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

Southern California News

California Senate Health Committee Approves Aid-in-Dying Legislation

First Legislative Action on Bill Inspired by Brittany Maynard Draws Hundreds of Supporters

(Sacramento, CA – March 25, 2015) Compassion & Choices today praised the California Senate Health Committee for approving the End-of-Life Option Act (SB 128) after a news conference with videotaped testimony from Brittany Maynard urging passage of such bills nationwide.

Before the afternoon hearing to vote on the bill, hundreds of supporters with colorful signs crowded the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to pass the End of Life Option Act, co-authored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning and Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk. The next hearing on the legislation is scheduled for April 7 before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The Senate Health Committee’s approval of the End of Life Option Act is a victory for Californians, who overwhelmingly support the option of aid in dying,” said Toni Broaddus, California campaign director for Compassion & Choices. “Thanks to the compelling testimony by families touched by this issue – including testimony recorded by Brittany Maynard before her death – the End of Life Option Act is one step closer to becoming law.”

Maynard, who was only 29 years old when diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, moved to Oregon to access its death-with-dignity law because her home state of California does not authorize aid in dying as an end-of-life option.

“Making aid in dying a crime creates undue hardships and suffering for many people who are terminally ill and suffering tremendously,” Maynard said in the video, which was recorded on Oct. 13, 2014, 19 days before she died on Nov. 1.  “It limits our options and deprives us of our ability to control how much pain and agony we endure before we pass.”

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 practice in her home state of California and nationwide. To date, more than five million people have visited the www.TheBrittanyFund.org, and more than 50,000 people have visited www.CompassionAndChoices.org to send letters urging state legislators to pass bills to authorize medical aid in dying for mentally competent, terminally ill adults.

Since Compassion & Choices released Brittany Maynard’s videotaped call to action to pass aid-in-dying bills in states nationwide on what would have been her 30th birthday, Nov. 19, lawmakers in Washington, DC, and at least 19 states have introduced bills to authorize the medical option of aid in dying.

National and state polls consistently show the vast majority of Americans across the demographic and political spectrum want to maintain their right to choose their medical treatment at the end of life. California voters support the medical option of aid in dying by more than a 2-1 margin (64 percent vs. 24 percent).

Watch Brittany’s full video testimony by clicking here.

Read the transcript of Brittany’s video testimony is by clicking here.

Watch the video of the entire news conference by clicking here.

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.”

“Changing the Way We Die: Compassionate End-of-Life Care and the Hospice Movement” by Fran Smith and Sheila Himmel

A Book Review by Compassion & Choices California Volunteer, Sid Adelman.

There’s a myth that accepting hospice is a commitment to die in the very near future.  Choosing hospice does not mean you are giving up but it does mean that you will be refusing aggressive treatments to prolong your life. It means that you are choosing comfort over cure. Too often, patients are referred to hospice in the last days of their life after experiencing tests, surgery, procedures, and treatments that often have not prolonged, and in many cases have shortened their lives.

This well-written book exposes the reader to the world of hospice. It dispels many of the myths and misunderstandings of what hospice can and cannot provide. More importantly it can give those of us who are going to die (that means you and me) a level of comfort that your last days, weeks and months will not be filled with pain and suffering. The book gives all of us the information we need to request hospice services for our elderly family members and eventually for ourselves. Hospice is particularly good at pain management but also provides a trajectory toward death that includes some quality of life as opposed to the, often sterile, futile and high-tech medicine that is the closest most of us will experience as medical torture.

The case studies and stories are interesting and insightful into the types of situations where hospice has been most helpful.  In the case studies we hear the words of the patients, their families and the hospice personnel. The authors write about differences in the way various cultures, races and nationalities view and deal with death and their willingness to choose hospice.  The book has wonderful references, links and pointers to organizations that can provide additional resources. Most importantly, the book provides information that will help you and your loved ones make important end-of-life decisions. This is a book to be read now and kept on your bookshelf as the grim reaper makes his (or her) appearance.

 Sid Adelman is an End-of-Life volunteer with Compassion and Choices and he presents and gives workshops on advance directives for health care.

Physicians debate whether patients need to know they’re dying

By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times
April 25, 2013

In the days when American physicians dispensed oracular commands and their judgments were rarely questioned, a doctor could take it upon himself with few ethical qualms to keep from a patient the bad news of a terminal diagnosis.

For better or worse, those days may be well behind us. But physicians have not ceased debating one of the stickiest and most universal ethical quandaries of medical practice: How, when and why does one inform a patient that he or she is dying? The latest evidence of that ongoing discussion was published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.

The latest question in the journal’s “Head to Head” feature, “Do patients need to know they are terminally ill?,” essentially pits one side’s reasonable arguments that “we’re all dying” and “you never really know when and of what a patient will die” against another side’s equally compelling assertions that “knowledge allows better decisions” and “a patient can still have hope — to live to see a daughter married or achieve a cherished goal or to die a peaceful death at home.” More

Let’s Talk About Dying

by Lillian B. Rubin
December 26, 2012

“It’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?” Words spoken repeatedly when, during the course of a research project on aging, I asked people for their thoughts about the new longevity and their own aging. Sometimes it was said with a shrug of resignation, more often as an unquestioning statement – a certainty that living is better than dying. Each time I heard it, I wanted to ask, “Is it?” Often I gave in to the impulse, which almost always begot a confused and startled response: “You mean you think it’s better to die?”

I’ve thought about that question many times in the years since then, and my answer today is an even more resonant, “Yes.” It isn’t that I’m so eager to die, but I can’t help thinking about how destructive our fear of death is — how it compels us to live, even when “living” may be little more than breathing; how we have made living, just to be alive, the unqualified objective. For me, that’s quite simply not enough. No, that’s not right. It isn’t “simple” at all. But I do have a concrete plan to end my life when I decide it’s time – and the tools to implement it. Will I have the courage to do it?

I can almost hear some people shout, “Courage? Suicide is cowardice, not courage.” To which I can only ask: Does it take courage to live as my now-deceased husband did — a 10-year slide into increasing dementia, so that by the time he died, from a fall that cracked his ribs and led to pneumonia, there was nothing left but a body that needed constant care? Couldn’t we just as easily call it cowardice?

At 88-going-on-89 and not in great health, what’s cowardly about my deciding to turn out the lights before putting my family through the same pain they’ve already lived through with their father and grandfather? What’s courageous about spending our children’s inheritance just so we can live one more month, one more year? Is it courage or cowardice to insist on staying alive at enormous social cost – 27.4 percent of the Medicare budget spent in the last year of life – while so many children in our nation go hungry and without medical care? Is it cowardice to decide not to live with the pain of an ever-diminishing self — a body that’s always reminding us it’s there, a mind that forgets what it wants us to remember?

I ask my doctor to give me a prescription for pills that will make my death easy. He thinks about it, and then with a look I can’t read — sheepishness? regret? – he says, “Sorry, I can’t do it.” Yes, I know there’s a law in California, as in most of the country, against assisted suicide. But when I push him, that’s not the reason he gives. Instead he tells me he’s spent his life saving lives, not taking them. I ask, “Did you ever wonder whether you were doing your patient a favor?” He sidesteps the question, and says, “Well, I don’t think you’re sick enough to die.” How does he know what’s “sick enough,” what it feels like to live in my failing body and mind? More