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A Matter of Life and Death: What Are The Choices?

California Assembly chamber, photo by LWY on flickr

Yesterday, Michael H. White, mediator, attorney, and former board member of the Death with Dignity National Center, spoke before the California Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care about Death with Dignity laws. Below is the transcript of his testimony.

There is tension between the beliefs that end of life choices should be founded mainly on respect for the sanctity of life or on compassion for those who are suffering: sanctity based on religious and moral principles or compassion based on respect for personal autonomy. I resolve the matter for myself by focusing on the belief that lawful physician assisted dying extends the lives of those who are terminally ill.

In California, a terminally ill person who wishes to have the benefit of all medical resources that are available, or not, has that choice. However, a person who wishes to have the assistance of a physician in the dying process—either due to unremitting pain and suffering or the absence of adequate quality in life—does not have that choice. As one opponent to legalization of assisted dying once said in a debate with me, "So long as there are bridges and tall buildings from which a dying person can jump, there is no need for a law that would permit a physician to prescribe medication to end a person's life."

Read more: A Matter of Life and Death: What Are The Choices?

This Week in the Movement

Watch Burzichelli Sponsors Death w/Dignity Act for Terminally Ill on PBS. See more from NJToday.

Throughout the week, we keep people up-to-date with information about the Death with Dignity movement and other topics related to end-of-life care through Facebook and Twitter. Below are highlights from this week.

Efforts regarding Death with Dignity:

Read more: This Week in the Movement

Vermont Senate Advances Bill

The Art and Practice of Sausage Making

The process of passing laws is a bit like making sausage, the end product is often good, but you probably don't really want to see how the product came to be. The many twists and turns the Vermont Death with Dignity bill experienced this week were no exception.

Over the course of three days, the Senate held hours of lively debate about the proposed legislation. After the bill was drastically amended, they passed Senate Bill 77 by a margin of 22 to 8. If you're curious about the minutiae of this week's proceedings, check out the Seven Days summary.

The bill now heads to the House in the next steps in its journey. Look for a major overhaul in the House where the majority of the members have said they support laws emulating the time-tested Oregon and Washington Death with Dignity Acts.

The bill still has a long ways to go in the sausage-making process. We'll continue to keep updates coming your way through our blog and on social media through Facebook and Twitter.

Read more: Vermont Senate Advances Bill

New Study: More Hospice and More Heroic Measures

Cover image care of Journal of the American Medical Association

New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association raises more questions about patterns in end-of-life care than it answers. Nine researchers teamed up to explore data from Medicare beneficiaries in an attempt to describe changes occurring between 2000 and 2009 in three important areas for those who are terminally ill: site of death, place of care during the last months of life, and number of transitions between healthcare facilities at the end of life.

Acknowledging prior studies had demonstrated an increase in the number of people dying at home and an increase in hospice usage, the researchers asked the (somewhat) rhetorical question, "Is this evidence of the success of hospice- and hospital-based palliative care teams?" Their findings suggest the answer might be "maybe" or "maybe not"—a not-so-resoundingly affirmative response to an important question.

The researchers explored information contained in a complex Medicare database, looking at records from more than 800,000 Medicare beneficiaries who died in 2000, 2005 or 2009. Data represent a random sample of those 66 or older who had a diagnosis of cancer, COPD or dementia in the last six months of their lives.

So, what were their findings?

Read more: New Study: More Hospice and More Heroic Measures

Vermont Senate to Debate Death with Dignity

Sen. Ayer responding to questions, photo by Kirk Carpezza of VPR

After hours of discussion today, the Vermont Senate voted 17-13 to allow debate on the proposed Death with Dignity bill (Senate Bill 77) in spite of the Judiciary Committee's recommendation to the contrary. Debate on the bill will take place tomorrow at 1:30 pm ET. You can listen to the proceedings live on Vermont Public Radio. If you can't listen in, they'll likely also blog about it live like they did today.

Senators who support and oppose the bill questioned the chairs of the two committees which heard testimony on the bill, Health and Human Services and the Judiciary, with most of the questions directed at Senator Claire Ayer, the chair of Health and Human Services. She deftly and politely responded to many opponents baseless claims and assertions and presented the facts available from 15 years of data on Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.

Read more: Vermont Senate to Debate Death with Dignity

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Defend dignity. Take action.

You are the key to ensuring well-crafted Death with Dignity laws for all Americans. With your financial and volunteer help, the Death with Dignity National Center, a 501(c)(3), non-partisan, nonprofit organization, has been the leading advocate in the Death with Dignity movement. Individual contributions helped us pass new Death with Dignity laws in Washington and Vermont, defend the Oregon law, and provide education and outreach programs for the vitality of the Death with Dignity movement.

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