Week 9/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

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Last week Brittany Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, appeared on Dr. Oz show (video preview | summary), and husband, Dan Diaz, posted an op-ed in Time magazine. Utah saw a bill introduced. New Hampshire debated a bill establishing a committee to explore end-of-life options. Polls in Maryland and New Jersey showed strong support for bills proposed in those states. The Applied Sentience blog called Death with Dignity a top three political battle this year, as continued debates in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other states demonstrate. And, the artist and Death with Dignity advocate Leonard Nimoy passed away.

These are the highlights of the most important developments in the movement around the United States from February 22 to February 28, 2015, with the corresponding media coverage.

Alaska

California

Connecticut

Maryland

New Jersey

Utah

Elsewhere

  • New Hampshire: “Bill aims to give citizens more control at end of life,” SeacoastOnline.com, 2/25/2015
  • Image by m01229.

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    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.

    California

    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

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

    Massachusetts

    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.

    Montana

    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.

    Vermont

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

    Elsewhere

    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

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

    California

    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.

    Montana

    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.

    Elsewhere

    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.)

    California

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

    Colorado

    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.

    Montana

    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.

    Wisconsin

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

    Elsewhere

    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

    Loudspeakers

    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.

    Image by niche

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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.

    California

    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

    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.

    Connecticut

    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.

    Delaware

    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.

    Iowa

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

    Kansas

    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.

    Maryland

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

    Missouri

    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.

    Oklahoma

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

    Wisconsin

    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.”

    Wyoming

    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.

    Vermont

    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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    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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    Brittany Maynard’s Decision to Die with Dignity

    Brittany Maynard with her Great Dane, Charlie. Photo by Dan Diaz
    Brittany Maynard with her Great Dane, Charlie. Photo by Dan Diaz

    Brittany Maynard and her husband were trying for a family when the news came. After suffering from crippling headaches for months, she learned she had brain cancer in January, 2014. Hardly a year after getting married and 29 years old—her whole life ahead of her—her life was turned upside down in a moment.

    Shortly after the diagnosis, she underwent procedures to stop the growth of the tumor, but in April, the news took a turn for the worse. Not only had the tumor come back, but it was growing faster than ever. She was given a prognosis of six months or fewer to live.

    After extensive research and talking with her family, Brittany came to the difficult conclusion: debilitating treatments wouldn’t save her life and she wanted to enjoy the time she had left with her loved ones. In her own words in an interview with CNN, “I considered passing away in hospice care at my San Francisco Bay-area home. But even with palliative medication, I could develop potentially morphine-resistant pain and suffer personality changes and verbal, cognitive and motor loss of virtually any kind.”

    She wanted more control over her final days. She and her family decided to move and establish residency in Oregon so she would have the options allowed under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. In the same interview on CNN, she described the peace of mind she has now she’s completed the request process for the prescribed medication:

    Now that I’ve had the prescription filled and it’s in my possession, I have experienced a tremendous sense of relief. And if I decide to change my mind about taking the medication, I will not take it. Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important. It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.

    Brittany’s vision for her final days are echoed by people who contact the National Center every day from every corner of the country. Sadly, policy reform around end-of-life options won’t come soon enough to help the vast majority of people who call and email us. As heartbreaking as these conversations are, they make me even more passionate about this cause. No question, all people should have the right to control their own fate when facing death.

    This will be a long journey; our opponents are well funded and scare people with fictional fears which haven’t born fruit in the many years Death with Dignity has been in effect. Encouragingly, attitudes around Death with Dignity are changing as more people learn the facts about these laws. As our board member George Eighmey said in an interview with Yahoo News:

    The more educated people become, the less fear they have about it and the less stigma it carries. No one is pressured into using this law; in fact, very few people do. What’s important is that the choice is available to anyone who qualifies.

    Momentum is building throughout the US for more states to embrace Death with Dignity policy reform and this momentum is accelerating at a faster rate than ever. I’m honored to work for the organization which is setting the tone and tenor for the national Death with Dignity movement, and with your help and support we’ll continue to be there every step of the way.

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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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