted 41-31 in a bipartisan fashion to pass the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act (A2270).

“Today’s vote reflects our first victory in the memory and spirit of Brittany Maynard,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion & Choices, which advocated for the bill. “Brittany called on our nation to reform laws so others won’t have to move to a Dignity state for comfort and control in their dying. We’re honored to carry on in her name.”

The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act would allow a mentally competent, terminally ill adult the choice to request a prescription for life-ending medication that the patient could take – if and when they choose – in order to reduce suffering at life’s end.

The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act was re-introduced in February 2014 by Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli, whose own sister-in-law, Claudia Burzichelli, succumbed to lung cancer in 2013.   Prior to her death, she testified about her expected suffering, “…I would hope I might have more options than starving myself or taking my life in a violent way. I don’t know how I will truly feel if and when that time may come. But it comforts me there could be another way, other options. More