Week 8/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement


Last week a bill was introduced in the New York House, a bill criminalizing physician-assisted dying failed in Montana, and debate about Death with Dignity ramped up in Maryland and Massachusetts. The Daily Beast asked whether assisted dying is “the new abortion,” and after she declared support for the issue Diane Rehm featured Death with Dignity on her program.

These are the highlights of the most important developments in the movement around the United States from February 15 to February 21, 2015, with the corresponding media coverage.


The lively debate around the End of Life Option Act continued in the media, including on KPFA radio where our Vice President George Eighmey debated the proponents’ side.


Maryland’s Death with Dignity law acquires an influential spokesperson and a human face.


After Rep. Kafka again introduced a Death with Dignity bill, the issue is back on the table in the state where a related ballot initiative was narrowly defeated in 2012.


The bill criminalizing physician-assisted dying failed in the Montana House.

New York

A month after Rep. Rosenthal introduced New York Death with Dignity Act in the State Assembly, Senators Savino and Hoylman introduced New York End of Life Options Act in the State Senate.


The sunsetting provisions of the Death with Dignity law are up for debate in the state legislature.


Image by Zarko Drincic.

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Week 7/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Last week a bill was introduced in Alaska and Maryland Houses. A group of patients and doctors filed a lawsuit in California seeking a right to physician-assisted dying. The right-to-die movement gained an influential advocate, NPR host Diane Rehm. And the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling last week affirming the right to physician-assisted dying fueled the Death with Dignity debate in the U.S., including NBC News, TIME, and Washington Post.

A friend of our organization’s, Dr. Peter Rasmussen, a retired physician in Salem, Oregon, who was one of the original plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Oregon and who is now suffering from the same type of cancer as Brittany Maynard did, published an op-ed in the New York Daily News on Sunday. In the piece he answers the question, “Should doctors ever help you die?” with a resounding, “Yes.” Our Vice President, George Eighmey, was a guest on the Senior Answer webcast out of Texas.

These are the highlights of the most important developments in the movement around the United States from February 8 to February 15, 2015, with the corresponding media coverage.


Alaska has become the 21st state this year where a Death with Dignity bill will have been debated.


While the legislators grapple with the proposed End of Life Option Act, a group of patients and physicians filed a lawsuit seeking an end to the state’s ban on physician-assisted dying.

District of Columbia and Maryland

While in DC Councilmember Cheh’s bill is making its rounds through the Council, 37 delegates introduced a bill in the Maryland House.


Whereas physician-assisted dying isn’t illegal in Montana by Supreme Court ruling, two bills are circulating in the State Legislature: a Senate bill legalizing death with dignity and a House bill criminalizing physicians’ participation in assisted suicide.


To get the news as it comes out, Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Image by josh hunter.

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Oregon Health Authority Releases 2014 Death with Dignity Report

Oregon Health Authority, the state agency that oversees the implementation of and compliance with the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, has just released the 2014 Annual Report.

A total of 155 terminally-ill adult Oregonians received a prescription for medications under the provisions of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act in 2014, while 105 of them (67.7%) ingested the medications to die peacefully. This corresponds to 31 Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) deaths per 10,000 total deaths, or 0.3%.

Other highlights from the 2014 Annual Report:

  • Of the 105 DWDA deaths during 2014, most (67.6%) were aged 65 years or older. The median age at death was 72 years. As in previous years, decedents were commonly white (95.2%) and well-educated (47.6% had a least a BA).
  • While most patients had cancer, the percent of patients with cancer in 2014 (68.6%) was lower than in previous years (79.4%), and the percent with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was higher (16.2% in 2014, compared to 7.2% in previous years).
  • Most (89.5%) patients died at home, and most (93.0%) were enrolled in hospice care either at the time the DWDA prescription was written or at the time of death.
  • As in previous years, the three most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were: loss of autonomy (91.4%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (86.7%), and loss of dignity (71.4%).
  • During 2014, no referrals were made to the Oregon Medical Board for failure to comply with DWDA requirements.

Since 1998, the year in which the first person in Oregon took medication prescribed under the law, a total of 1,327 patients have received the prescription, of whom 859 (64.7%) ingested it and died. These figures continue to underscore not only that only a small number of people use the law but also that more than one third of those who received the medication took it, finding great comfort in merely knowing it was available to them. Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act continues to work flawlessly and to provide ease of mind and relief to Oregonians facing the end of life.

The board members and staff of Death with Dignity National Center, as the successor of the organization that passed Oregon’s law in 1994, are proud of our accomplishments. We are honored to be able to count on your support in promoting and passing Death with Dignity laws based on the Oregon model throughout the United States.

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Week 6/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

The whirlwind of media attention to Death with Dignity continued into February. These are the highlights of press coverage of the most important developments in the movement around the United States from February 1 to February 7, 2015.

If you only read one article, make sure it’s this overview of Death with Dignity developments written in response to the New York lawsuit (see below): “More states consider assisted-suicide laws since Brittany Maynard’s death,” The Christian Science Monitor, 2/4/2015.

(For a good overview of the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling that Canadian adults who are mentally competent and suffering intolerably and permanently have the right to a doctor’s help in dying, read this Globe and Mail article. And, TIME magazine has an analysis, including our take, of the impact of SCC’s ruling in the U.S.)


The buzz around California’s End of Life Option Act continues unabated.


Following the introduction of a bill the previous week, a lively debate unfolded in Colorado before a House Committee heard and rejected the bill on Friday. Sixty-eight percent of Coloradans continue to favor Death with Dignity.

If you are interested in following the Committee hearings as they unfolded on Friday, February 6 (and as they will continue in the future, if applicable), see the Twitter hashtag #coleg.

District of Columbia and Maryland

The D.C. Council debates a death-with-dignity bill introduced mid-January by Councilmember Cheh, while Maryland awaits the introduction of companion death-with-dignity bills in the Assembly and Senate.


Whereas physician-assisted dying isn’t illegal in Montana by Supreme Court ruling, two bills are circulating in the State Legislature: a Senate bill legalizing death with dignity and a House bill criminalizing physicians’ participation in assisted suicide. Media coverage has been mostly relegated to letters to the editor.

New Mexico

New Mexico is watching out for an appeals court ruling on the legality of physicians’ right to aid patients in hastening their deaths.

New York

While two Senators prepare to introduce a bill, a group of patients and physicians filed a lawsuit challenging New York’s statute banning assisted suicide.


There’s a low-key discussion of a death-with-dignity bill in Wisconsin.


Death with Dignity is debated even in states that do not have bills on the books or legislative docket.

To get the news as it comes out, Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Image by Communicore82.

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January 2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement, Part 2


In Part 1 of this two-part blog post series we brought you a compendium of media stories, published or broadcast in January 2015, covering death with dignity around the U.S. Today, we finish with a few in-depth articles and opinion pieces about death with dignity and end-of-life care. Enjoy!

Death with Dignity

End-of-Life Care

As always, if you’d like to get the news as it comes out, Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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January 2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement, Part 1

The first month of 2015 has been very busy in our movement. Death with dignity appeared both in the national media and in local outlets in no fewer than 14 states around the U.S. as legislators there introduced or announced their intent to introduce bills (a handful of others will come up in the next few weeks.)

We begin with highlights of media coverage, including related editorials, of death with dignity laws being introduced or discussed around the country, along with a summary of the current status in each state (daily updates are here). The sheer number of states in play and corresponding media stories are testimony to how far the movement has progressed in large part thanks to the courage of Brittany Maynard in publicly sharing her private decision to request medication allowed under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. The outpouring of support for Brittany and the work we do toward death with dignity policy reform throughout the U.S. has been truly incredible. The issue of having death with dignity as an end-of-life option is clearly important to Americans.


State Senators Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Lois Wolk, D-Davis, introduced SB 168-End of Life Option Act at a press conference on January 21. Death with Dignity National Center has provided strategic support for the effort in California.


Colorado State Reps. Lois Court, D-Denver, Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, and Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, introduced a Death with Dignity bill on January 27.


SB 668-An Act Providing a Medical Option of Compassionate Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Adults has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.


State Representative Paul Baumbach has announced on his Facebook page that he intends to introduce a Death with Dignity bill this session.

District of Columbia

D.C. Ward 3 Council representative Mary Cheh introduced B21-0031-Death with Dignity Act of 2015 on 1/14/2015.


Eight State Representatives introduced HF 65-Iowa Death with Dignity Act on January 21.


House Bill 215-Kansas Death with Dignity Act has been introduced in the Committee on Health and Human Services. We registered no local media coverage in the state.


State Representative Del. Shane Pendergrass and Senator Young are developing companion bills resembling the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.


State Representative Kimberly Gardner, D-St. Louis, has introduced House Bill 307, which was read for the second time on 1/8/2015. No hearings are scheduled and the bill is not on the House calendar. We registered no media coverage in the state.

New Jersey

State Senate is due to vote on AB2270-Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act this session. Governor Christie opposes the law.

New York

State Senators Savino, D-N Staten Island/S Brooklyn, and Hoylman, D-Manhattan, plan to introduce a bill modeled on the Oregon law in the New York legislature this session. State Representative Linda Rosenthal is sponsoring a similar bill in the Assembly.


Representative Kouplen introduced HB 1673-Oklahoma Death with Dignity Act on January 30.


Senator Fred Risser, D-Madison, and Representatives Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, and Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, are introducing a Death with Dignity measure modeled after the Oregon measure. This will be the 7th time such a proposal will have been introduced in the past 20 years. Though the legislators aren’t confident the bill will pass this session, they believe “it’s a conversation lawmakers ought to have.”


A House Committee has tabled HB 119 Death with Dignity Act sponsored by State Representative Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, and recommended the proposed law be researched by an interim committee.

In addition to these new or renewed efforts to adopt death with dignity laws, we’ve been monitoring the media in states where death with dignity is an option.

New Mexico

An appeals court in New Mexico is currently hearing a challenge to a lower court decision that doctors could not be prosecuted under the state’s assisted suicide law.


Legislators will be revisiting the state’s death with dignity law, adopted in 2013, to prevent changes removing many patient safeguards from going into effect next year. Meanwhile, the law is working as intended.

In Part 2 later this week, we’ll feature stories from the national media and think pieces, opinions, and op-eds. Going forward we’ll bring you a media roundup on a weekly basis. If you’d prefer to follow along as news develops, Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

California State Capitol image by Wayne Hsieh.

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A Christian Argument For Physician Assisted Death

Rainbow by Rachel Coyle
Rainbow by Rachel Coyle

Brittany Maynard’s story has prompted discussions about our model legislation, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, throughout the US. Over the last week, we’ve heard from hundreds of people in support of Death with Dignity. The guest post below by Rachel Coyle is republished with permission. The article originally appeared on Rachel’s blog, Of a Moderation.

I have watched a lot of people die.

After college, I spent nearly two years providing patient care in the emergency department of a Level 1 trauma center. Today, I work with hospice patients, offering comfort to those who have 6 months or less to live.

I am also blessed with a big, loving, Catholic family. Our faith has played a major role in shaping each of us throughout the years.

In fact, it’s safe to say religion has played a major role in every aspect of my life.

Yet I firmly believe in the right of our terminally ill to die with dignity.

Many of the recent arguments against physician assisted death have been religious ones. Though it’s wonderful to see most protestors stating their positions with love and respect, I want to clearly express that religious individuals can and do support Death with Dignity laws.

While training to work with the terminally ill, you’re taught to give patients as much control over their lives as you can. Do they want to sit in the bed or the chair today? Do they want to listen to music or watch a movie?

These minor choices allow ailing patients to feel as though they have a say in the last moments of their lives. Options are a small comfort—and comfort is our main goal when caring for those transitioning from life into death.

Humanity now possesses the ability to give our terminally ill a truly meaningful choice—the choice to go peacefully to God before their suffering reaches its peak.

Through the gift of scientific knowledge, we can allow our dying to choose the sort of death that is the most peaceful and comforting option for themselves and for their loved ones.

The gift of peace. The gift of comfort. Why would we ever deny the right to such blessings?

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it” (Proverbs 3:27).

Of course, the decision to end one’s life peacefully before a disease completes its course is not for everyone—nor should it be.

Some believe God wants us to wait until we’re taken naturally. Others want to spend every available minute with their loved ones, even if it means enduring additional suffering. All of these beliefs and decisions are valid.

We may know what is best for ourselves, but we cannot assume to know what God requests of others.

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13).

I also believe strongly that scientific knowledge is a gift. God has given us intelligence, which we can use to ease suffering and improve the world around us.

“As for these…God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom” (Daniel 1:17).

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6).

We can take comfort in the realization that human knowledge is being used to ease suffering and provide options to those who have very few left.

I can’t fault anyone who wants to cling to their last earthly moments with a loved one. I know for a fact that I do the exact same thing when faced with similar circumstances.

When the time comes for us to discuss physician assisted death with a loved one, we are free to express any concerns we have about their potential decision. Perhaps such a choice is not best for our family.

However, we must remember: this it is not our decision to make for those whose lives we do not know.

Unfortunately, our wish to hold on to our loved ones for as long as possible is often a selfish desire. Our longing is born out of love, but it might not be what’s best for the person who is dying.

In fact, I have known many families who suffer less when a loved one goes quickly.

These families are comforted by the knowledge that the death was not drawn out or filled with excessive suffering.

If a dying person is mentally capable of consulting loved ones and choosing to die with dignity (and I do believe a healthy cognitive state should be required in these cases), then we must have faith that the decision was good for those involved.

It is not our right to claim to know God’s plan for others.

It is not our right to take from others the ability to shorten suffering, even if we believe the path we would choose is best.

I’m grateful that we have the intelligence to debate these important issues. I’m grateful for the knowledge that everyone sharing their opinion is speaking from a place of love for those who are suffering.

Please consider this post when the time comes for your state to decide whether to allow terminally ill patients to die with dignity.

There is no cause more important than one that offers peace to those who suffer.

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Death with Dignity: A daughter’s perspective after a prolonged, painful death

Amy Neese's father
Amy Neese’s father

Brittany Maynard’s story has prompted discussions about our model legislation, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, throughout the US. Over the last week, we’ve heard from hundreds of people in support of Death with Dignity. The guest post below by Amy Neese is republished with permission. The article originally appeared on Amy’s blog, Life, Laughter and a Double Espresso.

My thoughts are with a woman I’ve never met. 29-year-old Brittany Maynard lives with her husband in Portland, Oregon. She’s beautiful, with shoulder-length brown hair and light eyes. She adores her family, loves to travel and Nov. 1, Brittany will die.

Brittany has an incurable, aggressive form of brain cancer. After two unsuccessful surgeries, Brittany’s only treatment option is full brain radiation. However, the side effects from the treatment could destroy her quality of life for the little time she has left. She could die in hospice, but run the risk of developing morphine-resistant pain. While the cancer eats away at her brain, she could experience personality changes and a loss of verbal, cognitive and motor skills.

Instead of radiation, Brittany made a decision. She packed up her life in California and moved to Oregon—one of only 5 states where Death with Dignity is allowed, an end-of-life option for mentally competent, terminally ill patients with six months or less to live. In the event the dying process becomes unbearable, this act allows patients to self-ingest doctor prescribed medication that will end their life.

I read Brittany’s story on Facebook last night, and was overwhelmed by the number of those commenting on her story. Some supported her; many criticized her citing Biblical reasons. As a Christian believer, I understand her critics. However, from someone who has walked the same path as Brittany is headed, I understand her decision.

I lost my father two weeks ago. He was only 61. Like Brittany, my dad suffered from a cancer that required brain radiation. He took the chance with treatment, then we watched as everyone of Brittany’s fears materialized in my father. The radiation ultimately caused brain necrosis; the necrosis slowly but effectively ate his brain one section at a time. Although the treatment bought him more time, my father lost his quality of life. For four years, he was in chronic pain, constant angst.

My family and I were forced to helplessly watch the slow, brutal process of losing him a piece at a time. We sat beside him through numerous painful surgeries and recoveries. We stood by him as his ability to perform simple life tasks began to fail—drive a car, hold a fork, move his feet. We watched as he lost ability to comprehend and process information. We cried when he lost ability to communicate and recognize things familiar. We held his hand as he agonized from morphine-resistant pain, and fought back tears when he told us he was ready to go. In the end, we sat beside him in hospice, waiting, praying for God to bring him peace. The process was torture on my sweet daddy; the experience was heartbreaking for us.

Nov. 1, two days after her husband’s birthday, Brittany plans to ingest the pills that will end her life. She plans to be in her own bed, surrounded by family and listening to her favorite music. She will still have her mind. She will still have her dignity. She will not be in physical pain. She will have spent her final days traveling to her favorite places with those she loves.

I can’t say which way to exit this world is best; I can’t say if that final act will have any bearing on the eternal soul. I can only wonder, if given the chance again, would my dad have chosen a different path?

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Religious Leaders Supporting Death with Dignity

Lord Carey on assisted dying

The House of Lords in the UK will hear testimony and debate their proposed Death with Dignity bill this week. The bill closely emulates our model legislation, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, which Oregonians approved in 1994 and reiterated their support in 1997. Much like in the US, Death with Dignity is a hotly debated topic in the UK, and the lead up to this week’s hearing there’ve been many excellent op-eds in support of the law. Some which have come out in the last week have been by prominent religious leaders.

All of them looked at their understanding of their religious doctrines in the context of being close to loved ones who’ve died. Each challenged their Churches’ official statements and how teachings of sanctity of life are consistent with giving people who are dying more options in their final days.

Last week, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey shared why he changed his mind and now strongly supports the proposed Death with Dignity law in the UK. This week has been witness to supportive statements from Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu and the current Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson.

In each of these opinion pieces, these leaders reflected on how their religious traditions and compassion have led them to support the bill proposed by Lord Falconer. In his letter to the Daily Mail, Lord Carey directly took on claims made by opponents within his own church and reflected on his change of heart:

The fact is that I have changed my mind. The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering…In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be sanctioning anguish and pain, the very opposite of the Christian message of hope.

Some complain that new laws governing the right to die would allow doctors to ‘play God’. But that is an argument without substance.

Health professionals already have power over life and death in numerous ways—such as the remarkable way in which newborn babies are kept alive until they are old enough to survive outside an incubator, or through complex surgical transplants.

The Church must start to face up to the reality of the world as it is.

On the heels of Lord Carey’s op-ed, Bishop Tutu weighed in with an opinion piece in The Guardian. Like Lord Carey, Bishop Tutu reflected on his lifetime of being a friend and spiritual advisor for people at all stage of life, including their final days. These experiences have framed how he thinks about, has documented, and discussed his own end-of-life wishes with his loved ones. They also caused him to think about the options he would want available if he were to receive a terminal diagnosis with six months or fewer to live, and he came to the conclusion, “I revere the sanctity of life—but not at any cost.”

The most recent affirmation from a religious leader was from the current Bishop of Buckingham. His statements in support of the proposed UK bill were covered by The Telegraph. Not only did he clearly explain the differences between assisted suicide and what the proposed bill would actually allow–assisted dying–he also discussed how his Church’s teachings are consistent with patient autonomy stating, “I have come to support assisted dying…precisely because I do believe strongly in the sanctity of life. Part of honouring this is respecting people’s integrity to make decisions about themselves.”

Supportive statements from prominent leaders from any community help those within the group better understand assisted death. What’s especially great about these op-eds is these religious leaders are talking about how Church doctrine supports end-of-life options outlined in Death with Dignity laws. These bishops’ public statements signal a major shift in the way people all over the world are thinking about and understanding what was once a radical idea: controlling the manner and timing of one’s own death.

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Facing Death Together

Brant Huddleston
Brant Huddleston

After 17 years working for IBM, Brant Huddleston left the corporate world and became an entrepreneur. He’s recently started the Dance to Death Afterlife podcast to learn, with his listeners, about death and dying in an upbeat and educational way. You can follow the podcast on Twitter: @D2DAfterlife or Facebook.

Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday….and all is well.

The last time I saw my brother was on a boat in the middle of the Severn River near Annapolis, Maryland. It was summer, and the family had gathered to spread his ashes. John died in April 1992 at age 39, just three weeks after the death of my father. It was a hard year.

It was then I began thinking more deeply about death, and as a bona fide geek, how technology might enhance ways to tell the stories of the dead. My father’s life—64 years of adventure, living overseas, fighting wars, and raising six children—was reduced on his burial plaque to the infamous hyphen found between date of birth and death. My brother’s life is even less memorialized, as there is no marker to him of any kind, and rarely a mention on his birthday or death day. Maybe it is just too much for us to bear, especially my nearly 90 year old mother, who grieves his loss more than the rest of us combined. We are, as are so many others, practicing our own form of death denial. So as the Severn River swallowed up the last of my brother’s physical presence, an idea was born.

As a geek, I imagined using technology to create something I called a talking headstone, which would use multimedia to tell the stories of the dead. The living could point at a ”memorial,” which might be in the middle of a river, and ask, “Who’s there?” Then, a short audio/visual presentation would play, conveying the dead person’s stories and a celebration of his or her life. The talking headstone would expand the hyphen and make it come alive! But in 1992, the technology to make such a headstone did not exist, so I put the idea away for nearly two decades.

Years later, when I finally began shopping my idea among funeral directors, I learned something about their culture: many whom I encountered were staunchly resistant to change and hostile to new ideas. I immediately recognized the culture, for I worked for IBM at a time when they too stubbornly fought inevitable agents of change, like the personal computer, with such ferocity that the company nearly collapsed. This tendency for a mainstream industry to resist changes evoked by disruptive, new ideas is brilliantly described in the book The Innovator’s Dilemma by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen.

From Christensen’s book and my personal experience with IBM, I knew the mainstream funeral services industry, with its legacy of digging holes and carving in stone, would never accept my high-tech invention. The future of the talking headstone lay elsewhere, with the rogues, the rebels, the dreamers, and those willing to challenge the entrenched paradigms of modern death practices. They’re the ones who, as the Japanese wisely advise, “ask why five times,” and they are among the very people I now seek as guests for my new Dance to Death Afterlife podcast.

The fear of death, and the subsequent denial of death, is pervasive in the United States, and it is unhealthy. Together we have an opportunity to change that, and if we follow the irrevocable pattern Professor Christensen traces back to the beginning of human history, that change will come from outside the mainstream. It starts with a vision. I believe by taking an unflinching look at death—a natural and unavoidable process—we’re better able to accept it, plan for a beautiful one, and most importantly, embrace every precious moment of life as a miraculous gift to be savored and cherished.

Others smarter and more talented than I have gone on to build the talking headstone, and I’m excited for them. My purpose now, as creator and host of the podcast, is to shine a light on their accomplishments (and all other facets of death, including those from the mainstream) so that together we can change our world a bit for the better, overcome our fears, and enjoy a fuller, more abundant life…for as long as it lasts. I want my listeners to be well informed and in control of their own experiences, as much as they can be. For if we don’t design our lives, and our encounters with death, then someone else will design those experiences for us, and it may not be what we truly want.

Did my brother John even want to be cremated? I don’t know. No one ever asked him.

Editor’s note: catch Melissa’s interview with Brant on his Dance to Death Afterlife podcast!

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