End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Posts Taggedassisted suicide

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

CONTACT: Sean Crowley, 202-550-6524
seancrowley57@gmail.com

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

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, seancrowley57@gmail.com
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.

Compassion & Choices Montana Unsurprised That Latest Polling Confirms Support for End-of-Life Choices Regardless of Party Affiliation

by Compassion & Choices staff
April 8, 2013

73% of Montanans Oppose “Physician Imprisonment Act”

(Helena) The overwhelming majority of Montanans, to the tune of 82 percent, believe that end-of-life choices are private decisions that should be made without government interference, according to an April 2013 poll of likely voters conducted by Global Strategy Group.

A memo released by Global Strategy Group reveals that “Voters want to know they have a legal option to end their own life in a humane and dignified way: More than 7 of 10 voters (71%) say that if they were terminally ill and in severe distress, they would want the legal option to end their own life in a humane and dignified way.” The memo further goes on to say, “Broad majorities of Montanans strongly support legal end-of-life choices and strongly reject any efforts to criminalize doctors for complying with their patients’ wishes. Furthermore, these data suggest that legislators will pay a real price for supporting efforts to penalize and criminalize doctors for doing so. Ultimately, Montanans support the choice for others, want to be able to make the legal choice for themselves, and believe there is no role for government when it comes to making that choice.”

Nearly three-quarters of voters across party lines oppose HB505, which would send doctors to prison for providing medication that would allow the patient to end his or her own life in a humane and dignified way. 67 percent of voters say they would be less likely to vote for a legislator who supported such a proposal, including 53 percent who said they would be much less likely.

Emily Bentley, Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices Montana, says, “This latest polling is consistent with what we know about Montana values. People in our state agree that privacy is important and individual freedom is worth protecting. They do not want to see their doctor imprisoned for providing what they believe is good medicine. Lawmakers should pay attention.”

Dedicated to a Cause

by Barbara Coombs Lee
March 26, 2013

Last Wednesday, March 20, the Connecticut Assembly’s Public Health Committee began its consideration of a bill modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. What a day! In my 22 years of legislative work, this hearing was the most grueling — and the most inspiring — I have ever witnessed.  Compassion & Choices volunteers and supporters showed themselves to be as passionate, judicious, intelligent and dedicated as citizens can ever be. They are committed to a world of justice and mercy. And they trust in democracy to make it so.

They came because they want choice and control in their own mortal endings. But mostly, they came for others who could not — their neighbors and loved ones and people unknown to them. They came that others need not suffer against their will, and that all may have the opportunity to face death in comfort and peace of mind. My heart swelled as I sat with them and heard the witness of these decent, altruistic, dedicated people.

The day began early, as aid-in-dying supporters travelled hours to Hartford by bus, car and train to be in line by 7:00 am.  Sign-up began at 9, but being in line by 7 helped ensure an opportunity to speak. The hearing began at 10 and our bill, Compassionate Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients (HB 6645), came up about noon. Representative Betsy Ritter, the bill’s chief sponsor, spoke with eloquence and authority. Other legislators followed, and then the committee shifted gears and heard unrelated bills.

For many hours our supporters kept each other’s spirits up as they sat patiently through testimony about nursing technicians, dental hygienists, something called advance practice collaboration agreements, and tattoo artist licensure.

Some of our valiant and dedicated supporters just had to leave when their bus departed or their backs gave out. But others stayed until 1 am for their chance to speak. Yes, you read that right — they endured this process from 7 am until 1 am without complaint!!

Here are a just few of the heroes:

Shannon Sanford, a Yale-educated nurse who did her masters thesis on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.  ”Compassion & Choices were great to me when I was working on my thesis.  I can stay to the bitter end,” she told us. She had to, attending the entire 15-hour hearing as the last person to testify at approximately 1:30 am.

It fell to Shannon to present the committee with letters from all over the state. The stack was nearly a foot high, making a thump on the table.

Placing her hand on this tower of paper, Shannon said:  ”I brought my friends who are all in support of House Bill 6645″.  A legislator asked, ”I have to know, how many people signed letters?”  Shannon had a snappy response despite sitting 15 hours in a hearing room:  ”I stopped counting after 1500.”

Hunt Williams traveled over an hour to the state Capitol and waited twelve more to tell his story.

Hunt told the committee the story of his manslaughter arrest for merely cleaning a weapon his terminally ill friend, John Welles, used when he was dying of cancer. Only due to the overwhelming support and advocacy in his community of Cornwall, Connecticut, was Hunt sentenced to accelerated rehabilitation, a process that took over a year. The committee and the entire room sat in complete silence as they listened to Hunt’s riveting experience.

“Thank you sir, thank you for giving testimony.  I think I was taken aback by what you had to say,” a stunned co-chair of the committee, Senator Terry Gerratana, said.

Gloria Blick, aged 91, is a passionate advocate for end-of-life choice, as is her son Dr. Gary Blick.

When called to testify, Gloria and Dr. Blick held hands and both walked confidently to the microphone and sat together supporting each other.  Luckily, Gloria has not had a significant illness, but with her active volunteerism in the senior community, she has witnessed first-hand the pain and suffering of those at end of life, and it disturbs her greatly.

She made it clear to the committee she had been too active and too well to see her life end in a slow, relentless spiral of deterioration. Nor would she want her family, including Dr. Blick, to suffer unnecessarily with her.  ”I would never want to do that to my son,” she said.

Lillian Kaplan sat for hours waiting for her opportunity to speak out in favor of HB 6645, offering moving testimony regarding the difficult and painful death of her son-in-law Steven Kahn, who wanted to die on his own terms.  Lillian read into testimony a letter Steven wrote prior to his death.

“I am writing to you so you will not have to wonder…I’m not asking for your approval, only that you honor my judgment,” he wrote.

At the conclusion of her testimony, the Senate Chair of the Committee respectfully asked her age:  ”Well, in a year and a half I will be 100.”

Lillian, Gloria, Gary and Shannon and so many others showed themselves to be amazing and inspiring advocates. It is an honor to be able to work beside them for choice and control at life’s end.