Volunteer Spotlight: Jim Perdue

Inspired by his wife’s early involvement with Compassion & Choices and informed by watching both his parents endure difficult deaths, Jim Perdue puts his all into expanding end-of-life options in Maryland.

Marylander Jim Perdue has kept busy with various activities in his 24 years of retirement from a career as a medical investigator in oncology. The oldest of seven children, Jim was born in Chicago and spent much of his childhood in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where his family moved when he was 12 and where his parents remained until their deaths. “My mother died from pancreatic cancer, and hers was a pretty horrific death,” he recalls. “Three years later, in 2000, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. He decided to end his life by VSED (voluntarily stopping eating and drinking). He didn’t really do VSED the way it should be done though, which includes  the elimination of liquids as well as solid foods, so he lingered there for about 27 days before he died. This experience as well as my career experience in oncology made it clear to me that medical aid in dying was a much needed and more humane way to end one’s life.”

Following the lead of his wife, Ellen, one of the original Compassion & Choices team members working to pass a medical aid-in-dying law in Maryland, Jim became involved with the group in 2014. That summer, Jim and several members of this group prepared a tentative version of the legislation that was introduced in the General Assembly in January of 2015 and subsequently reintroduced nearly every year since then. “We get closer each time,” Jim says, “In all of these efforts, we’ve gotten more and more legislators to support the bill. But this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, its progress in the 2020 General Assembly session appears to have stalled."

In addition to their legislative efforts, which for Jim included regularly walking the halls of the Capitol and speaking directly to lawmakers and their staff about the legislation, he and Ellen have given presentations in the District of Columbia and the immediate counties around Annapolis, Maryland, at libraries, retirement communities, social clubs, etc., and participated in healthcare events where they handed out literature and talked about advance directives. “Importantly,” says Jim, “these were some of the most meaningful things that we did since many of the people we spoke to never thought they had choices about how they would like to die. We urged them to take the My End-of-Life Decisions planning guide, to identify their values and priorities, to prepare an advance directive, and to share this information with their families and personal physician.”