Week 26/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

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Last week (June 22 to June 28, 2015), the California Assembly Health Committee hearing on Senate Bill 128 – End of Life Option Act was rescheduled to July 7 while the bill’s sponsors seek to round up the votes.

The Economist magazine featured a themed issue, “The right to die,” with a number of articles:

California

The postponement of the Assembly Health Committee hearing on SB 128 generated a flurry of editorials urging the Assemblymembers to pass the bill.

New Hampshire

After Governor Hasson vetoed a bill that would establish a task force exploring end-of-life options in the state, calls re-emerged calling for Death with Dignity to be legalized.

Elsewhere and Other Stories

Image by jun.skywalker.

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Week 25/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Last week (June 15 to June 21, 2015), following our presentation to the editorial board, The Washington Post endorsed Death with Dignity nationwide, including the bill currently pending in the DC Council.

California

A breather here between the historic Senate vote and the upcoming Assembly Health Committee hearing (now rescheduled to July 7).

Maine

The Maine Death with Dignity bill, LD 1270, fell short of passage by a single vote in the Senate.

Elsewhere & Other Stories

Image by Alex.

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The Washington Post Endorses Death with Dignity

There’s huge news today in our mission to give people more options about how to live their final days. And we urgently need your help.

When I visited with District of Columbia Councilmember Mary Cheh earlier this year, there was a thick binder on her desk labeled, “Death with Dignity 2011.” I knew we had found the strong ally we needed—one who had been thinking about this issue for years.

Today, just a week after we went to the Washington Post to make our case, the paper’s influential editorial board strongly endorsed her bill, the District of Columbia Death with Dignity Act of 2015. You can read the endorsement here: “A humane way to end life,” The Washington Post

The bill will give terminally ill DC residents with less than six months to live the option to end their lives at a time and place of their own choosing. It’s written carefully and narrowly, with plenty of safeguards. In fact, it’s modeled on the Oregon law that has worked flawlessly since going into effect in 1997.

Here’s why we need your help today.

Share Your Story

The bill is on the fast track. A hearing has already been scheduled for July 10.

If the bill is going to pass, the DC City Council needs to hear why you support Death with Dignity. Personal stories—from terminally ill patients, their family members, physicians and others—have been indispensable in passing Death with Dignity laws in other states.

You’ve been a steadfast supporter. Would you please tell us why by sharing your story in this simple form?

If you know anyone— a friend, a relative—with a story of their own, I’m asking you to please forward this message to them. Every story will make a real difference. We need all the stories we can get. And we’re counting on you.

Sign the Petition

In the coming weeks, we’ll bring you updates on the status of the bill and the stories we’re hearing from people who want the freedom to live their final days in peace and comfort, with their family and loved ones around them.

In the meantime, please sign this petition, asking the DC Councilmembers to support B21-0031 – Death with Dignity Act of 2015.

It’s time for DC to take its place as the fourth jurisdiction to let its qualified residents choose Death with Dignity. We’re working day and night to make it possible.

I firmly believe we can pass this law—with your continued support and commitment.

Let’s make this happen together.

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Death with Dignity and People with Disabilities

Joan Tollifson portrait

This is a guest post by Joan Tollifson (the subheadings and links are ours). Read our open call for guest posts →

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Joan Tollifson is an author and teacher who was active in the disability rights movement and the independent living movement. She was a participant in the historic month-long 504 Occupation in 1977 of the San Francisco federal building for disability rights, worked at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, and has written numerous articles on disability, several of which have appeared these anthologies on disability: Staring Back, Voices from the Edge, and With the Power of Each Breath. Disability was also a major theme in her first book, Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life, a spiritual memoir. She is the author of four books on non-duality and meditation. She lives in Ashland, Oregon. Find her online at www.JoanTollifson.com.

Much of the opposition to physician-assisted dying comes from disability rights activists who falsely assume that legalizing the right to die poses a danger to them and undermines the value of their lives. Some people with disabilities fear that physician-assisted dying is a slippery slope and that if we legalize it in any form, soon we’ll be killing all disabled babies at birth, people will be bumping off their aging grandparents to get out of caring for them, and everyone in a wheelchair will feel obligated to kill themselves so as not to be a burden. Some people with disabilities hear in the right-to-die movement the old message that we disabled folks would be better off dead and that our lives are not worth living.

I understand from my own life experience where these fears come from. I am an older person, and I was born with a disability (my father was offered the chance to smother me at birth as a result). I have also had many friends over the years with severe disabilities, as well as friends who have lived well with serious chronic pain and incapacitation. But in the case of right-to die legislation, I feel that these concerns are enormously exaggerated and actually quite paranoid and misinformed.

Safeguards in Death with Dignity laws

The current laws that allow physician-assisted dying, or death with dignity, are all very carefully crafted with many safeguards. No one behind these laws is arguing that anyone “should” end their lives, nor does having the right to choose death in certain situations mean that elders or people with disabilities are worthless or better off dead. This is about choice, not coercion or devaluing the lives of elders and people with disabilities. I seriously doubt that right-to-die laws will result in mass exterminations of elders and people with disabilities, nor do I believe that most people would allow that to happen. That certainly hasn’t been the case here in Oregon, where we do have right to die under certain, very limited conditions.

Questioning the Prolonging Life at All Costs

I question the idea that our goal as human beings should be to prolong life at all costs. This kind of thinking comes from a fear of death and a misunderstanding of life. My mother, who loved life passionately, was a strong believer in the right to die. She had no desire to linger beyond the point where life was no longer enjoyable, and she said over and over in her final years that she was ready to go. She had no fear of death. Luckily, she died without a prolonged period of excruciating pain and incapacitation. But not everyone is so lucky.

I have no desire to spend a long time incapacitated and in excruciating pain before I die. I’ve watched loved ones go through all of that, and I know it is no picnic. I saw my aunt being forced to eat in the nursing home when her body clearly wanted to stop eating so she could let go. I don’t have children or siblings or a partner to take care of me in my old age if I become debilitated, and most of my friends are my age or older. I wouldn’t want any of them to have to dedicate their remaining time and energy to taking care of me when recovery is not an option and the quality of my life is (in my estimation) miserable.

We spend an astronomical amount of money in this country on end-of-life care, often on extraordinary measures prolonging the end of life with feeding tubes and ventilators. In my case, I’d much rather have that money spent elsewhere—there are so many things it could be used for instead. I respect the right of others to have different priorities and to make different end of life choices than I would, and I’d like them to give me the same consideration and freedom. I don’t know what’s ahead for me—none of us do. I know what I think I want, and I’ve drawn up my legal papers and left instructions accordingly. At the very least, I’d like the choice.

A friend of mine who died of cancer a few years ago was very happy to be here in Oregon where Death with Dignity is legal. It wasn’t easy to get the prescription, it was a long process. My friend had to jump through many hoops to get those meds: Two doctors had to sign off, forms had to be filled out, people came to talk with my friend and her partner. And she had less than the required prognosis here in Oregon of no more than 6 months to live. In the end, she didn’t use the drugs to end her life. She kept saying it was so interesting how everything was falling away, and she ended up letting the dying process take its course. But she was very glad she had the choice.

In Support of Proposed Legislation

I hope that the legislation supporting the right to die that is currently moving through the state legislature in California and elsewhere will be successful. Those disability groups who are siding with the religious right on this issue don’t speak for all of us with disabilities. Many elders and people with disabilities very much want physician-assisted dying to be legalized.

Death is part of life, not a horrible thing. I love life, but I’m not afraid of death either. Those who feel differently are free to prolong their lives in every way possible for as long as possible. As a deeply religious person (in the truest sense of religion), I see no problem at all with ending my life at a time of my own choosing, if and when, in my judgment, that becomes the best option for myself and all concerned.

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Maine’s Historic House Vote and the Demise of LD 1270

Maine Senate Vote on LD 1270

This is a report from this week’s votes on LD 1270, a Death with Dignity bill, in Maine’s legislature, by our long-time supporter and volunteer, Valerie Lovelace.

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Valerie Lovelace is the executive director of the nonprofit It’s My Death, which she founded to honor a promise to her sister Dee, dying of cancer, “to teach others how to be with dying, how to speak and listen to one another the way we had learned to speak and listen, and how to go on even when afraid.” She is an inter-faith minister, ordained by calling, studying and practicing in the traditions of her elders and teachers, who are Native American, Christian, and Buddhist. She is a hospice volunteer, artist, and the parent of three adult children. She is also a homeopathic practitioner and a Reiki Master, retired from the U.S. Navy, and a trained EMT. She lives in Maine.

Today I am both happy and sad.

I’m happy that LD 1270, An Act Regarding Patient-Directed Care at the End-of-Life, enjoyed a Committee hearing, a Committee working session, two Senate hearings with roll call votes, an historic House hearing with a roll call vote—all in the space of just two months.

LD 1270 in the Legislature

The first Senate hearing on Monday resulted in an 18-17 vote “Ought Not to Pass”; the subsequent hearing in the House House yielded a 76-70 vote “Ought to Pass,” which sent the bill back to the Senate with the same result. Fascinating and encouraging is that these aren’t all the same votes. One Senator changed to a supportive position while another changed to opposing. That means there are changes of heart around this issue and lots of potential exists for ongoing education and advocacy in Maine’s legislature.

The bill was a late-in-the-first-half effort that took a lot of time, because four different legislative teams drafted bills. The four merged into Senator Katz’s draft, a fine piece of bi-partisan legislation, modeled on Vermont’s Act 39, with very strong sponsorship that finally went to public hearing on May 15, 2015, just one month and two days before the end of the session.

Death with Dignity in Maine Isn’t Going Away

Add to this the difficulty of getting a budget settled and all the turmoil that goes with it, and it feels to me like efforts with LD 1270 were hugely successful. I’m happy that two physicians, one in the House and one in the Senate, boldly supported the draft. But, LD 1270 is no more.

After the Tuesday session, Senator Katz said of the Senate’s failure to pass the bill, “Today, we fell short by one vote. Just one. This will come to the legislature again. It’s an end-of-life issue that isn’t going away.”

I feel sad making phone calls this evening to some terminally ill people who counted on this bill and counted on their legislators. But I am encouraged by their commitment to keep telling their stories and working towards another bill for the next legislative round.

I’m sad so many in Maine remain unaware of what this legislation is about and what it seeks to achieve, and I’m sad (and perhaps a little angry) when organized efforts to sabotage safe, thoughtful legislation like LD 1270 come from people who say they have the utmost compassion and value for human life.

The persuasion of public policy by people who believe their perspective is right for everyone comes with serious consequences. For end-of-life options, those consequences are actual matters of life and death. At the end of a human life, no one—no one—has the right to assert a particular viewpoint, a set of values dictating what is “right” and what is “wrong,” or a medical healthcare perspective that overrides any of the civil liberties enjoyed by that dying individual.

Representative Beavers, the bill’s co-sponsor in the House, testified that likely 30 Mainers per year would end up taking a life-ending medication if statistics here are anything at all like Oregon or Washington. Those are pretty huge consequences. They have faces. They have names. They have families who care about them.

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Week 24/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Newspaper stack image

Last week (June 8 to June 14, 2015), a hearing was held in the Tennessee Senate Health and Welfare Committee on a proposed bill as part of the summer study process.

California

The positive media fallout from the Senate vote on SB 128 continues.

Maine

This week the Maine legislature votes on a proposed Death with Dignity bill.

New York

Though there are now four bills in the New York legislature, two apiece in the Assembly and the Senate, meaningful progress appears doubtful.

Tennessee

A vigorous debate of Death with Dignity unfolded in the state in parallel with the hearing on the state’s proposed bill.

Elsewhere and Other Stories

Image by Jason de Villa.

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Rage No More II: My Beautiful Right

Portrait of Kiki Denee

Death with Dignity as an issue extends well past the media and popular discourse alone. Increasingly, artists reach out to us with various projects. The poem below appeared on our Facebook page, posted by the author KiKi Denee. Read our open call for guest posts →

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When to decide
It was a good fight
And, it’s time
And, it’s ok.
Valiantly go into the unknown.

When to decide
To look forward
To walk on
March on
and surrender.
Resolutely journey into the unknown.
The Dark Night.

I’ve caught and sang the sun
in flight [i]
I’ve seized and danced the moon
at night.
I’ve grabbed and tasted the earth
when ripe.
I’ve burned and raved my life away.
A disgusting, dirty, dying cliché.

I welcome you, Beautiful Night.
I will Rage No More against
My Beautiful Right.

[i] Thomas, Dylan. (1951). “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

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Sound Evidence over Sound Bites

Book cover of Dying with Dignity

This is a guest post by Dr. Giza Lopes (the subheadings and links are ours). Read our open call for guest posts →

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Giza Lopes, PhD, is an assistant professor at the School of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York at Albany. She is the author of Dying with Dignity: A Legal Approach to Assisted Death (Global Crime and Justice), published by Praeger earlier this year.

This year advocacy efforts to legalize death with dignity in the United States have achieved unprecedented momentum. Over half of the state legislatures are entertaining bills largely patterned after the Oregon experience, many for the first time. Just last week, the Golden State’s Senate advanced a bill that, if approved by the Assembly, could give terminally ill Californians the right to end their life with the aid of a doctor.

A Long History of Legislative Action

This level of political activity and intense engagement is especially remarkable if one considers that the pursuit to legalize medically hastened death via legislative action has a long history. In fact, the first bills proposing a similar option to terminally ill individuals date back to 1906. Since then, while death with dignity has been enacted in Oregon and Washington through referenda, only infrequently has it been earnestly considered by legislative bodies, with the exception of Vermont’s “Patient Choice and Control at End of Life,” signed into law in 2013.

Opposition to Death with Dignity

While the current legislative impetus has clearly galvanized advocates and highlighted sympathetic public opinion on this matter, it has also stimulated opponents to voice their concerns and disapprovals loudly. Among the latter, three groups are particularly salient: organized medicine, organized religion, and certain disability organizations. Common to the first two is a reliance on dogma—”First do no harm” and the “inviolability of human life”—as the driving force behind their opposition. Disability rights activists, on the other hand, articulate their fears that legalization of medically hastened death would inevitably lead us down a slippery slope, risking the lives of vulnerable individuals.

Together, the first two of these sources of opposition reflect an ethos brewed over hundreds of years, seasoned with emotional rawness, and framed, for the most part, into an intransigent message. One could argue ad nauseam about how doctors do more harm by prolonging the inevitable, or that one’s right of self-determination trumps any religious notion of when life begins or should end. Realistically, though, while this discussion is philosophically stimulating, thought-provoking, and passion-fueling, rarely has it been productive.

Breakthroughs such as the California Medical Association’s recent position change from opposing death with dignity to a neutral stance on the matter are extraordinary and exceptional. To date, the only national-level medical organization to affirmatively recommend—and, in effect, seek—legalization of physician-hastened death is the Royal Dutch Medical Association. And while the Roman Catholic Church, thirty-five years ago, sanctioned for the first time the refusal of “forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life,” even the most optimistic of pro-death with dignity advocates would not seriously expect any endorsements from the Pope in the near future. As a concerted duo, these two groups are hard to placate.

Data Refute Misinformation

The third source of opposition, however, is one to which advocates of physician assisted dying can cogently respond. Since the passage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, a multitude of data—rich and broad in scope—have been collected by the Public Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority, and comprehensive, rigorously designed studies have been conducted and published in a series of peer-reviewed journals.

Thanks to these data, death with dignity advocates are armed with nearly two decades of sound information on the demographics and underlying illnesses of those who request and ultimately ingest the lawfully prescribed medication, the stated motives of those individuals, the physicians and institutions that accept such requests, and other issues. These data show that those utilizing the law are mostly white and well-educated, that most possess medical insurance, and that most are already enrolled in hospice at the time of the request. Furthermore, analyses of the cost of care at the end of life that attempt to project savings attributable to legal death with dignity do not support the claim that economic pressures would lead to or encourage hastened death. Taken as a whole, these data and studies dispel unequivocally the fears articulated by those who espouse the view that vulnerable individuals are at risk where death with dignity is legal.

It is precisely the collection of sound evidence that can get advocates past opponents’ sound bites. For that reason, those seeking legalization through the legislative process, should insist that proposed bills contain provisions to record the types of information mentioned above. Not all of the bills currently entertained throughout the country do. This lack of transparency adds no protection to patients’ privacy and threatens to deprive the movement of a powerful tool.

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Week 23/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Last week (June 1 to June 7, 2015) saw the most important event in our movement this year: the California Senate approved SB 128 – End of Life Option Act, a Death with Dignity bill.

California

Having been approved by the California Senate 23 to 14, the End of Life Option Act now heads to the Assembly with the first hearing, in the Health Committee, scheduled for June 22.

Delaware

A proposed bill was heard and promptly tabled.

New York

A new bill has been introduced in the New York Senate, by a Republican lawmaker, bringing the total to four (two in the Assembly, two in the Senate).

Tennessee

Though referring a bill for summer study is a roundabout way of killing a bill quietly, in Tennessee a Senate committee will discuss a proposed Death with Dignity bill.

Elsewhere and Other Stories

Image by Svein Halvor Halvorsen.

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California Senate Approves End of Life Option Act in a Monumental Step Toward Death with Dignity

This is a press release we issued in connection with the California Senate vote on SB 128. For more information, contact Peg Sandeen at 503.228.4415 or Peter Korchnak at 503.501.2461.

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The Death with Dignity National Center today applauds the California Senate for [resoundingly] approving Senate Bill 128 – End of Life Option Act, which will allow terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the right to obtain a prescription medication to end their pain and suffering. The bill passed on a 23-14 vote, and now heads to the State Assembly.

Our political arm, the Death with Dignity Political Fund, has been integral in drafting and promoting the bill, underscored to our Executive Director Peg Sandeen. “We are pleased to see our work culminate in this historic vote, a monumental step toward providing Death with Dignity as as end-of-life option for qualified Californians.”

One such state resident, retired San Diego-area community college instructor, Steve Mione, said, “I am grateful to the California Senators for passing the End of Life Option Act. When my terminal melanoma moves to Stage 4 and I will have less than 6 months to live, I will want the option to choose death with dignity. I want to be alert, to say goodbye to my loved ones, and to fall asleep and die peacefully. It’s my right, knowing my end is imminent, to choose a merciful death. It comforts me that the Senators voted to provide me and my fellow Californians with this option.”

Providing peace of mind and control for the terminally ill while safeguarding against coercion for those who are vulnerable, SB 128 is closely modeled on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

Death with Dignity National Center’s Vice President George Eighmey said, “Our testimony on the 17 years of flawless implementation of Oregon’s law not only refuted the opponent’s unfounded allegations, but convinced many senators that having a similar California law would provide their constituents with the full range of end-of-life options.”

The Death with Dignity National Center expressed gratitude to the bill’s sponsors, Senators Monning and Wolk, for garnering the necessary support in the Senate to pass SB 128.

“Polls show overwhelming—and growing—support for physician-hastened dying,” said Sandeen. “The time is right for California to adopt this law.”

Mione concurred, saying, “I urge the California Assembly to follow the Senate’s lead and swiftly pass the End of Life Option Act.”

Image by < a href=”https://flic.kr/p/3eZk7G” target=”_blank”>Josh Mazgelis

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