Majority of Massachusetts Voters Support Death with Dignity

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Public Policy Polling logo
Public Policy Polling logo

If Massachusetts voters had their say today, they’d approve of their Death with Dignity initiative by a winning margin. A new independent Public Policy Poll showed 58% of Bay Staters would vote yes for Death with Dignity. The poll question had the same wording as what will appear on the November ballot:

Question 2 would allow a physician licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication, at the request of a terminally ill patient meeting certain conditions, to end that person’s life. If the election was today, would you vote yes or no on Question 2?

Yes………………………………….. 58%
No ………………………………….. 24%
Undecided…………………………. 18%

This is an excellent sign; however, the race is far from over. With 77 days left until the election, opponents who object to Death with Dignity based on their own moral beliefs will waste no time in firing up their lie machine in an effort to mislead voters.

The key to new Death with Dignity laws is an informed public. Will you help people in all states learn more about this critical end-of-life option with a tax-deductible donation today?

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Facts About Death with Dignity Guide the Conversation

New York Times Cover Aug. 12, 2012
New York Times Cover Aug. 12, 2012

Getting an important cause noticed by a large group of people is a challenge—it’s especially difficult when an issue is about something many people don’t want to talk about: death. What a difference it makes when one of the major papers in the US publishes an article on the front page of their Sunday edition.

Last Sunday, the New York Times published an informative article by Katie Hafner about assisted death and Dignity 2012′s effort to ask Massachusetts voters how they feel about Death with Dignity. Hafner’s article covers a lot of ground in a relatively short space. She shares the story of a Washington state doctor’s decision to request the medication, his physician’s and wife’s feelings about his decision, and even covers how the main myths regarding the Oregon and Washington Death with Dignity Acts have been debunked by years of data and research.

I’ve been watching the chatter on social media about the article, and the personal perspectives shared in it, such as this one, are mentioned most often:

Dr. Richard Wesley has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the incurable disease that lays waste to muscles while leaving the mind intact. He lives with the knowledge that an untimely death is chasing him down, but takes solace in knowing that he can decide exactly when, where and how he will die.

And anecdotal observations like this one capture many people’s attention:

There are no studies of the psychological effect of having a prescription on hand, but experts say many patients who have received one find comfort in knowing they have or can get the drugs. About a third of those who fill the prescription die without using it. “I don’t know if I’ll use the medication to end my life,” Dr. Wesley said. “But I do know that it is my life, it is my death, and it should be my choice.”

On the other hand, reactions to the article published on news sites and blogs have focused more on the facts about Death with Dignity Acts and how the original fears spouted by opponents haven’t happened. Dr. Bruce Wilson, a former hospice medical director, discussed these facts in an article featured in Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel:

When one looks into physician-assisted suicide (or even euthanasia, which is illegal in the U.S., but legal in seven countries), one finds that the patients who choose these methods are not so much trying to orchestrate how they die, but how they will live in their remaining days.

Protecting high-quality time with their friends and loved ones is the goal. They wish not to lose dignity, or independence, or precious hours, days or weeks by undergoing aggressive treatments that cannot “cure” their diseases. This is what the data shows over the 14 years that this law has been in place in Oregon.

Understandably, the argument has been that this puts us on a slippery slope. What is interesting is that there does not appear to be one.

In no state where physician-assisted suicide is legal, or any country where euthanasia is practiced, has there ever been a vulnerable person who had this type of a decision made for them. In fact, the safeguards against this are many, and layered.

Nikki Tucker from Medical Daily described the safeguards in the law and how they’ve made sure everyone involved in the process is protected:

Both Washington and Oregon use meticulous and strict guidelines to determine who will be considered to receive the drugs. Two physicians are required to confirm that a patient has a maximum of six months left to live. The requests must be made twice, with each request made 15 days apart, before the prescriptions are given. The drugs also must be self-administered.

For an editorial writer in Astoria, Oregon the New York Times article brought back memories of Oregon’s debates in 1994 when the voters approved the state’s law—the first in the nation.

When Oregonians debated this proposal 18 years ago, opponents raised the specter of terminally ill people moving to Oregon in large numbers to kill themselves. There was also fear that indigent people would be forced to use the law. Hafner quotes researchers at Oregon Health and Sciences University who note that neither of those outcomes have occurred.

Roman Catholic bishops injected religion into Oregon’s debate, but the topic on voters’ minds was pain and self determination at the end of life. That same dichotomy is playing out in Massachusetts. Our debate and our law caused physicians to pay more attention to palliative care. Oregon’s example is being studied elsewhere. That’s a good thing.

A good thing indeed.

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Death with Dignity Qualifies for Massachusetts November Ballot

“The initiative petition will be printed on the November 6, 2012, state election ballot.”

-from the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth to Dignity 2012

After a long, winding road, the Massachusetts Death with Dignity initiative completed the final step of the process to appear on the November ballot! After collecting nearly double the number of signatures necessary for the second and final signature-gathering phase, the Secretary of the Commonwealth certified that the citizen petition will be put before voters this fall during the presidential election.

This final round of signature gathering proved to be another demonstration of strong support for the measure from all over Massachusetts; signatures were certified from all 14 counties in order to qualify the Death with Dignity initiative for the November ballot. Michael from Dignity 2012 shared the great news with supporters in an email earlier today. He summarized the path to the ballot in his message:

Our long journey to the ballot started nearly one year ago.

Last August, a group of citizens joined to propose the law. The team included two former Editors of the New England Journal of Medicine, two Professors of Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School, and leaders in the legal, civil rights, disabilities, and faith based communities. The proposed law was approved by the Attorney General.

During the fall, hundreds of volunteers helped to submit 86,000 certified petition signatures to complete the first step towards the ballot, which introduced the petition as a bill before the Legislature.

Starting in April, we collected 21,000 additional petition signatures to finally put the Death with Dignity Act on the statewide November ballot.

Throughout the course of the qualification process, the initiative has caught the attention of many media outlets. Michael mentioned one such insightful article in today’s email:

Growing attention led several newspapers to look into the law and write about the many safeguards of the proposed law. Among them was Boston Magazine, which reported that the Death with Dignity Act is “a measured proposal loaded with safeguards, and it reflects the wisdom and experience of a diverse group of experts.”

After what’s felt like a long, circuitous journey to get to this point, this final step to qualify for the ballot sparks beginning of what now becomes a dash to the election. Support throughout the state is strong—a recent poll showed Bay Staters support Death with Dignity by a margin of two to one; as part of our partnership with Dignity 2012 we’ll keep working to make sure the people of Massachusetts continue to get the facts about this important end-of-life option. Please support our efforts with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Dignity 2012 Turns in Double the Number of Signatures Necessary

Dignity 2012 volunteer sorting signature petitions
Dignity 2012 volunteer sorting signature petitions

Last week, Dignity 2012 turned in nearly double the number of signatures they needed to place Death with Dignity on the November ballot.

The work of hundreds of volunteers made it possible to get to this point. Presenting issues to the voters through the ballot in Massachusetts is a long and arduous path. Last fall, Dignity 2012 gathered nearly 85,000 signatures to move to the next major step, which was to have the initiative considered by the State Legislature. Lawmakers had until the beginning of May to act on the measure. They didn’t and, the initiative moved to the second signature-gathering phase.

This second round of signature gathering involves a whirlwind of activity. Dignity 2012 had 39 days to mail out thousands of petition sheets with return postage, get the petitions to the 351 Town Clerks, pick up the certified petitions, and file them with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Volunteers braved all types of weather to gather signatures from people throughout Massachusetts. No one who signed it in the first round could sign during this stage. The petitions then had to be hand sorted and mailed to individual Town Clerks’ offices. (The photo above, courtesy of Dignity 2012, is a volunteer working on this monumental process.) Once certified by the Town Clerks, the petitions were filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

This initiative is one of only four which have made it this far; 31 were submitted for consideration last fall. And a recent poll showed the people of Massachusetts are ready for more end-of-life options. It found 60% of people are in favor of the proposed Death with Dignity Act; Bay Staters support the initiative by a margin of two to one!

Not surprisingly, with all the support among Massachusetts voters, the opponents are trying anything to mislead voters. Just last month, they filed a lawsuit to skew the ballot language to be inaccurate and biased. Justice Cordy ruled against them, denying their claim. Now, religious leaders and other opponents are vowing a “vigorous fight” and are prepared to spend millions to put their outrageous lies on TV.

Clearing this recent major step ensures Bay Staters will have the opportunity to openly discuss Death with Dignity this fall, but there’s a lot of work left to be done. The Dignity 2012 campaign office is open and they’re ready for volunteers to help make this effort a success!

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BMJ Urges Move to Neutrality on Death with Dignity

Stethoscope by David DeHoey, on Flickr

In a reasoned move, the British Medical Journal today called for all professional medical bodies in the UK to take a neutral stance on Death with Dignity laws. This viewpoint, put forth in an editorial by Fiona Godlee, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, urged the British Medical Association (BMA) and the various royal colleges to move their official position on Death with Dignity from opposition to neutrality.

The editorial followed a recent poll of physicians in England asking if they favor or disfavor a move to neutrality. Of 1,000 physician respondents, 62% agreed that the BMA and royal colleges should move to a position of studied neutrality.

Godlee drew parallels to the position of professional medical bodies on the issue of abortion, noting these same organizations were opposed to abortion until a change in the law imminent. She said, “A change in the law, with all the necessary safeguards, is an almost inevitable consequence of the societal move towards greater individual autonomy and patient choice…and it may not happen until we value death as one of life’s central events and learn to see bad deaths in the same damning light as botched abortions.”

Death with Dignity has been the topic of debate in England for many years. It’s played out in Parliament, in the courts, and in the media.

There have been successive waves of Death with Dignity legislation proposed in Parliament; all blocked. Additionally, the Director of Public Prosecutions released guidelines in 2009 outlining the situations under which someone could be prosecuted for assisting in a suicide, at the request of a woman suffering from MS who wanted to travel to Switzerland to take advantage of their assisted dying legislation, but didn’t want her husband to be prosecuted for traveling with her.

Terry Pratchett, a popular English novelist, has taken up the cause. In 2011, his documentary Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die was released on BBC, and went on to win the Scottish BAFTA award for Single Documentary.

These cultural responses all indicate we’re on the cusp of acceptance of Death with Dignity. Raymond Tallis, Chair of the pro-Death with Dignity group Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, highlighted how the opposition is out of touch with trends in medicine toward patient-centered care. In the Journal press release, he summarized this sentiment well: “…the monstrous cruelty of walking away from a dying patient in unbearable suffering seems more obviously contrary to the ethos of medicine.”

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The Boston Globe on the Massachusetts Death with Dignity Initiative

Photo by Ryan Huddle of Globe staff
Photo by Ryan Huddle of Globe staff

Last Sunday, the Boston Globe Magazine helped many Bay Staters learn more about the proposed Death with Dignity Act in Massachusetts. The magazine’s feature, “Dying wishes”, by Scott Helman contains a personal story about why two Massachusetts advocates are volunteering their time in support of the ballot measure, outlines the facts of the measure, and highlights the history of Death with Dignity laws in other states.

Perhaps the most touching story from the article is that of Heather Clish. When her parents were visiting Heather in Massachusetts, her father was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor—the same type of cancer Senator Ted Kennedy had. An Oregonian, Heather’s father knew of his state’s Death with Dignity Act, and chose to request the prescribed medication while he received palliative care and his family enrolled him in hospice care.

When his pain and suffering became too great for the doctors to relieve, he decided to take the medication. Heather and her sisters were able to travel to Oregon to be with her dad in his final moments:

Clish and her two sisters filled his ears with pleasant images. Mary Lou lay in his arms, as he’d wanted. He had earlier told her, “I hope I will be holding you when I take my last breath.” Johnson slipped into what looked like a deep sleep. After about 15 minutes, his pulse stopped.

Massachusetts’ proposed law emulates the time-tested and safe Oregon and Washington laws. All too often, inaccuracies are put forth about Death with Dignity Acts, but to reduce confusion, Helman does an outstanding job of explaining the facts about law:

Under the Massachusetts proposal, which is virtually identical to the laws in Oregon and Washington, terminally ill, mentally competent adults deemed to have six months or less to live would have the freedom to obtain a fatal prescription. They could qualify only after going through a process designed to ensure that they are not being coerced and that they fully understand what they’re doing. They would administer the drugs themselves. Any doctor opposed to the practice could opt out of writing the prescription.

In recapping the long history of Oregon’s law—which went into effect in 1997—and the extensive research that’s been done over the years. An especially poignant paragraph demonstrates that even researchers opposed to the Death with Dignity Act have found concerns about the law unfounded:

Even some personally opposed to assisted suicide agree Oregon has proved many of the concerns to be overblown. “When all things are considered, the arguments in favor of continued prohibition of physician-assisted suicide are not particularly compelling,” Daniel E. Lee, an ethicist and professor at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, wrote in a 2003 essay for the Hastings Center Report, a prominent ethics journal. Lee wrote that it’s perfectly appropriate to maintain moral reservations, as he does. But he said that was not enough to “stand in the way” of those who want to make a different choice.

Included in the article is the perspective of another prominent supporter of Massachusetts’ efforts, Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and senior lecturer at the Harvard Medical School. Her father suffered greatly with incurable prostate cancer, and killed himself. Dr. Angell firmly believes her father would have wanted the option, and all terminally ill individuals should be able to decide when or whether to shorten their suffering as death draws near:

Is ingesting a lethal prescription morally distinct from removing a ventilator or a feeding tube? Terminally ill patients and their proxies make those decisions every day.

Doctors can’t always alleviate suffering for the dying, she says, and patients should have the option to end it themselves. That, she argues, is consistent with the greatest obligation of doctors—to care for people as best they can, in accordance with their wishes.

Besides, Angell argues, top-flight end-of-life care and the choice of taking a lethal drug can coexist. “Good comfort care and the availability of physician-assisted suicide are no more mutually exclusive than good cardiologic care and the availability of heart transplantation,” Angell wrote in a 1997 Journal editorial. In fact, studies suggest that Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act has only improved end-of-life care in the state.

Heather Clish, drawing from her experience with her father’s peaceful death explained why this should be an option in every state:

This is not a choice that is right for everybody. But for each of the people who have chosen it, no matter how small the number, it is of immeasurable value.

Read the full article on the Boston Globe Magazine’s website, and if you’d like to learn more about how you can help, visit Dignity2012.org.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

An Interview with Massachusetts Dignity 2012

Massachusetts State House by notafish on Flickr
Massachusetts State House by notafish on Flickr

There have been a number of recent developments in the Death with Dignity movement. When I was in Massachusetts last week, I took a moment to sit down and chat with Michael Clarke, the Campaign Director at Dignity 2012, to get the latest news on their efforts. Read more about the work they’re doing and what you can do to help citizens of a third state learn more about important end-of-life options proposed in the Death with Dignity Act initiative.

Peg Sandeen from Death with Dignity National Center: What’s the goal of Dignity 2012?

Dignity 2012: Dignity 2012 is working to pass a Death with Dignity law, similar to the laws in Oregon and Washington. We’re focused on a ballot initiative effort to present the question to the voters on the November ballot. As you know, this is the same process which was used to pass the laws in Oregon in 1994 and Washington in 2008.

PS: How has the reception been so far?

Dignity 2012: We’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response from people across Massachusetts who believe terminally ill patients deserve greater control over their end-of-life care. Hundreds of volunteers and donors have signed up to help with the effort. These decisions are deeply intimate and personal, and belong in the hands of individuals, not the government.

The proposed initiative gathered more than 84,000 signatures from voters for the initial qualification phase for which we only needed about 69,000 to move forward. After achieving that first step, the initiative was then put before the State Legislature for consideration and received a hearing. The next step in this process started yesterday when we filed the documents to request the petitions to put Dignity on the ballot.

PS: What’s the next step?

Dignity 2012: The state constitution requires the petition to travel through the legislature where it is today. They had until May 1st to act on the petition but that didn’t happen. Now the petition has entered its next phase when we’ll need to collect about 20,000 more signatures by the end of June to put the question on the ballot in November.

PS: You mentioned more than 84,000 voters signed the petition. Why do you need to collect more signatures?

Dignity 2012: Massachusetts has two rounds of required petition collection: one in the fall to qualify the petition to be delivered to the Legislature and the second in the spring to place the initiative on the ballot as a question.

PS:How much time do you have to gather signatures? When is the deadline?

Dignity 2012: It’s a very short timeline. We’ll have fewer than 6 weeks to collect 20,000 signatures. The deadline to file all of the signatures is June 20.

PS:What’s the process for collecting signatures?

Dignity 2012: The process is complicated. Petitions must be hand signed by voters and a different petition sheet must be used for each town. So, people who live in different towns have to sign different sheets. Each of those sheets will have to filed with the local town Clerk’s office. The Town Clerk will check every signature and disqualify anyone who isn’t registered to vote in that town. The petitions then have to be picked up by the campaign and filed with the Secretary of State. Consider the state has 351 towns and cities, this requires a lot of work.

Collecting the signatures takes a lot more than a couple hundred people standing on street corners. We have to mail out thousands of petition sheets, provide return postage, get the petitions to the 351 Clerks, pick up the petitions, and file them with the Secretary of State, all in just 39 days. Because volunteers only have so much time to give over a 6 week period, we also have to hire workers to help collect signatures. All together, we estimate this process will cost somewhere between $85,000 and $100,000.

PS: How can people help?

Dignity 2012: Please visit our site, www.Dignity2012.org, for details. There are several ways people from all over the US can help, and here is how you can make the biggest difference:

  1. Donate – Without generous gifts from people who want to see Death with Dignity laws enacted, we wouldn’t even be able to mail out a single petition.
  2. Volunteer – If you live in Massachusetts or know someone who does please help Dignity 2012 with this huge signature-gathering stage. After you make a donation (hey it’s going to cost us money to get you the supplies) dedicate time to collect signatures from your family, friends, and coworkers.

Thank you so much, Michael, for helping our readers learn so much about everything Dignity 2012 is doing to allow Bay Staters the possibility to decide what’s best for them in their final days.

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Momentum in Montpelier for Death with Dignity Bill

Dick Walters, photo by A. Redlich
Dick Walters, photo by A. Redlich

Dick Walters is the president of Patient Choices at End of Life Vermont. The article below is his reflection on the 2011-2012 legislative session which came to a close on Saturday, May 5th.

The majority of Vermonters support the Death with Dignity bill. They can be proud of the progress made in the 2011-2012 legislative session toward enactment of this civil right. The issue has gained real momentum in the state capital.

The Death with Dignity bill would give terminally ill patients with fewer than six months to live the option—the choice—to request medication that they would self-administer as a way to control the timing and manner of their death.

The recent death of Vermont Republican Congressman Richard Mallary demonstrated the real need for the bill. Congressman Mallary was a well-respected leader in our state, and for years he called for passage of this bill—even appearing at a press conference at the beginning of this biennium. Unfortunately, the bill was not passed before his terminal illness overcame him. The revelation that he took his own life without the benefit of the peaceful approach allowed by the bill reminded all of us why we are fighting for this change.

The progress made and momentum for passage is clear.

Governor Peter Shumlin is a vocal champion for the bill’s passage.

Speaker of the House Shap Smith, the most powerful legislator in Montpelier, supports the measure. He, this year, stated confidently that the House stood ready to pass the bill if it passed the Senate.

Citizen activism supporting the bill this year reached an incredible level. The 2-1 public support demonstrated in poll after poll came through in the thousands of phone calls and emails that poured into the statehouse urging passage.

Senate supporters showed that they are willing to fight for enactment of this important civil right. Despite the bill being hampered by procedural issues in the Statehouse, the Chair of the Senate Health Committee, Claire Ayer, showed real leadership by helping the issue break through the wrangling so it could be aired on the Senate floor.

This year’s Senate floor debate helped publicly discredit a number of the false claims made against the bill. The fourteen-year track record of the Oregon Death with Dignity law and the law’s success in Washington state came through in the debate as a sound and responsible foundation for Vermont to act upon.

The Senate floor action this year wasn’t on the merits of the bill so it doesn’t accurately reflect the Senators’ positions on the bill. The spirited two-hour discussion of the issue there this winter ended with a procedural vote that precluded a vote on the bill itself. WCAX-TV noted, “That 18-11 [vote] doesn’t necessarily indicate how the Senate stands on the issue…Several senators made a point Thursday to say this vote is about the rules and following the process. They were very specific about that.”

Change can be difficult, but lawmakers will find a way to pass a bill favored by most Vermonters. Our state’s history shows that Vermont has an instinct to lead in matters of civil rights. We believe we are well on the way to achieve this important step.

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Washington 2011 Death with Dignity Report Attracts Little Media Attention

Robb Miller of Compassion & Choices of Washington
Robb Miller of Compassion & Choices of Washington

Robb Miller has been the Executive Director of Compassion & Choices of Washington—an affiliate of Compassion & Choices—since 2000. He was also one of the leaders of the coalition that passed Initiative 1000, the Washington Death with Dignity Act, with nearly 60% of the vote in 2008.

When the Washington Department of Health issued its third annual report on the Washington State Death with Dignity Act in early May, there was little interest from the media and no good news for opponents of patient autonomy at the end-of-life.

The lack of interest from the media tells us there was nothing sensational and no controversies to report. On the other hand, less media coverage means less awareness about the law.

Only 16 more people received prescriptions for life-ending medication as compared to 2010, and only 10 more died after receiving prescriptions. Of the 94 individuals who died, 70 self-administered medication, and 19 didn’t—32% of patients who acquired prescriptions in 2011 elected not to take the medication. This is bad news for opponents who claimed that people who use the law would be anxious to die and would take the medication prematurely. The report indicates just the opposite.

Other claims by opponents, such as “patients wouldn’t need the option if they had good palliative (comfort) care,” or that “patients will be encouraged to use the law to save money,” have been debunked by Washington’s and Oregon’s annual reports which indicate that the vast majority of patients who use the law were enrolled on hospice at the time of death and had health insurance.

Additionally patients’ concerns about pain control or the financial implications of treatment were both at the bottom of the list of end-of-life concerns of those who died after acquiring medication. As in prior years, their major concerns were loss of autonomy and dignity, and the loss of ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable.

Prescriptions were written by 80 different physicians in 2011 (up from 68 in 2010) and dispensed by 46 different pharmacies. Participating physicians wrote an average of 1.3 prescriptions in 2011, and pharmacies filled an average of 2.2 prescriptions. This contrasts sharply with claims by opponents that only a few physicians would help the majority of patients who used the law.

An issue not fully addressed by the report is the difficulty that some patients face finding participating physicians in certain regions of the state. While considerable support for the law exists throughout Washington (the ballot measure received majority support in 30 of 39 counties), the 2011 report indicates only five out of 94 patients who died after acquiring—but not necessarily using—life-ending medication lived in Central and Eastern Washington.

Another problem is medical providers putting their values before those of their patients, i.e., practicing organization-centered care rather than patient-centered care. Although the Death with Dignity Act permits medical providers to decline to participate, participation is defined in law as performing the duties of a participating physician, pharmacist, or psychiatric/psychological evaluation provider. Participation does not include providing information about the Death with Dignity Act or referring patients to other physicians or organizations, such as Compassion & Choices of Washington, who will.

Nevertheless, some religiously affiliated providers, such as Providence Hospice of Seattle, a Catholic health care provider, have gone so far as to adopt “gag rules” that expressly prohibit its nurses, social workers, and other staff from discussing Death with Dignity or making referrals. Because a key component of hospice philosophy is patient autonomy, these kinds of policies are antithetical to the practice of hospice. They also violate informed consent, one of the most important principles in medicine.

One of the items the report doesn’t directly address is the peace of mind and comfort the law provides. Because most of the patients who use the law are clients of Compassion & Choices of Washington and work with our client support volunteers, we believe the law is a form of palliative care. Our clients frequently say the peace of mind and control they gain makes it easier to live out their remaining days, or once they’ve acquired the medication, they can “start living again.”

Finally, a major benefit of the Death with Dignity Act is that it allows patients to die at home in familiar surroundings surrounded by their loved ones. 93% of patients who self-administered life-ending medication died at home, most often with two Compassion & Choices of Washington client support volunteers present to support the patient and family through the process.

Like the 2009 and 2010 annual reports, the 2011 report confirms the law is safe and working as intended with no unintended consequences.

Compassion & Choices of Washington stewards, protects, and upholds Washington’s Death with Dignity Act and provides free counseling services to incurably and terminally ill patients statewide. Compassion & Choices of Washington also provides information and medical expertise to participating physicians and other medical providers. All services are free of charge, and confidentiality is strictly protected. For more information: 206.256.1636, 877.222.2816 toll free, info@CompassionWA.org, or www.CompassionWA.org.

The Washington State Department of Health’s 2011 Report on the Death with Dignity Act is available on the Washington Department of Heath website.

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Board Members Make Leadership Gift to Dignity 2012

Signed Petitions, photo by Michael Clarke, Dignity 2012
Signed Petitions, photo by Michael Clarke, Dignity 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I returned from a trip to Boston where I participated in strategic planning meetings for the Dignity 2012 Ballot Question Committee, and I facilitated a board meeting for the Death with Dignity National Center. Earlier, I shared an interview I conducted with Michael Clarke, campaign manager, while I was in Boston, but I wanted to continue to share my insights into progress in Massachusetts with supporters of the Death with Dignity National Center.

Massachusetts has an indirect ballot initiative process, meaning the legislature has an opportunity to act on the proposed initiative before it goes to the people for a vote. I was in the Bay State during the final week when the legislature had an opportunity to act, and it was clear they wouldn’t move the bill forward. The campaign, now in its second signature gathering phase, intends to gather 20,000 signatures before July.

Signature gathering is expensive in Massachusetts because of the regulations governing the process. The time frames for gathering are short, and individuals who sign during the first phase of signature gathering can’t sign during the second. The campaign has to sort the signatures by township, and the town clerks have to certify all of the signatures before the campaign can turn them into the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

During the Death with Dignity National Center board meeting, board members invited members of the Dignity 2012 steering committee to several joint gatherings to address the question of paying for this second signature gathering phase. After much deliberation, members of both groups agreed to personally contribute over $80,000 to this effort. This was phenomenally generous, and arose out of a personal commitment on behalf of each individual to help ensure Death with Dignity would be put before the Massachusetts voters.

I cannot tell you how proud I am to be a part of these discussions and to see evidence of a leadership commitment to this effort—the most important one in the Death with Dignity movement today.

The Dignity 2012 campaign is in full swing these days, having gathered approximately 20% of the needed signatures for the second round of signature gathering. Michael Clarke tells me they’ll have an office open and ready for volunteers and interns in the next month.

I’ve been amazed by the all-out support from those living in Massachusetts and the grassroots nature of this campaign. Nearly 400 individuals have contributed to Dignity 2012 so far, and the issue isn’t even on the ballot yet. It’s my sense the coming weeks and months will show exponentially more public conversations about the issue and growth in the grassroots campaign. The people of Massachusetts are just beginning to grapple with this critical end-of-life option, and as they do so, more and more of them will rush to support the campaign.

It’s going to be an exciting summer.

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