The District of Columbia’s medical aid-in-dying bill, the D.C. Death with Dignity Act, will take effect tomorrow, Sat., Feb. 18, because opponents failed to get the support necessary in Congress to stop the bill from becoming law.
The Death with Dignity Act was transmitted by the D.C. Council to the House and Senate on Jan. 6 for a 30-legislative-day review period under the Home Rule Act. H.J. Res 27, which would have overturned the D.C. Death with Dignity Act, stalled without a floor vote today in either house.
Though Congress could still vote to overturn the law or try to defund it, overriding D.C.’s laws becomes more difficult after they go into effect. Following is a statement from Jessica Grennan, national director of political affairs and advocacy for Compassion & Choices, the end-of-life choice advocacy organization that helped pass the law:
“Today we are celebrating that the District of Columbia has become the 7th jurisdiction to authorize medical aid in dying for terminally ill people. The advocacy of D.C. residents and local officials is what won this victory. Democracy conquered the personal mindsets of paternalistic politicians whose opinions should not get in the way of people getting the medical relief they want and need.
“We will continue to monitor Congress for attacks on D.C. or any of the six other states where medical aid-in-dying is authorized: California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. And while it is true that opponents want to defund and overturn the law, no funding is required for the law to go into effect. Terminally ill patients can now legally get medical aid in dying in the District of Columbia. Doctors may now prescribe appropriate medications under the law without fear of prosecution. We urge anyone who is eligible and considering this option to make the request of their doctor right away, since we cannot predict whether or when this right may be stripped away by Congress.”
The neurologist was “concise in his description: ‘The man is dead.’ -’What do you mean?’ -”He is brain dead.’ In spite of what the neurologist said, we were not yet able to diagnose brain death in this patient, but I was delegated to go to the patient’s bedside. I walked into the room, and he lay on the bed, chest rising rhythmically with the ventilator, heart beating regularly with a crisp rhythm on the monitor. His cheeks were flush with color. He looked like many other patients sedated on ventilators in the ICU–perhaps better, because he was younger and had not seen a day in the hospital prior to this. But there was one difference: Though he didn’t look it, he was deader. I had seen a lot of dead people. None of them looked anything like him. His girlfriend anxiously asked me, ‘Is he dead?’ Her question really came out of nowhere and caught me by surprise. In medical school, and during residency, we are taught to diagnose disease, but never to diagnose life, or the lack thereof. The last fifty or so years have seen the very fact of death being decoded, defined, and subsequently decried and perhaps debunked. I was still processing all the information in front of me. During the course of my residency, I had pronounced the deaths of countless patients. I had been told that this man had died, but I had none of the tools I needed to confirm the fact. His heart was beating, his wrist pulsating; I looked at his girlfriend and said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Dr. Haider Warraich read the preceding passage from his newly-released book, Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life at a February 8 event co-sponsored by Compassion & Choices New York at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, New York City.
The venue, a premier literary destination for acclaimed authors, is also a part of the Housing Works network, which defines itself as a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. The mission of the organization is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain their efforts. 100% of the profits from sales at the Bookstore to to Housing Works.
Warraich read to an audience of nearly forty gathered at the Bookstore to hear from the frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal. The discussion after the reading was rich, and focused on changes in medicine that often lead to prolonging life beyond the wishes of individual patients, and whether our laws need to adapt to accommodate the changing landscape of medicine.
Though he described himself as an early opponent of aid in dying, owing to his training and mentorship from physicians who had long-standing positions against the practice, while he was writing the book, Warraich remarked, he came to understand how important the option could be for his patients:
“In the course of writing this book,” Warraich wrote in Modern Death, “I have learned many things about myself. Most surprising is to realize that, knowing what I know now, I have come to the conclusion that we must do more to discuss and support competent terminally ill patients’ right to demand and acquire the means to end their suffering with the aid of a physician.”
New York campaign director for Compassion & Choices Corinne Carey joined Dr. Warraich on stage in the latter portion of the event to talk about the state campaign to authorize medical aid in dying. The venue, Carey explained, holds special meaning for this work: “Housing Works was at the epicenter of the response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York,” she said. “Many of those who supported friends and loved ones who died know what it means to watch someone suffer and not be able to help. That’s why it’s such an honor to be here tonite, and to count Housing Works as one of our strongest supporters of the legislation.”
Father Luis Barrios, pastor of Episcopal Santa Cruz and professor at John Jay University
I don’t have a problem with the notion of death, because death is a part of life. It’s how we face it and the way we go through the dying process that makes a difference.
It’s a blessing that the New York State Legislature is considering a bill to authorize medical aid in dying. Terminally ill, mentally competent adults with a prognosis of six months or less to live should have the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable. And on February 14, I will join other faith leaders at the State Capitol in Albany for a interfaith prayer of love and compassion for terminally ill New Yorkers.
Unfortunately, there are a handful of powerful opponents that would keep this option from the vast majority of New Yorkers who want it.
As a priest, I have been blessed to counsel many New Yorkers as they prepare for the end of their lives. I sat at their bedside as they begged for help to die. It is the memory of these people that has helped me to lend my voice today to help authorize the medical practice of aid in dying.
There was something sacred about ministering to the dying who begged for relief. Little did I know these experiences prepared me for the day my brother Samuel, in light of his weakened and final stages of AIDS, told he me wanted me to help him die peacefully.
End-of-life care options
Medical aid in dying has been making headlines among Latinos in New York because of the advocacy of recently deceased Miguel Carrasquillo and the new support for this end-of-life care option by Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz and Assemblymember Robert J. Rodriguez.
Medical aid in dying is currently authorized in six states: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, and Colorado. In addition, Congress is reviewing a bill the D.C. Council approved to authorize this end-of-life care option.
Miguel’s horrific suffering from terminal brain cancer prompted him to record videos in Englishand in Spanish to urge legislators across the country to pass medial aid-in-dying laws, including in his former home states of New York and Illinois, and native Puerto Rico. Miguel also recorded this cell phone video on May 25, just 10 days before his agonizing death on June 5, 2016 (Spanish version of video).
Seven months have passed since Miguel, a Catholic, died at the young age of 35. But his death is already making a difference among the Latino community he fought for until his last breath.
In fact, 69% of Hispanics nationwide support medical aid in dying, according to a new survey conducted by LifeWay Research. Most religious group members who participated in the survey also said medical aid in dying is “morally acceptable,” including: 70% of Catholics; 59% of all Christians; 53% of Protestants; 70% of people in other religions and 84% of those who identified as non-religious.
I recently met Miguel’s mom, Nilsa Centeno, when we joined Compassion & Choices to launch a bilingual campaign in New York in November to educate state residents about the bipartisan medical aid-in-dying bill. We spoke about her son’s last wishes of Latinos to embrace the option of medical aid in dying to prevent the unbearable suffering that he experienced because it was not available to him in his native Puerto Rico. His suffering reminded me of my brother’s painful death.
End of life options
Of course, this end-of-life care option may not be for everyone. Many good people of faith have different opinions about what decisions are right for them in the final stages of a terminal illness.
There are many ways to encounter God, and New Yorkers hold a wide array of spiritual beliefs and traditions.
My God is a God of love and compassion. A God who would not abandon a dying person who is suffering, and refuse that person the means to die peacefully. I believe that our state should adopt a law that would allow terminally ill New Yorkers to die without suffering, in whatever way is consistent with their own individual faith, values, and beliefs.
Father Luis Barrios, is a pastor at Iglesia Episcopal Santa Cruz/Holyrood Episcopal Church and professor at John Jay College in New York.
No tengo ningún problema con la noción de la muerte, porque la muerte es parte de la vida. Es cómo la enfrentamos y el camino que tomamos durante su proceso, lo que hace la diferencia.
Es una bendición que la legislatura estatal de Nueva York está considerando un proyecto de ley que autorice la muerte médica asistida. Los adultos con enfermedades terminales, en pleno uso de sus facultades mentales con un pronóstico de vida de seis meses o menos, deberán tener la opción de solicitar una prescripción de su médico para obtener un medicamento que se puedan tomar por sí mismos, en caso de que su sufrimiento se convierta intolerable.
Desafortunadamente, existe un grupo pequeño de oponentes poderosos que podría dejar esta opción fuera del alcance de la gran mayoría de neoyorquinos que la desean.
Como sacerdote, he sido bendecido al aconsejar a muchos neoyorquinos mientras se preparan para el final de sus vidas. Me he sentado al pie de sus camas, mientras suplicaban la ayuda para morir. La memoria de esas personas, me ha ayudado a hacer mi voz presente hoy para ayudar a que se autorice la práctica médica de fin de vida.
Por esta razón, me uno a otros líderes religiosos en el Capitolio en Albany este 14 de febrero para una oración interreligiosa de amor y compasión por los neoyorquinos con enfermedades terminales.
Hubo algo sagrado en el ministerio que di a las personas que rogaban por el alivio a su dolor. Lejos estaba yo de saber que estas experiencias me estaban preparando para el día en que mi hermano, Samuel, a luz de su debilitante etapa final de SIDA, me pidió que lo ayudara a morir en paz.
Opciones de Cuidado para Fin De Vida
La ayuda médica para morir ha encabezado los titulares latinos en Nueva York por las súplicas del recién fallecido Miguel Carrasquillo y el nuevo apoyo para esta opción de cuidado de fin de vida, por parte del vicepresidente de la Asamblea Félix W. Ortiz y el Asambleista Robert J. Rodríguez.
La Ayuda Médica para Morir está actualmente autorizada en seis estados: Oregón, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California y Colorado. Asimismo, el congreso está revisando un proyecto de ley que fue aprobado por el consejo de D.C., para autorizar esta opción de cuidados de fin de vida.
El sufrimiento horrible que vivió Miguel por el cáncer cerebral, lo motivó a grabar videos en Inglés y en Español, donde suplico a los legisladores de todo el país, que apoyaran las leyes de ayuda médica para morir, incluyendo los estados donde vivió, tales como Nueva York, Illinois, y su natal de Puerto Rico. Miguel también grabó videos en Inglés y Español, solo 10 días antes de su agonizante muerte el 5 de junio del 2016.
Han pasado ocho meses desde la muerte de Miguel, joven católico de 35 años. Sin embargo, su muerte está haciendo una diferencia entre la comunidad latina por la cual luchó hasta su último suspiro.
De hecho, el 69% de latinos a nivel nacional apoyan la ayuda médica para morir, de acuerdo a una encuesta nueva realizada por Lifeway Research. La mayoría de los grupos religiosos que participaron en la encuesta también dijeron que la ayuda médica para morir es “moralmente aceptable” incluyendo: 70% de católicos; 59% de todos los cristianos; 53% de protestantes; 70% de personas de otras religiones y un 84% de aquellos que se identificaron como no religiosos.
Hace poco conocí a la madre de Miguel, Nilsa Centeno, cuando nos unimos a Compassion & Choices para lanzar la campaña bilingüe en Nueva York en noviembre, para educar a los residentes estatales sobre la propuesta de ley bipartidista de ayuda médica para morir. Hablamos sobre los últimos deseos de su hijo que pedía el apoyo latino para la ayuda médica que no que no tuvo disponible en su natal, Puerto Rico. Su sufrimiento me recordó la dolorosa muerte de mi hermano.
Opciones de Cuidados Para Fin de Vida
Por supuesto que esta opción de cuidado de fin de vida puede no es para todos. Mucha gente buena y de fe tiene diferentes opiniones sobre que tipo de decisiones son mejores para ellos en en la etapa final de una enfermedad terminal.
Hay muchas maneras de encontrarse con Dios, y los neoyorquinos tienen una amplia gama de creencias espirituales y tradiciones.
Mi Dios es un Dios amoroso y compasivo. Es un Dios que no abandona a una persona que está agonizando. Es un Dios que no niega los medios para morir tranquilamente. Creo que nuestro estado debe adoptar una ley que permita a los neoyorquinos con enfermedades terminales morir sin sufrimiento, de la forma que sea consistente con su propia fe, sus valores y sus creencias.
Religious leaders from several faith traditions gathered today at the Capitol to hold a first-ever New York faith gathering to urge passage of the Medical Aid in Dying Act (S.3151/A.2383), which would provide terminally ill, mentally competent adult New Yorkers with the legal right to request a prescription to bring about a peaceful death.
The religious leaders – who spend countless hours comforting dying parishioners and their families – participating in the faith gathering were:
Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, Jr., Senior Pastor, Mount Neboh Baptist Church of Harlem and
President, Mobilizing Preachers & Communities (MPAC) Rabbi Dr. David Gordis, Visiting Senior Scholar, University at Albany Rev. Valerie Ross, Senior Community Minister, Judson Memorial Church, Greenwich Village Rev. Dr. Richard Gilbert, Retired Minister, First Unitarian Church, Rochester Father Luis Barrios, Episcopalian Priest in Charge, Holyrood Episcopal Church/Iglesia
Episcopal Santa Cruz, Upper West Side, Manhattan
If the Medical Aid in Dying Act is enacted, it would allow New York to join six other states – Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, and Colorado – in allowing residents this end-of-life option. Oregon’s law has been on the books, without any adverse impacts, for two decades. A law to legalize aid in dying has also been passed in Washington, D.C.
Support for medical aid in dying is overwhelming and growing. LifeWay Research (Biblical Solutions for Life) released a national survey in December 2016 finding 69 percent of Americans agree that, “Physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their life.” Nationally, 60 percent of Christians and 70 percent of Catholics support allowing physicians to assist terminally ill patients end their lives.
Support is even stronger in New York. A September 2015 poll of New Yorkers, commissioned by Compassion & Choices, found 77 percent support for allowing a terminally ill, mentally competent adult the option to request aid in dying medication. Broken down by religious affiliation, 83 percent of Jewish voters and 74 percent of both Catholics and Protestants support medical aid in dying.
During the gathering, which included many other supporters of medical aid in dying, the faith leaders expressed compassion for New Yorkers who have died and those who are living with a terminal illness. They shared heartwarming stories about end-of-life perspectives and experiences from some of their congregants. They expressed support for allowing all New Yorkers to make end-of-life decisions – including choosing medical aid in dying – that are consistent with their own faiths, beliefs, and values.
Rev. Green said: “Preachers across New York spend a great deal of time helping comfort individuals and families during illness and death. We are the ones called to the bedside to witness the suffering of dying people and their families. Talking about death and dying, particularly in African American communities, is too often taboo, and we need to change that. Opening up honest conversations about how people want to be cared for at the end of their lives is something we have to do, and that’s why I support legislation that would allow people the freedom to make their own decisions about death and dying, guided by their own faith.”
Rabbi Gordis said: “Our religious traditions embody a range of views on death and dying. A paramount principle for me is that we have an obligation to reduce suffering when we can. At the most personal and inevitable point in life, the approach of the end of life, it should be the prerogative of the individual to decide how to deal with the physical and emotional challenges we all face. The law should protect that prerogative and not impose the values of others, religious or political, on the freedom of the individual to make those decisions.”
Rev. Ross said: “Everybody dies. I have spent hours comforting the dying and their families, and while heartbreaking it is also often heartwarming. For some, death is simple. For others, death is made more difficult by a lack of systemic compassion in our legal systems. We protect people who are ready to go, often for reasons we don’t fully understand. Making more compassionate laws around dying helps everybody. It gives us the comfort we need from our society and our governments. New York has been a leader before. Why not again?”
Rev. Gilbert said: “As people of faith we understand death to be a part of life. Sometimes it is friend, not enemy. All of us have been at the bedside along with families of dying people who simply wish the end that they know is coming to be peaceful. Sometimes it is not peaceful. The last right of a human being is the right to die with dignity. As has been said, ‘The body should be the temple of the soul and not its prison.’ ”
Father Barrios said: “I don’t have a problem with the notion of death, because death is a part of life. It’s how we face it and the way we go through the dying process that makes a difference. And while everyone’s dying process is different, for some, it is a death process that is unnecessarily painful, punishing or protracted. In those cases, people should have the ability to bring themselves to a peaceful death.”
Corinne Carey, Compassion & Choices NY campaign director, said: “The Medical Aid in Dying Act safeguards freedom of religion for New Yorkers because it allows all of us to make our own decisions based on our own faith and beliefs. The bill includes strong protections of conscience that will ensure that no one who is dying can be compelled to ask for aid in dying, and no doctor can be forced to prescribe the medication. Authorizing this important end-of-life option will not jeopardize the rights of those who believe that aid in dying is wrong for them because of their faith beliefs; however, denying the right to seek aid in dying because some object on the basis of faith would infringe on the rights of those who do not share those religious beliefs.”
Senator Diane Savino (IDC-Staten Island) said: “Today’s faith gathering is the next step in our fight to bring Aid in Dying to New Yorkers. Aid in Dying is not something everyone would choose, but it’s a choice everyone should have, no matter how or where you worship. I’m a Catholic, and my faith is important to me, but allowing patients, their families and doctors to discuss a safe and compassionate way to end their suffering is important to me and millions of New Yorkers. I am so proud of the religious leaders today who are voicing their support for Aid in Dying, and I want to thank them for coming to Albany to let elected officials in on a little secret – when an issue is supported by more than 80 percent of New Yorkers, it’s not controversial to support it, it’s common sense.”
Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) said: “End of life decisions, like religion, are deeply personal and shouldn’t be subject to government control. New York needs to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act to provide mentally-competent individuals with a terminal diagnosis the freedom to control the terms of their death. It is especially important that Albany acts now in the face of a new federal administration and a Supreme Court pick that questions whether we should have the right to make these vital determinations for ourselves.”
Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried (D-Manhattan) said: “This bill is about patient autonomy and dignity. For over a hundred years, New York law has recognized that adults with mental capacity have the right to refuse life-saving treatment. Morally and legally, they should have the right to end their suffering through medication if that is their own choosing. We had a thoughtful and passionate debate last year when we advanced the bill out of the Health Committee, and I look forward to moving the bill forward again this session towards Assembly passage.”
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) said: “This compassionate bill ensures that we honor those who fought for legislation to expand end-of-life care options for terminally ill adults with appropriate protections to prevent any type abuse and misuse. Medical aid in dying is an end-of-life option that is a matter of personal freedom and liberty. We need to stop criminalizing medical aid in dying and honor the wishes of terminally ill individuals.”
Compassion & Choices blasted the House Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Committee tonight for voting 22-14 to advance a disapproval resolution, H.J. Res. 27, to overturn the D.C. Death with Dignity Act. The resolution will face a vote by the full House of Representatives this week.
“We will work with our partners, advocates and D.C. residents living with advanced illness to do everything in our power to protect the D.C. Death with Dignity Act,” said Jessica Grennan, National Director of Political Affairs and Advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “It is a dangerous path for Congress to interfere with the democratic process in setting local policy in the District of Columbia and it clearly contradicts the D.C. Home Rule Act’s Statement of Purposes.”
The law would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to request from their physicians, a prescription medication which they may decide to self-administer to bring about a peaceful death. D.C. residents support medical aid in dying by a 2-1 margin, according to a July 2015 Lake Research poll. D.C. residents’ elected officials, the D.C. Council, overwhelmingly voted to pass the legislation by an 11-2 margin,andyet the OGR Committee proceeded to pass the resolution after refusing to hold a single hearing to listen to their perspectives.
“Lawmakers who do not represent D.C. residents should not take away the peace of mind that this option brings to terminally ill adults knowing they can end their suffering if it becomes intolerable,” said D.C. resident Mary Klein, who has incurable ovarian cancer and is featured in a YouTube video about why she supports medical aid in dying (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZziF0U79jkA&feature=youtu.be). “The personal opinions of House Oversight Committee Chairman Chaffetz and other committee members who oppose medical aid in dying should not interfere with the will of the D.C. residents like me, who overwhelmingly support this legislation.”
The D.C. Death with Dignity Act was transmitted to Congress for a 30 legislative day review period on Jan. 6, 2017. The bill will take effect at the expiration of the review period, unless Congress passes a joint disapproval resolution and the president signs it during that period.
Compassion & Choices today released a public service announcement in Spanish featuring Mexican actor Mauricio Ochmann urging Latinos to support the bipartisan Medical Aid in Dying Act that was reintroduced last month at the state Capitol.
Ochmann, known as “Chema Venegas” in the popular Telemundo telenovelas El Chema and El Señor de los Cielos, recorded the 15-second video in Los Angeles. The video was released exclusively today by People en Español. Click here to view it.
“Hi, I’m Mauricio Ochmann, and I support Compassion & Choices’ death-with-dignity campaign because it’s my life, my death and my choice,” he states in the PSA.
The New York legislation would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully if their suffering becomes unbearable. Medical aid in dying is currently authorized in six states: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California and Colorado. In addition, Congress is reviewing a bill the D.C. Council approved to authorize this end-of-life care option.
“We are honored to have the support of Mauricio Ochmann because his endorsement carries great weight, especially among those in the Latino community,” said Patricia A. González-Portillo, Compassion & Choices’ national communications manager. “We hope ‘El Chema’s’ popularity among this important community will help convince people who are considering supporting medical aid-in-dying legislation.”
Miguel’s horrific suffering from terminal brain cancer prompted him to record videos in English and in Spanish to urge legislators across the country to pass medial aid-in-dying laws, including in his former home states of New York and Illinois, and native Puerto Rico. Miguel also recorded this this cell phone video on May 25, 2016, just 11 days before his agonizing death on June 5, 2016 (Spanish version of video).
Eight months have passed since Miguel, a Catholic, died at the young age of 35. But his death is already making a difference among the Latino community he fought for until his last breath.
In fact, 69% of Hispanics nationwide support medical aid in dying, according to a new survey conducted by LifeWay Research. Most religious group members who participated in the survey also said medical aid in dying is “morally acceptable,” including 70% of Catholics, 59% of all Christians, 53% of Protestants, 70% of people in other religions and 84% of those who identified as nonreligious.
“As Latinos, we learn early on to accept death because of our culture’s reverence to celebrate the lives of our beloved dead,” Ochmann said. “However, we are afraid to talk about death itself,” he states in a separate interview. “We must honor our dying loved ones in their final days and give them the opportunity to control the timing and manner of their passing.”
“I know I am going to die because that is a guarantee in life. I don’t know when, but when that time comes, I have told my family and the people I love that I do not want to be connected to tubes, catheters and needles,” Ochmann added. “I will take the pain until it is intolerable. But once it becomes unbearable, I will die with dignity.”
Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz referred to the bill as a “compassionate bill to ensure that we honor those who fought for legislation to expand end-of-life care options for terminally ill adults with appropriate protections to prevent any type abuse and misuse.”
“Medical aid in dying is an end-of-life option that is a matter of personal freedom and liberty,” he said. “We need to stop criminalizing medical aid in dying and honor the wishes of terminally ill individuals.”
The nation’s leading end-of-life choice advocacy organization, Compassion & Choices, warned that Senate confirmation of President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, could seriously weaken the right of individuals to make their own personal healthcare decisions.
Kevin Diaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices
Judge Gorsuch opposes medical aid in dying as an option for mentally capable, terminally ill adults to peacefully end unbearable suffering. He wrote “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia (2006),” heralded as “the most comprehensive argument against their legalization – ever published.”
“A judge who is willing to allow others, including corporations, to impose their religious beliefs on individuals making personal healthcare decisions at the end of life would be a dangerous addition to the nation’s highest court,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “Medical aid in dying gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable and die peacefully in their sleep. Medical aid in dying is different from a legal and medical standpoint than assisted suicide or euthanasia, which are both unlawful throughout the United States.”
“Twice since 1998 we have prevailed at the U.S. Supreme Court and achieved protection for Oregon’s medical aid-in-dying law from federal tampering,” said Díaz. “If Judge Gorsuch sits on the high court, we could imagine a Supreme Court decision that prevents meaningful access to medical aid in dying nationwide. A change in the Court’s position could significantly impact Americans’ freedom to make healthcare decisions in line with their own values across the country.”
National and state polling consistently shows the vast majority of Americans across the political and religious spectrum support medical aid in dying. This end-of-life care option is authorized in six states: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California and Colorado. In addition, Congress is reviewing medical aid in dying legislation approved by the D.C. Council and 16 states are considering similar legislation (Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Utah).
“We may be entering the most challenging era this movement has ever seen,” concluded Díaz. “We are already gearing up to protect these rights and build partnerships with national legal organizations to join us in this fight. And our on-the-ground action teams are growing their ranks and getting poised to act to oppose this nomination. It could be the difference between the opportunity to build on the momentum of recent legislative victories California in 2015, and Colorado and Washington, D.C. in 2016, and the erosion of the right of individuals to make their own personal healthcare decisions.”
Two physicians are urging a Massachusetts Superior Court to reject a motion to dismiss their lawsuit asserting current state law allows doctors to write prescriptions for medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults because one defendant in the suit has threatened to prosecute prescribing doctors for murder.
That is one of the arguments in a complaint filed on Wednesday urging the court to reject a motion to dismiss the lawsuit by Compassion & Choices and two Barnstable County physicians, Roger Kligler and Alan Steinbach. Dr. Kligler, a Falmouth resident, who was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer and wants the option to get a prescription for medication he can decide to take to die peacefully in his sleep if his suffering becomes unbearable. Dr. Steinbach, a Woods Hole resident, wants to be able to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication without fear of prosecution.
“Defendants [Attorney General Maura Healey and Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe] argue that there is no actual controversy that requires the court’s determination of this case because there is no threat of prosecution,” the complaint states. “Defendants are wrong. The DA himself has stated that medical aid in dying would result in the charge of murder,” citing a story published in the Cape Cod Times on Oct. 26, two days after the suit was filed on Oct. 24.
“The severity of the punishment in this case makes it unreasonable to require a physician to advise about or prescribe medical aid in dying and face a potential criminal prosecution before challenging the application of criminal laws to medical aid in dying,” the complaint concludes. “If, as the defendants argue, the courts should decline to consider issues important to public policy, such restriction on courts would reduce the judiciary into a second-class branch of government that can only deal with unimportant issues.”
Compassion & Choices today brought 165 of its Maryland supporters to meet with their state legislators in Annapolis to urge them to pass the “Richard E. Israel and Roger ‘Pip’ Moyer End of Life Options Act.” The legislation would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable so they can die peacefully in their sleep.
“I love life. I love being a parent to my 17-year-old son and working toward becoming a minister, a journey I started several years ago,” said Rockville resident Alexa Fraser, who was diagnosed in December with a rare and aggressive type of Gynecological cancer. “I just want the ability to choose a peaceful death with my family around me rather than one filled with pain, or drowning in my bodily fluids, or with my abdomen bursting as happened to a good friend with abdominal cancer.”
“Our momentum is building. Our Maryland action teams have doubled; our supporters have increased by over 30 percent, and we have more bill co-sponsors than last year,” said Kensington resident Kim Callinan, Chief Program Officer for Compassion & Choices. “We expect our legislators to listen to the voices of the people who voted them into office and pass this legislation this year.”
“The End of Life Options Act gives a dying person relief and peace of mind at a terrifying time when they are facing unbearable suffering,” said Sen. Guzzone. “It is time we bring this policy to Maryland residents so that they are offered the control and autonomy that we deserve — and the peace of mind that goes along with it — as they approach this inevitable transition that we each will face.”
“It’s time for Marylanders to have this additional end-of-life care option, along with the other six states that now authorize it,” said Del. Pendergrass.
Medical aid in dying is authorized in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, and Colorado with a combined 30+ years of experience with this proven and effective medical practice. In addition, Congress is reviewing medical aid-in-dying legislation passed by the D.C. Council in November and signed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in December.
According to Del. Hill, who is a physician, “This bill supports an important tenet of patient centered care – respect for an individual’s patient’s values, priorities and autonomy throughout their life, including the very end.”
The legislation also is endorsed by the ACLU, Maryland Libertarian Party, Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ, and United Seniors of Maryland, whose member organizations include 2.5 million seniors.
“I believe that quality of life is important to God,” said Rev. Alexander F. Vishio, an assistant minister for Social Justice & Witness for the Central Atlantic Conference-United Church of Christ, in Catonsville, Md. “When that quality declines irreversibly, terminally ill people may morally choose to end that life by means that are, in their own way, an affirmation of divinely endowed human intelligence and dignity.”