Board Member Spotlight: George Eighmey, JD

George Eighmey
George Eighmey

As a young boy back in Waterloo, IA, George Eighmey (pronounced Amy) helped care for his dying aunt. He remembers her begging for relief from her suffering, but not receiving it. He thought then it was cruel no one was able to comfort her. Later, while in high school, George worked part-time as an orderly in a nursing home where he saw excruciating pain and suffering go untreated. He was told “redemptive suffering” cleansed the soul and assured one entry to heaven. By then, he began to question why patients had to endure this treatment when there were means available to ease their condition and would allow them to die peacefully. His aunt’s death and the nursing home experience made an indelible impression on George that in many ways led him into his careers.

After a four year stint in the Air Force as a weather instructor, George enrolled in college using the GI Bill and graduated from the University of Illinois Schools of Administration and Law. As an attorney, he went on to practice in the areas of estate and family law, working for people facing day to day problems and end-of-life issues. His youthful memories formed his belief that people who planned for the future, including their inevitable demise, would be able to live life to its fullest. They’d know when their final days arrived they’d be prepared and so would their families.

George was licensed to practice before the Ninth and Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Oregon and Illinois Supreme Courts, the US Tax Court, and the US Federal Appeals Court before retiring. During his practice years in Illinois, he was president of the county bar association and managing partner of his first law firm. He also served on the Urbana, Illinois city council as an elected member. He was Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus and served on his church’s council allowing him to provide assistance to those in need.

In 1982, he made the decision to alter his life course after personally experiencing discrimination and witnessing it against others. He moved to Portland, OR where he continued to practice law, but also became more involved in human rights activities. He was elected to the board of a facility treating people suffering from AIDS in 1988 and became its chair in 1990. In that position, he heard about far too many young men ending their lives tragically when their disease deprived them of any quality of life. He remembered his earlier years back in Waterloo and was determined there had to be a better way to end one’s suffering when one’s death was imminent.

His opportunity to make a difference occurred in 1993 when he was appointed to the Oregon State House of Representatives, where he served from 1993-1999. During his term as an Oregon state representative he acted as vice-chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Minority Whip, and senior Democrat leader where he was able to assist in the passage of the Death with Dignity Act, Medicinal Marijuana and Alternative Medicine laws. In 1997, during the successful second campaign to support Oregon’s right to die law, George became one of several statewide spokespeople for it. After the law went into effect, he was hired as Executive Director of Compassion & Choices of Oregon; an organization dedicated to providing nonjudgmental information on end-of-life options. He served in that position for 12 years until retiring in September, 2010. He continues to lecture on the subject of Oregon’s assisted death law throughout the US and most recently he testified in favor of the legislative passage of an Oregon type law in Vermont. As a result of his experience and recent activities, the board of Death with Dignity National Center invited him to become a member. He’s now serving as Death with Dignity National Center’s newest member and contributing to its efforts to pass Oregon type Death with Dignity laws in other states.

George is an advisory board member of Equity Foundation, the Bosco-Milligan Historic Preservation Foundation and co-author of a chapter in the book Compassion in Dying—Stories of Dignity and Choice. He’s received honors from several human rights and attorney organizations over his lifetime including from such diverse groups as Right to Pride, Oregon Gay and Lesbian Law Association, Our House of Portland, Legal Secretaries Association, and others. He and his life-partner, Peter, a land use lawyer, raised George’s two children, along with George’s former wife Marie. They sadly lost their son Greg in 2006, but are very much comforted by having their daughter Jasmine, a math and science teacher, and her husband Jeff, a sales executive, in their lives. In retirement, George remains active not only with his many causes, but enjoying outdoor activities and regular trips to NYC to enjoy Broadway plays.

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