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The Power of Coming Together: Lisa Vigil Schattinger on Advocating for Death with Dignity in Ohio

July 21, 2017

This is the first in a series of interviews with grassroots advocates who are participants in Death with Dignity National Center’s new State Leadership Incubator. Today, we’re speaking with Lisa Vigil Schattinger, MSN, RN, founder and executive director of Ohio End of Life Options. Lisa joined our Board of Directors in 2016.

Other stories in the series:

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Lisa Vigil Schattinger’s leadership journey began in Medford, Oregon, at the bedside of her stepfather, Dr. Jack Rowe. Suffering from Myelodysplastic syndrome with no chance of recovery, Jack made the decision in November 2014 to use the Oregon Death with Dignity Act to end his life before his pain and suffering became too much to endure.

“When Jack shared his thoughts and intentions, his absolute firm belief that this was his choice and his right to use this option, we understood,” Lisa says.

Lisa, who grew up in Oregon and worked in an internal medicine office during the campaigns to pass the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, had long been aware and supportive of the assisted dying movement. This knowledge, combined with her personal experience supporting her mother during her aunt’s prolonged battle, gave Lisa a unique perspective on a patient’s quality of life and death.

Death with Dignity advocate Lisa Vigil Schattinger with family

Lisa Vigil Schattinger (second from right) with Dr. Jack Rowe (Grandpa Jack), her mother Janet Rowe, and her husband and son.

After witnessing Jack’s painless, peaceful, and dignified death, Lisa and her family realized that “we needed to share his experience to help people understand that a peaceful death can be achieved when someone knows they’re dying and is very proactive” about end-of-life planning.

Bringing the Dialogue About Dying to Ohio

Lisa returned to Ohio with a renewed passion for bringing greater end-of-life choice to people in states without Death with Dignity statutes. She was ready to join the dialogue about death and dying in her area. But she quickly found out that there was no dialogue.

“So few people had heard about assisted dying or even talked about death and dying, that it was a challenge to bring it to light here and start a conversation,” Lisa says.

So she got to work, researching the ins and outs of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act and writing an op-ed to her local newspaper, in which she shared her family’s story and her firm belief in giving all Americans a right to die with dignity.

The piece, published in December 2014, struck a chord. Hundreds of readers shared it on social media, and Lisa received many supportive comments from community members. Just as Lisa’s piece appeared, the story of Brittany Maynard, who used the Oregon law 10 days before Jack, had brought the issue of Death with Dignity into the mainstream. But it was still difficult for her to have face-to-face conversations with Ohioans about Death with Dignity.

The first meetings about crafting and passing the Oregon Death with Dignity Act took place in a church basement and behind closed doors. More than 20 years later, Lisa’s conversations with Death with Dignity supporters in Ohio were similarly enshrouded in secrecy.

From left, Doug Schattinger, Lisa Vigil Schattinger, and Annie & Rick Hubbard of the Hubbard Family Foundation

“I was approached in so many ways: in back hallways, stairwells, bathrooms—all these places that were not public, for people to say, thank you, and here’s my story,” Lisa recalls. “They absolutely wanted to share stories when there was an outlet for it.”

An Organization Forms

She began to deepen connections with a small group of allies and aspiring activists, who joined her as she began creating a unified voice for a nascent Death with Dignity movement in Ohio. They launched their grassroots efforts in spring 2015 by meeting with state legislators to educate them on the issue; they broadened their reach through penning op-eds, giving media interviews, and leading presentations to organizations and community groups around the state.

One of Lisa’s main goals was to educate people about the hows and whys of the Oregon law. She wanted to create “a safe space for people to explore the details of the law, to ask, ‘how would this work for me moving forward?’”

That fall, bolstered by increasing momentum, Lisa’s group formed a steering committee for what would become Ohio End of Life Options, and obtained 501(c)3 status for the organization in early 2016.

Supporting Ohio End of Life Options

Through the State Leadership Incubator, we at the Death with Dignity National Center are working with Lisa and advocates in other states on messaging, grassroots organizing, political strategy, and more.

Lisa says the state leadership incubator has been empowering, enlightening, and encouraging. She has found connecting with and learning from her fellow advocates especially valuable.

“From the very beginning, what struck me is the power of coming together with and listening to like-minded people,” Lisa says. “Everybody has questions—we’re trying to figure out how best to do it in our own states, recognizing what’s needed overall, and how to pursue what you need outside your own skill set.”

Lisa is using the lessons learned in the incubator to grow Ohio End of Life Options strategically. Her first project: training aspiring activists across the state, giving them the tools she wished she’d had at the beginning of her efforts.

Opening up minds to other ways of thinking is a big responsibility. We’re not here to push buttons, we’re here to grow an informed group of supporters.

—Lisa Vigil Schattinger

“I was able to look at all the available tools, like webinars, and talk with them about messaging,” she adds. “Having tools that allow me to say, ‘Don’t scramble for 100 hours, here are resources that you can use right away’” can transform motivated supporters into effective advocates.

Lisa says that her organization’s greatest opportunities are also its most significant challenges.

“The program gives us something to work toward, and helps us see the bigger picture,” she says. “Which is sometimes quite daunting! I’m trained as a nurse, I’m not a natural fundraiser. But as this program has helped us solidify who we are and where we want to go, I realize that fundraising is an integral part of working toward those goals. In allowing us to see the bigger picture and how to get there, I feel more comfortable asking for donations.”

Lisa also serves on Death with Dignity National Center’s Board of Directors, a position she calls “a tremendous honor” that has inspired her to strengthen her efforts in Ohio.

Lisa Vigil Schattinger (center) with her mother Janet Rowe (seated) and Shana Sadoski, Ohio End of Life Options’ new community coordinator.

Building Relationships

“It has been a significant growth opportunity for me personally,” Lisa says. “I’ve learned so much about the political process, and have gained comfort and confidence” advocating for an assisted dying law in the Buckeye State.

Above all, Lisa says, her work in Ohio mirrors the National Center’s efforts in states across the country. It comes down to building relationships one at a time, with a combination of knowledge, strategy, and empathy for terminally ill patients and their loved ones.

“It’s about engaging people in respectful, responsible conversation,” Lisa says. “Opening up minds to other ways of thinking is a big responsibility. We’re not here to push buttons, we’re here to grow an informed group of supporters.”

8 Comments.

Ohio End of Life Options Featured | Ohio End of Life Options
July 24, 2017 at 6:28 pm

[…] The Power of Coming Together: Lisa Vigil Schattinger on Advocating for Death with Dignity in Ohio […]

Cynthia Schilling
September 29, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Dear Lisa:
May I please say some things on “Death with Dignity?”
I am convinced this is “pro-choice” because it is her body, just like abortion. It is MY CHOICE when I die, and no one else’s. I am convinced that the “help of a doctor” is a SAFE way to die. They are the expert in medicine. I would not have to go through terrible seizures or whatever.

I am also convinced that a person dies WHEN they want to die. They are suffering. If a person wants to die in a SAFE place, (hospital) how can we reject that?? (Whoever it is)

How can we say this is only for the terminally ill? I feel bad for them, but they are NOT the only people suffering.

May I please say, it is not fair to reject other people on this issue. If a person has been abused, they should have a RIGHT to die, just like any other person who is suffering. Who can say one person’s SUFFERING is worse than another person’s?? How in the world would we know?? The doctor only knows so much (x-rays).

Clearly, only that particular individual can say how bad that suffering is (depression). There is no way I would FORCE someone to live, especially when they want to die in a SAFE PLACE.

This is an INDIVIDUAL issue, and should be open to ANYONE. May I please say, I would never vote and say no to someone when they are suffering. I have NO CLUE on that person’s suffering.

I am not trying to be negative, but I am not for suffering of any kind. We must be open to that. Again, I think death with dignity should be open to ANY person suffering in Ohio.

I look forward to your response to my thoughts. I would love to be on a committee for death with dignity in Ohio.
Thank you.

Cynthia Schilling

Lisa Vigil Schattinger
October 10, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Dear Ms. Schilling,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I advocate for a law like Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act because of it’s proven 20 year history of its working as intended and having no cases of abuse or misuse. It was written understanding that strong safeguards were necessary to keep vulnerable populations safe. Since then, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado and the District of Columbia have all based their law on Oregon’s, for that reason. People facing mental health challenges or instances of abuse should be treated with care, compassion, treatment or legal protection, as needed.
Thank you

Eleanor Riviella
July 30, 2017 at 2:56 pm

I hope that this will come into affect in Ohio.

Eleanor Riviella
July 30, 2017 at 3:00 pm

I wish you good luck for I felt the same way when my husband had a massive stroke and lived that way for twenty years He was 52 at that time Hope to see that pass in Ohio not that I will be around but for the younger generation .

Lisa Vigil Schattinger
August 1, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Dear Mrs. Riviella,
We would love to connect with you at Ohio End of Life Options. You can email me at info@OhioOptions.org.

Regards,
Lisa Vigil Schattinger

Sue McKeown
September 3, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Dear Ms. Schattinger,

Although I am not a native of Ohio, it has been my home state for 31 years. The day I learned that the Ohio legislature passed a law making assisting a suicide (with support from both Republican and Democrats), I nearly wept for joy. As a member of Democrats for Life, I oppose euthanasia/assisted suicide, capital punishment, and most abortions.

Just in case you think I have no skin in this game, please read on. My 61-year old husband of 31 years has frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), a form of dementia that shares features with Alzheimer’s, but is a distinct disease. He was formally diagnosed by neurologist Dr. Douglas Scharre of the Ohio State University Medical Center in September 2012, but he and I believe my husband manifested symptoms of FTD about two years before his diagnosis. He has been in long-term care for two years this weekend. He can walk, feed himself with prompting (it’s his short attention span that requires the prompting), cooperate in his activities of daily living, enjoy music, favorite snacks, recognize me and my name but is hazy about the fact that I’m his wife, enjoy sunshine, and sometimes kisses my hand while we’re holding hands. I don’t consider him a vegetable any more than I do my immediate family or my friends who are 100% cognitively intact. If it ever became able to authorize his death by assisted suicide/euthanasia (and I realize that any proposed legislation limits this to competent adults, so this is hypothetical), I’d tell anyone who would ask, “No, no, and he** no. Don’t you ever ask me again.” If assisted suicide/euthanasia ever becomes legal in Ohio, I’ll probably get an order in my medical chart that say that I don’t want euthanasia/assisted suicide ever; don’t even bother asking.

As for the idea that that’s your choice, now let me make mine, consider this. The suicide rate in Oregon has increased as assisted suicides have increased there, even as they’ve decreased nationwide. Is that what we want in Ohio? Also, no one is an island. Every suicide hurts someone else, whether medical or “conventional”. It’s like throwing a stone into Lake Erie or Lake Michigan. Who know what effects the ripples that stone has?

Why not do something instead that everyone can agree on: world-class palliative and hospice care, depression screening and mental health treatment for the terminally ill, loving support, assuring everyone that they are not a burden to loved ones or our health care system, and great heath insurance for every Ohioan. In otherwords, make euthanasia/assisted suicide unthinkable.

Lisa Vigil Schattinger
October 10, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Dear Ms. McKeown,
Thank you for sharing your experience and your thoughts. This dialogue is important.
I’m thankful to see that we agree on a couple of things.
1. Suicide must be prevented. Those with mental health challenges deserve compassion, care and treatment. As a person whose father ended his life while young but facing mental illness, I fully respect that suicide must be prevented.
2. Palliative care and Hospice care must be better understood and utilized. In Oregon’s 20 year history with the law, 90% of people using the Death with Dignity Act are enrolled in hospice care. 94% died at home.
My stepfather enrolled in hospice care but further wanted control of the time, place and with whom he was surrounded when he died. Jack had seen many bad deaths. He was frail, dying soon and understood the possible complications from his disease. He was quite clear in sharing that he hoped for and planned for a peaceful death. We were very sad but also thankful that he achieved that wish.
We respected his wishes and also respected that he could have changed his mind.
About a third of the people who qualify for and receive the medication never use it.
I respect that in states with these laws, individuals have an option that brings them peace and control when they are terminally ill. Most never choose this option but for those that do the peace of mind it brings is invaluable.

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