Week 44/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

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In the week from October 26 to November 1, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held a hearing in the Joint Committee for Public Health for the proposed Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act.

A California appeals court affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients.

California

Massachusetts

Elsewhere and Other Stories

Image by Binuri Ranasinge.

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In Memoriam: Dr. Peter Rasmussen, MD, 1945-2015

It was with a heavy heart that I learned yesterday of the death of another staunch advocate for Death with Dignity and friend of our organization, Dr. Peter Rasmussen, MD. He died peacefully, surrounded by his loving family—wife Cindy and stepchildren Gretchen and Keith—after taking medication prescribed under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. He was 70 years old.

Peter was a dear friend and mentor. I last visited him at his home five days ago. We chatted for about an hour and when I left he gave me the kindest memory. He said, “George, you have always been there for me when I needed you. Thank you.”

Dr. Rasmussen campaigned for Oregon’s groundbreaking Death with Dignity Act in the 1990′s and was one of the first physicians in the state to prescribe medication for his patients under the law.

He was also a respondent in the US Supreme Court case Gonzales vs. Oregon that decided the federal government could not restrict Oregon physicians from prescribing medication under the Act.

Even after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma last year, he wrote op-eds in California and New York papers advocating for Death with Dignity laws there and worked with researchers looking into the Oregon experience with the end-of-life option.

Peter was a compassionate and caring oncologist and palliative-care physician who provided the best medical care available for his patients. He was a loving husband and father whose larger-than-life presence will be missed, but not forgotten.

Please sign this condolence card for Dr. Rasmussen’s family.

Sympathy Card - Peter Rasmussen

On days like these I am filled with both sadness and hope. In Dr. Rasmussen his family lost a loving husband and father, I a dear friend, and the Death with Dignity movement a brave leader. He was always there for us when we needed him. And he was always there for his patients when they needed him at the end of their lives.

The manner of his death means our work matters: like Dick Walters in Vermont a few weeks ago, Dr. Rasmussen was able to die peacefully, at the time and place of his choosing and surrounded by his loved ones, using the very law he advocated for.

I am, therefore, hopeful that soon all qualified terminally ill Americans in every state will have the same end-of-life option Dr. Rasmussen had here in Oregon.

Please send Dr. Rasmussen’s family your thoughts at this difficult time. Add your name to sign this condolence card for them.

Thank you,

George Eighmey
President
Death with Dignity National Center

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Out of Loving Respect

Last Tuesday, October 27, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Joint Committee on Public Health held a hearing on H1991, Compassionate Care for the Terminally Ill Act, a Death with Dignity bill proposed by Representative Louis Kafka and co-sponsored by 39 legislators. Supporters of the end-of-life option gave heartfelt testimonies based on their personal or professional experience. Our supporter Teresa Nagle was in the latter group. Here’s a transcript of her testimony, which she sent us after the hearing.

Testimony in support of H1991

To the Members of the Committee,

I am here today because of my experiences years ago working as a personal care aide for a local hospice. I am here out of loving respect for the people I once bathed and dressed. I am also here for myself and those like minded who wish to have a choice in how it is we spend our last days if we are terminally ill.

I witnessed incredible suffering: the suffering endured by patients and by families witnessing the agonizing end of those they love. Time and time again patients would say to me, “I just want to die, will someone please help me to die?” I will share one example. I used to bathe a woman whose complications due to diabetes had taken her legs below the knees. Her legs never healed and the wounds remained wide open. Her pain was excruciating. By the time I had come to her with the hospice program she had been bedridden for years. Quality of life—none. The days when she could come out of that morphine induced fog were rare, but when she did it was always to beg to die. I spent eight weeks watching this slow and excruciating death. Her family was devastated.

The dosage of morphine and medications given to terminal hospice patients is almost always gradually increased. It is called palliative care to help relieve and prevent the suffering of patients. I witnessed over and over again physicians increasing and nurses administering larger and larger amounts of morphine to relieve the excruciating pain that comes at one’s end with cancer and other diseases. Basically the morphine in such large amounts will end a person’s life. I have witnessed this method. It is the status quo.

I am here today to tell you that I do not want my suffering prolonged. Had this woman been legally able to ask her doctor for the meds needed to hasten her end she would have done so. I know that if her doctor would have been able to legally assist her he would have. These laws must change for compassionate reasons.

I am here today to tell you I want to have a choice about how it is I spend my last days if I am suffering with unbearable pain and the loss of my dignity, the inability to clean myself up after my diarrhea has once again soiled my bedding, the inability to eat solid foods or take fluids without gagging, my skin breaking down due to the inability to reposition myself, tubes and machinery doing the work my body used to do. I am here today to tell you that I do not want my loved ones to go through the heartache and helplessness that comes with watching an extended period of dying. I am here out of loving respect for all those who I once bathed who wanted but were denied this choice.

Image by Tony Fischer.

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Week 43/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

In the week from October 19 to October 25, the new California Death with Dignity law continued generating attention, with the ballot initiative to repeal it garnering approval to collect signatures and questions arising as to implementation.

In New York a court dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state’s assisted suicide statutes.

California

Massachusetts

Elsewhere and Other Stories

Image by Daniel R. Blume.

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Week 42/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

In the week from October 12 to October 18, the passage of the California End of Life Option Act reverberated across the country. And the Death with Dignity movement suffered a great loss: our dear friend Dick Walters, who led the effort in Vermont to pass the Death with Dignity law in 2013, died on October 16 using medications prescribed under the law.

California

New York

Vermont

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Image by Matt Hintsa.

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In Memoriam: Dick Walters, 1925-2015

Our dear friend, Dick Walters used the Vermont Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act to die peacefully on October 16th. Dick’s tireless advocacy and dedication to personal freedom were instrumental in getting the law passed in 2013. Dick was 90 years old and died of cancer.

As president of Vermont Patient Choices at End of Life, our local partner organization in the campaign, Dick believed Death with Dignity was a basic human right.

“Thoughtful, principled people understand the profound importance of securing this human right,” he wrote on our blog. “People who’ve watched a loved one suffer needlessly and pointlessly as I have. People brave enough to look toward their own future, and the dignity with which they hope to end a life well-lived.”

Dick’s journey toward the law’s passage started in his living room, with his wife Ginny and their daughters, Nancy and Betsy, after watching his father suffer a difficult death. “Death with Dignity is a cause I feel in my heart, soul and conscience,” Dick wrote. “It is worthy of every one of us who values life, treasures dignity, and wants never to be told by a stranger or a bureaucrat that our life is not our own, or that suffering is the property of their law or morality.”

Ten years later, Vermont had enacted a Death with Dignity law. Presaging the developments in California, Dick saw the fact that Vermont was the first state to pass such a law in the legislature as very important. And he saw personal involvement as crucial as well: “For your spouse, your parents, your grandparents, your children, your neighbors and yourself, take a stand. Recognize that even a right this personal must be fought for and won.”

Dick, we’ll miss you, the Death with Dignity movement will miss you, and Vermont will miss you. May you rest in peace.

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Week 41/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

In the week from October 5 to October 11, California became the fourth state to enact a Death with Dignity statute and the fifth to legalize physician assisted dying when Governor Brown signed the End of Life Option Act. The decision reverberated across the nation.

California Coverage

California’s Impact

Florida

Maryland

New York

Elsewhere and Other Stories

Image by Thomas Hawk.

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California End of Life Option Act a Monumental Step Forward for All Americans

When California Governor Jerry Brownon October 5 signed the End of Life Option Act into law, he made California the fourth state to enact a Death with Dignity statute and the fifth where the end-of-life option is legal.

“This is a monumental step forward for all Americans who want the freedom to make their own end-of-life decisions as well as for the entire Death with Dignity movement,” said our Executive Director Peg Sandeen. “Californians will now enjoy the same autonomy, freedom and peace of mind at the end of their lives as the residents of Oregon, Washington, and Vermont.”

With the Governor’s signature, thirty-nine million Californians joined the residents of Oregon, Washington, Vermont as well as Montana, where physician-assisted dying is legal by State Supreme Court decision, in having the option, should they be terminally ill with less than 6 months to live, to end their lives in a humane and dignified manner.

“The magnitude of our victory cannot be understated,” concurred Death with Dignity Vice President George Eighmey. “All along the West Coast qualified individuals now have the option to die with dignity at the time when polls show that more and more people across the nation want to make their own decisions about how to live their last days.”

Modeled on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, the California End of Life Option Act will allow adult residents of the Golden State who have had two doctors confirm a terminal diagnosis to fill a prescription medication to end their lives in a peaceful and dignified manner at the time and place of their choosing. The Act will likely go into effect in January 2016.

“The Oregon law has been implemented carefully and worked exactly as intended for 18 years,” Sandeen said. “The time was right for California to adopt this law.”

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California Becomes the Fourth State with a Death with Dignity Statute

In a historic decision today, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act into law!

With the Governor’s signature, thirty-nine million Californians joined the residents of Oregon, Washington, and Vermont in having the option, should they be terminally ill with less than 6 months to live, to end their lives in a humane and dignified manner.

Please join us in signing this Thank You card to the Governor for his compassionate decision.

The enormity of our victory cannot be understated. Not only have the months of our work crafting the bill, campaigning and strategizing with the sponsors in the California Senate and Assembly paid off, all qualified West Coast residents now have the option to die with dignity. We’ve achieved monumental progress for all Americans who want the freedom to make their own end-of-life decisions.

The Governor’s decision is certain to reverberate across the nation. You’ll be hearing from us about that in the coming weeks as more remains to be done in California to ensure smooth implementation of the law and even more in 46 additional states that do not have a Death with Dignity law. For now, please join us in celebrating freedom winning the day.

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Week 40/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

In the week from September 28 to October 4, California awaited Governor Brown’s decision about the End of Life Option Act.

California

Tennessee

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Image by JE Smith.

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