Death with Dignity Hot Topic in Northeast

.
VT Gov. Shumlin, photo care of the New England Governors' Conference
VT Gov. Shumlin, photo care of the New England Governors’ Conference

Earlier this month, Peg Sandeen mentioned how the recent high-profile work in Massachusetts has elevated and amplified the national conversation about assisted death. And in just in the last week, I’ve noticed a marked increase in articles about Death with Dignity laws throughout the northeast region. Coverage continued in Massachusetts, and opinion pieces in favor or Death with Dignity popped up multiple times in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont.

Some highlights:

  • VTDigger and other media outlets picked up Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s strong statements about what he’d like to see as legislative priorities in the upcoming session. Regarding Death with Dignity:

    It’s the right thing to do, and the Legislature will do what’s right for Vermonters.

    Shumlin said he supports the Death with Dignity bill because he doesn’t understand why the state should interfere in a private decision made by an individual who has a terminal illness and wants to avoid suffering through the last 10 to 14 days of life.

  • Asbury Park Press and the Daily Record published several opinion pieces and letters in support of New Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli’s Death with Dignity bill introduced earlier this year.
    • Ron Esser in Monmouth Beach encouraged others to respect our country’s diversity of religion saying, “I believe we should all be given the right to make the choice to die when there is no medical likelihood we will survive. Religions of all types pose as being all knowing in these cases, and they impose their interpretation of God’s will upon us.”
    • Roseann Sellani, a nurse and attorney from Pittsgrove, stated her support for the proposed law for the sake of open and honest conversations about end-of-life options: “The proposed Death with Dignity Act opens the door to frank discussions by doctors with their patients because it will give patients a choice, about whether to endure or not, and permit physicians to include discussions about allowing the illness to take its course.”
    • Linda Kilcrease from Dover wrote about how the Oregon law has become a leader in hospice care stating, “Oregon is a great success story. A leader in hospice care, only 1 in 500 terminally ill patients use the medicine. Others feel great peace knowing they have a choice, and there has been no case of abuse.”
    • Reverend Bill Neely from Princeton told a heartbreaking story of a woman who should have had the option to control the manner and timing of her death and why people should have more options at the end of their lives: “For some, it is a final act of dignity, made with clarity and purpose. And a compassionate state can legislate this option for those who seek it rather than denying it to everyone.”
  • The Hartford Courant published an editorial which included a great summary about how the Oregon Death with Dignity Act has worked and how thoroughly it’s been challenged and found to be a model law for improved end-of-life options. A common theme among many of these opinion pieces, the Courant’s editorial also stressed the importance of respecting religious diversity:

    The last time the issue got as far as a public hearing in Connecticut, in 1995, opposition came mostly from religious groups. They are entitled to their beliefs, of course, but many of the arguments they put forth have since been proved wrong in Oregon, which has had a Death with Dignity law on the books for 15 years; Washington has a similar law.

  • Norm Pattis, a Connecticut based trial lawyer wrote an editorial for the New Haven Register imploring his state to better understand its role in end-of-life care:

    The point, Socrates once said, is not merely to live, but to live well. The state has no business policing the boundaries of life and death once a person decides it’s time to go.

There’s no question, the conversation about end-of-life options including Death with Dignity is increasing. Before too long, lawmakers will have no choice but to listen to the will of the people. The Death with Dignity National Center will stand with them, just as we did this year in Massachusetts, in Washington in 2008, and 18 years ago in Oregon.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center



Giving Thanks

To bring Death with Dignity to Massachusetts, a tremendous network of supporters provided financial and vocal support, and many volunteers made a commitment to share their stories in public speaking venues all over the state. Two individuals in particular, Heather Clish and Jim Carberry, shared intimate personal stories about their loved ones’ experiences with death, poignantly illustrating the need for Death with Dignity. We’d like to acknowledge their hard work and dedication. Please join us in thanking them.

Heather Clish shared her father’s experience early in the state’s effort to pass Death with Dignity. Back in May, their viewpoint on the initiative was featured in a Sunday Boston Globe Magazine story. During a visit in Boston, Heather’s father learned he had terminal brain cancer. Being an Oregon resident, he had the option to request medication to decide the timing and manner of his death as allowed under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

When his pain and suffering became too great for the doctors to relieve, he decided to take the medication. As reported in the Boston Globe feature, Heather and her sisters were able to travel to Oregon to be with their dad in his final moments:

Clish and her two sisters filled his ears with pleasant images. Mary Lou lay in his arms, as he’d wanted. He had earlier told her, “I hope I will be holding you when I take my last breath.” Johnson slipped into what looked like a deep sleep. After about 15 minutes, his pulse stopped.

Jim Carberry’s wife, Margie, wasn’t so fortunate; she died after a long, painful, and protracted death. Margie didn’t have the option to die on her own terms in the final stages of her terminal illness—something she so desperately wanted after her tumor aggressively returned in 2007.

She wanted to survive long enough to see their daughters graduate from high school and endured many invasive medical procedures to keep her body functional through those milestones. She was out of curative treatment options. Even after chemotherapy was no longer helping, she worked with her medical team to keep her body going.

Margie lived to see both of their daughters graduate, and through both graduations she was a radiant, proud mother who celebrated her daughters’ achievements. A week after graduation, she spoke with her family, clergy, and medical team and decided to remove her feeding tube and meet death on her terms. Though she was ready, she suffered another five weeks before her body gave out.

Jim and Heather selflessly shared their stories with their fellow Commonwealth residents for the same reason—they both wanted their state to enact a law which would ensure an additional safeguarded option for a peaceful death. Jim wanted to make sure no one else would be forced to endure the long, difficult death Margie had, and Heather told her story to help Bay Staters see there can be more options when facing a terminal illness.

Recounting a loved one’s death is never easy; it takes a person back to the sad farewells and tearful final days. To do so in the public eye on TV, in newspaper interviews, and through state-wide debates is even more emotionally draining. Heather and Jim not only donated their time and energy, they gave a piece of themselves to help the people of Massachusetts better understand the Death with Dignity initiative.

Their willingness to share their stories throughout the Massachusetts effort helped change the national conversation around death, dying, and assisted death, and that is a huge step forward for our entire movement. We’d like your help thanking Jim and Heather for everything they’ve done. Please take a moment to sign your name to our online thank you card.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

Engage Friends and Family with Grace

The One Slide Project
The One Slide Project via Engage with Grace

“Darrin, long time no see! What’s new in your advance directive these days?”

“Man, home is where the heart is. If I had my druthers, I’d want to die here.”

“Aunt Freda’s gravy recipe! She had everything documented, didn’t she? It’s no wonder our cousins knew exactly what she wanted for her end-of-life care.”

It’s easy to avoid talking about subjects which make us uncomfortable, and few are more uncomfortable than thinking about our own deaths. Unless someone you know died recently, the subject of death isn’t likely to come up in casual conversation. That’s why this time of year, blogs dedicated to end-of-life care rally together to encourage people to Engage with Grace this weekend when family and friends are gathered to give thanks.

Opening the conversation is the hard part, but once the conversation’s started you’ll likely find people are interested in sharing what would contribute to a good death in their eyes. Last year, I learned some unexpected things about what one of my relatives wants in her final hours. Before our conversation, I had no idea she hopes a particular woman in their community who helps people through the journey of dying could be at her bedside along with her family, but throughout our talk she painted a mental image of what her ideal death would be like. My life is richer for knowing more about her wishes, and I feel confident I’ll now be able to talk to other family members about her wishes if the occasion arises.

Starting this discussion is the hard part; so, let’s work together. What’s your opening line to talk about your end-of-life wishes? Tell us in the comments section below.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

Children’s Grief Awareness Day

"Sad Child" by Anthony Kelly on flickr
“Sad Child” by Anthony Kelly on flickr

Jennifer Marsh, LMFT, MS is the Community Education & Outreach Coordinator at The Center for Compassionate Care of The Elizabeth Hospice. She is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist, with a certification in Crisis and Trauma Intervention.

My first experience with death came at the age of 12. I remember the day as if it were yesterday, instead of 20+ years ago. I was in my classroom at school, balancing between two desks on my hands with my feet raised when the teacher came to get me. My mom was there, she said, and it was time for me to get my things and go home. I walked out of that classroom with a horrible feeling in my stomach I just couldn’t put into words—and it deepened the moment I caught a glimpse of my mom. She had obviously been crying and looked as if someone had just knocked her over. All she could manage to say was, “It’s Grandpa. He’s gone.”

I was old enough to know gone meant he had died. He’d suffered multiple strokes over the past few months and the last time I saw my Grandpa, he was in a facility with all sorts of tubes coming out from all over the place. Gone meant he wasn’t there, in that bed, anymore. Gone meant we’d never see him again. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how this one experience would impact how I coped with grief throughout my life.

That was the only conversation I ever remember having with my parents about the death of my grandfather, or about the grief I experienced. I was confused about the differing emotions around me and was unable to express how I was truly feeling. For quite some time, it was believed that by not discussing grief and loss with children we were somehow protecting them from the pain of life. What we’ve learned is silence oftentimes can be more harmful than protective. Children are intuitive and observant and have an innate sense their lives and the lives of those around them have suddenly been thrust into a state of turmoil.

November 15, 2012 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day, a day designated to bring awareness to the fact that children do, in fact, experience grief and loss and to encourage support and conversation among our families and communities.

How can we support children and teens?

  • Begin the conversation. It’s not an easy discussion to have with children, the most important thing you can do to give a voice to what children are feeling.
  • Listen. Don’t judge. Children may or may not have the emotional vocabulary to tell you how they’re feeling, so their behavior may be the cues you need.
  • Ease their fears. When life changes unexpectedly, our first reaction is one of fear.
  • Be there. There’s no “right” way of supporting children through a loss, but your presence alone can do more than any words of comfort.

Learn more about Children’s Grief Awareness Day by visiting their website.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

It’s too close to call

Despite strong early support for Death with Dignity in Massachusetts the final vote tally is too close to call right now. Support is still strong, and however this election turns out, it’ll continue to grow as more people learn the truth about Death with Dignity.

When Oregon voters first approved of the first groundbreaking Death with Dignity in 1994, it was also too close to call. The final result was 51.3% to 48.7%. Not since Washingtonians approved their state’s Death with Dignity law in 2008 has another state come so close to passing the next Death with Dignity Act by ballot initiative. The recent efforts in Massachusetts have directly changed the national conversation around death, dying, and assisted death, and that is a huge step forward for our entire movement.

Everyone deserves to decide how to live the rest of their lives when death is near. We’ll continue to move forward as people throughout the US join their voices together to demand more end-of-life options. The Death with Dignity National Center will stand with them, just as we did this year in Massachusetts, in Washington in 2008, and 18 years ago in Oregon.

Keep checking here, Twitter, or Facebook for the latest news about Massachusetts.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

Massachusetts Voters Deny Rights to Terminally-Ill People

Massachusetts Question 2 election results: 49% (yes) to 51% (no)

Despite strong early support for Death with Dignity in Massachusetts the final vote tally didn’t give more Americans another end-of-life option. In the end, the opponents’ enormous smear campaign based on fear and misinformation won the day. But the foundation for support has been built, and we’ll keep working to make sure voters in Massachusetts and other states get the facts they need for an open and honest debate about Death with Dignity.

Together, we’ve changed the entire conversation around end-of-life care policy reform. A little over a year ago, many people in Massachusetts and throughout New England started hearing about Death with Dignity laws for the first time, and since that time, the need for these carefully crafted laws has been a hot topic on television programs, news publications, blogs, editorial columns, and countless letters to editors.

Polls showed people were ready for a Death with Dignity law in Massachusetts, and many shared their stories with the public at an unprecedented level. One such person is Jim Carberry.  He, like so many of you who’ve come to support Death with Dignity, watched a loved one die a long, painful, and protracted death. His wife, Margie didn’t have the option to die on her own terms in the final stages of her terminal illness—something she so desperately wanted after her tumor aggressively returned in 2007.

She wanted to survive long enough to see their daughters graduate from high school and endured many invasive medical procedures to keep her body functional through those milestones. She was out of curative treatment options. Even after chemotherapy was no longer helping, she worked with her medical team to keep her body going.

Margie lived to see both of their daughters graduate, and through both graduations she was radiant, a proud mother who celebrated her daughters’ achievements. A week after graduation, she spoke with her family, clergy, and medical team and decided to remove her feeding tube and meet death on her terms.

Though she was ready, she suffered another five weeks before her body gave out. Margie wanted the option to shorten her suffering, but that option doesn’t yet exist in her state.

Margie wasn’t alone in her support for a Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act. Polls before the election showed a strong majority of peop

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

Lies, lies, lies!

Opponents' False Advertising care of Dignity 2012
Opponents’ False Advertising care of Dignity 2012

Opponents of Death with Dignity are at it again. Like they did in Oregon in 1994 and 1997 and in Washington in 2008, they’re running an enormous smear campaign centered around lies and half-truths to scare people away from end-of-life care policy reform. Don’t be fooled. These laws have been in effect in two states—15 years in Oregon, no less—and there’s not been a single incident to back up any of their claims.

They rely on lies because we live in a country with separation of church and state, and they know they can’t convince people to go along with their true reason for being against these laws—their own religious beliefs. If there’s any doubt about the source of their objection, check out the largest backers of the opponents in Massachusetts. Two of them, the American Family Association and the American Principles Project, are fringe, anti-gay groups, and the bulk of the rest of the donations came from Catholic Dioceses throughout the US.

If you haven’t caught their misdirection attempts, here are some of the highlights from the recent efforts in Massachusetts:

  • Fear tactic: Doctors can’t accurately predict when a patient will die.
    Truth: The prognosis of six months or fewer isn’t only based on the word of one doctor, under the law the terminal diagnosis must be confirmed by a second doctor as well. It is true studies have found doctors are sometimes inaccurate in estimating how quickly an illness will kill someone, but the vast majority of the time doctors overestimate survival, not the other way around like our opponents are suggesting. They are intentionally distorting the outcome of these studies.
  • Fear tactic: There isn’t a requirement for people to tell their families they’ve requested the medication.
    Truth: According to Death with Dignity laws, the attending physician is required to “recommend that the patient notify next of kin.” We’ve moved away from a society where the government defines family for us. This law recognizes individuals have many definitions of family.
  • Fear tactic: There’s no required psychological evaluation.
    Truth: It’s completely inaccurate to suggest there are no psychological evaluations. Both the attending and consulting physicians must attest there is no indication of depression or mental illness impairing decision-making. If there are any symptoms, the patient must be referred for a psychological evaluation. This fear tactic assumes all people who’ve been given a terminal diagnosis also suffer from mental illness.
  • Fear tactic: Patients who request the medication might not talk to hospice and palliative care professionals.
    Truth: This is a whopper! All patients who request the medication must be informed about hospice and palliative care. And, the vast majority of people who’ve requested the medication allowed under the Death with Dignity Acts in Oregon and Washington are enrolled in hospice (97% in Oregon and 83% in Washington) when they take the medication. This is much higher than the general population’s use of hospice care. The exact language from the law is: the attending physician must discuss all “feasible alternatives including, but not limited to, comfort care, hospice care, and pain control” to ensure the patient is making an informed decision.

In a telling moment in a recent televised debate, the debate moderator asked Rosanne Meade, the chairperson of a group working against the Massachusetts Death with Dignity initiative, if all the additional safeguards they’re asking for were included in the law, “would you philosophically still be opposed to this?” Meade refused to answer the question. Why? Like others in Meade’s camp, she wouldn’t support this law no matter how many restrictions the opponents might add. She wants voters to agree with her personal religious views, and in our country, no one’s personal beliefs should dictate laws.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

Leonard Nimoy Supports Death with Dignity

Leonard Nimoy
Watch video of Leonard Nimoy on Dignity 2012′s Facebook page

I’m known for playing a character lacking in emotion, but this issue is about human compassion for those suffering and dying. It’s maybe the most important issue you’ve not heard much about, Death with Dignity.

-Leonard Nimoy, in a PSA he did to help the Massachusetts effort

Seeing Leonard Nimoy’s video about the Massachusetts Death with Dignity initiative warmed my heart (you can view the whole video on Dignity 2012′s Facebook page). Nimoy hails from Boston, and with his celebrity and commitment to improving end-of-life options in his home state, he’ll help many others understand what it means to die with dignity.

As he says in the opening sequence of the video, Death with Dignity laws aren’t part of people’s lives most of the time. Heck, as a society we’re really good at avoiding even the general topic of death the majority of the time. For those not in a field related to end-of-life care, death happens to force its way into people’s consciousness only periodically—when writing a student essay about it, facing death as a loved one dies, or contemplating mortality because of a single experience or diagnosis. But what if death were discussed more often?

Without being more open about discussing death and dying, many people are dying having never heard about end-of-life resources like hospice and palliative care and enduring invasive procedures they didn’t want because they didn’t tell their loved ones about their end-of-life care wishes. More than ever, people are spending their final days in an environment where none of us want to end up: the ICU. What a tragedy. By avoiding talking about death, people are actually suffering more as they die.

Thankfully, Nimoy isn’t the only celebrity willing to talk about the realities of dying. A few weeks back, columnist, Ellen Goodman helped launch The Conversation Project, and she’s been joined by several of her peers in the media, including Diane Sawyer and Tom Brokaw, to bring end-of-life care discussions out into the open.

It’s not that celebrities have more knowledge about end-of-life issues than the rest of us, but they have a way to get the information out to a much larger audience. Hopefully, as well-known individuals continue to have these public conversations, death will be a subject our society won’t be as eager to avoid. Talking more about the end of our lives and how we want to live them will lead us to knowing more about our options, and in the end, that knowledge can help us all die better.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center