End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Posts Taggedend-of-life choice

Vermont Becomes First Legislature to Approve Death-with-Dignity Legislation

by Compassion & Choices Staff

CONTACT: Sean Crowley, 202-550-6524

Politics Shift as Lawmakers Embrace Nationwide Support for End-of-Life Choices

(Washington, D.C. – May 13, 2013) The nation’s leading end-of-life choice advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, praised the Vermont legislature for becoming the first legislative body in the nation to approve death-with-dignity legislation. Gov. Peter Shumlin has vowed to sign the bill into law.

“This historic legislative victory proves that the aid-in-dying issue is no longer the third rail of politics. In fact, it’s a winning issue on which Gov. Shumlin campaigned,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant who co-authored the nation’s first Death-with-Dignity law in Oregon and was a senior advisor for the nation’s second Death-with-Dignity law in Washington state, both approved by ballot initiatives. “We congratulate Patient Choices Vermont for its leadership of this multi-year campaign. Their success shows aid in dying has become a legislative winner.” More

Bill to Imprison Doctors for Aid in Dying Gets Preliminary Approval from Montana Legislature Gov. Bullock Urged to Veto Bill Opposed by 73% of Montanans

Contact: Sean Crowley, seancrowley57@gmail.com

by Compassion & Choices staff
April 11, 2013

(Washington, D.C. – Apr. 11, 2013) The Montana Senate today gave preliminary approval to a House-passed bill to imprison doctors for up to 10 years if they provide aid in dying to terminally ill patients, despite a new poll showing nearly three-quarters of state voters oppose the legislation. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to approve the bill, HB505, but today the Senate approved a motion to “blast” it out of committee to the Senate floor by a 31-17 vote. This procedural vote means that unless some senators change their minds on the 2nd or 3rd and final reading of HB 505, it will become law unless Gov. Steve Bullock vetoes the bill.

“We urge Montana senators who voted ‘aye’ to reverse course. This draconian bill would punish doctors for practicing good medicine and giving their suffering patients choices at the end-of-life,” 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. “If they decide to defy the will of Montana voters, we urge Gov. Bullock to correct their error and veto this bill.”

A poll of 605 likely Montana voters conducted last week 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.

If HB 505 becomes law, it would gut 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 passes, I will be thrown in prison. The government will strip away a right that the citizens of Montana now enjoy,” 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 authored an oped published Sunday in The Missoulian about treating terminally ill patients in agonizing pain.

In contrast to Montana, legislative 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.”


Right to Die: Comforting Control at the End of the Line

by Ilene Kaplan
Hartford Courant
January 11, 2013

Personal freedom, a core value among all Americans, means control of our lives at all times. We cherish and protect personal choice. After a lifetime exercising this freedom, people should not be denied control when excruciating illness is poised to claim their body.

Terminally ill patients want control at the end of their life, just as they’ve always controlled their other health decisions. They want assurance that if suffering and indignity make living unbearable, they have the means to peacefully end it.

Legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly that would allow a physician to prescribe medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill patient who can self-administer the medication to bring about a peaceful death. I hope, after appropriate debate, such a bill will be passed. It is time we give grown-ups the freedom to choose and let physicians willing to provide this choice feel safe in doing so. Connecticut needs a rational public policy for every end-of-life option.

In states where it is legal, aid in dying provides great comfort not only for the very few who actually use it, but for many others in just knowing the choice exists. For patients staring an unbearable death in the face — and those close to them witnessing this anguished decline — the option to end their suffering in a peaceful way is an enormous comfort. It is not for the government or anyone else to say that is wrong. More

Choosing Options for Life-Sustaining Care: Advance Directive Will Ensure Your Wishes Are Followed

The Chicago Tribune
January 9, 2012

Mr. J. had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) for advanced heart failure. Having survived one episode of cardiac arrest, in which he nearly died, he was at high risk for another episode caused by a rapid, unorganized heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation. Should this happen, the ICD would shock his heart back into normal rhythm. But at his daughter’s wedding, the ICD fired nine times. Each time, it saved his life, but the painful episodes terrified him, and he asked that the ICD be turned off.

Dr. Eva Chittenden, associate director of palliative care at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, met with Mr. J. to explore his decision further. He stated that he’d already been hospitalized five times within 12 months, and he felt this took too much time away from his family.

They discussed his personal values and what action he’d want taken if his heart stopped, and the ICD was no longer there to revive him.

After long talks with Dr. Chittenden and his family, Mr. J. chose a “Do Not Attempt Resuscitation/Do Not Intubate (DNAR/DNI)” order. The decision meant he could continue seeing his cardiologist and other doctors, remain on his medications, and return to the hospital for intravenous diuretics. But he would not be revived if his heart stopped.

Doctors wish all their patients would make their preferences known in advance, like Mr. J. did. 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