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Our Common Mission: Death with Dignity in Times of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis

March 17, 2020

To Our Supporters:

As the international emergency around the coronavirus (COVID-19) unfolds, we wish to update you about what is happening in our movement and how we are responding and adapting.

State Legislatures Respond to Crisis

This crisis requires legislatures to focus on their state’s response as our country and the world struggle to contain the virus. Many important issues have been tabled as the legislatures deal with the immediate crisis.

Of the state legislatures where death with dignity and related bills are still under consideration, thus far Connecticut has postponed hearings and instituted voting by phone; Georgia, Hawaii, and New York have suspended their legislative sessions; and Maryland is adjourning early, on March 18.

We don’t know for sure what these and other state legislatures will do as the crisis worsens, but we anticipate more closures and suspensions in the coming hours and days. We are closely monitoring the situation and will keep you updated.

Our Work Continues

Our work of bringing end-of-life options to all Americans will continue, but like you, we are focused on the crisis gripping our nation.

We had a successful hearing on the End-of-Life Option Act in Maryland. In Massachusetts we continued to lobby for the End of Life Options Act and are coordinating efforts with our partners. In New York, our friends at End of Life Choices New York recently helped secure the support of The Arc New York for the Medical Aid in Dying Act. This important endorsement by the organization which works to “improve the quality of life for people with developmental and other disabilities” emphatically demonstrates there is support for death with dignity in the disability community.

Staying Safe and Connected…at Home

While advocating for policy reform, at Death with Dignity National Center we are also following the health and social distancing recommendations issued by the CDC and the Oregon Governor, and we have shifted to remote-based work.

We hope that you, too, are able to stay safe at home.

As we remain sequestered in our homes to keep the social distance needed to slow the spread of the virus, we can come together to advocate for death with dignity online. You can keep informed about end-of-life options and what’s happening in our movement here at our website or on Facebook and Twitter.

Let’s stay connected in our common mission as we weather this storm together.

11 Comments.

Pearl Paulson
March 22, 2020 at 1:23 am

Want to know ASAP how to get it if my pneumonia proves to be corona. I live in Oregon . I’m 83 and considering going to emergency now for short breath

Peter Korchnak, Death with Dignity
March 31, 2020 at 12:33 pm

We are sorry to hear about your illness. Please seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

The Oregon Death with Dignity Act stipulates that to qualify the patient must be diagnosed with a terminal illness with a 6-month prognosis, among other requirements. The process requires two waiting periods, including a 15-day period between oral requests. Covid-19 being an acute disease that acts rather rapidly, patients suffering from it would likely not have time to qualify once it was determined they were not going to survive.

Aaron Rosenberg
March 25, 2020 at 10:43 pm

Now is a great to to implement

Tama
March 27, 2020 at 2:32 pm

I’m hearing stories of people’s painful experiences with the effects of COVID. I wonder if the policies of Oregon’s death with dignity might be applicable for those who get the virus and aren’t likey to survive. If so, how might one get things in place for that possibility?

Peter Korchnak, Death with Dignity
March 31, 2020 at 12:31 pm

Death with dignity acts do not stipulate what illness does or does not qualify, only that it must be a terminal illness with a 6-month prognosis. The process entails waiting periods and other steps and requirements. Covid-19 being an acute disease that acts rather rapidly, patients suffering from it would likely not have time to qualify once it was determined they were not going to survive.

Larry Sagen
April 3, 2020 at 11:04 am

PLEASE NOTE: None of the states currently include Death with Dignity applications and reviews from people with DEMENTIA, ALZHEIMER’s, PARKINSON’s, and OTHER DEGENERATIVE DISEASES. This is a travesty. Talk with any families that have cared for loved ones with one of these diseases. If you want a real-life story that will touch your heart, I recommend a powerful book by Phyllis Shacter called “Choosing to Die”.

It’s both a reference guide and a love story about Phyllis’ husband Alan being diagnosed with Early-Mid Alzheimer’s. Both Alan and Phyllis had taken care of a parent with Alzheimer’s and Alan didn’t want to put his family and himself through the tragic Alzheimer’s nightmare. He and Phyllis thoroughly researched all options and discovered the only death with dignity option for Alzheimer’s patients was Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED). Phyllis’ book identifies all of the things they discovered and put into place so Alan could have the beautiful death he desired. Once beginning his fast, Alan died peacefully, comfortably and in the arms of his wife in their home in 9 1/2 days .

Alan begged Phyllis to share their story so people wouldn’t fear death and understand how VSED can be a painless, beautiful death that allows an Alzheimer’s patient to stay at home and to to be with the ones they love. Phyllis is now part of a film team working on a new feature movie project about their experience called “Last Dance”.

A final note: just for a moment, think about people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other degenerative diseases getting Covid-19, being taken into the hospital and dying ALONE. Now that strikes me as neither compassionate nor choice.

Catherine
March 31, 2020 at 2:33 pm

I have similar questions to the above but regarding a 77 year old Coloradoan with severe COPD. If my mom gets COVID 19, she is clear that she would rather die at home with her family than go to the hospital and die alone in a hospital room since no family can visit COVID 19 patients. She has a DNR and every medical directive possible that states she would rather die than suffer. Is there anything we can do in Colorado for either prescribe euthanasia medicine and/or medication to keep her physically comfortable should she contract COVID 19. In particular, is there anything she should be doing now when she is COVID19-free to make her wishes known to any legal or medical authority?

Peter Korchnak, Death with Dignity
March 31, 2020 at 2:51 pm

So sorry to hear about your mom’s illness. Most people would prefer to die at home, with their loved ones by their side.

It sounds like your mom’s advance directives already cover the options available to her in your state; to double-check, please consult with an attorney. That said, if a patient is treated for COVID-19 at a medical facility, in order to prevent the spread of the virus it would be unlikely the patient would be released to home care. It would be up to health care providers treating the patient to make such determinations.

In order to legally obtain prescription medications under the Colorado End of Life Options Act, your mom would have to meet the law’s requirements, including being competent and suffering from a terminal illness with a 6-month prognosis, and follow the process outlined in the law, i.e. make two oral (in-person) and one written requests to her physician, undergo evaluation by a second physician, go through the waiting period, and so on (the process and requirements are outlined in detail at the page below). Under this law, it is not possible to stipulate the requests or to qualify in an advance care document, the patient has to go through all the steps in person and meet all the requirements in real time. If your mom wishes to explore her end-of-life option under the Act, she may wish to first inquire with her physician(s).

Learn more here:

https://www.deathwithdignity.org/learn/access/

Joni Chenoweth
April 4, 2020 at 11:54 am

I am a 77 year-old diabetic in Oregon. The odds are not in my favor and a death “by drowning” in my own fluids would be a horrible way to die – especially if emergency medical care was no longer an option due to the overwhelming of hospitals and shortage of equipment and supplies. To be able to choose to die rather than go through the horror of my likely end would be a blessing at this time. I would ask that states make an emergency exception for those of us who are in this situation. There is no dignity in dying from COVID19 and the trauma to families would also be horrible. Please push to help us die with dignity.

CATHERINE ST. JAMES
April 29, 2020 at 2:46 pm

I LIVE IN WASHINGTON STATE. I AM A 75 Y.O. FEMALE WHO HAS A POLST WITH DIRECTIONS FOR DNAR, NO INTUBATION. MY QUESTION IS: IF I GET COVID-19 ARE COMFORT MEASURES ONLY AVAILABLE/PALLIATIVE CARE/ DRUGS? OR DO I JUST HAVE TO SUFFER TO THE END AT HOME WITH MY HELPLESS FAMILY MEMBERS WATCHING?

Peter Korchnak
April 29, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Should you contract COVID-19, which we sincerely hope never happens, it will be up to the attending physician at a hospital where you are treated to determine what treatment you receive in order to cure you or to provide you with any palliative measures necessary or as stipulated in your POLST (unless your POLST form specifically stipulates you wish not to be hospitalized, you would be treated for this illness at a hospital).

Your POLST should—and it sounds like it already does—contain instructions for life-sustaining medical interventions should you need them at the end of life, due to this or any other illness. While POLST is part of your medical record, to be on the safe side we recommend keeping a copy at a visible place in your home, e.g. pasted to your refrigerator, and on your person if you end up requiring hospitalization (unless your POLST states you do not wish to be hospitalized). If you haven’t updated your POLST form in a while, now may also be the time to do so, and keep the updated version on you. Health care providers are obligated to follow your instructions as laid out in your POLST form.

For more information on topics related to end-of-life care and COVID-19, please read our more recent article where we feature a number of experts responding to questions we’ve received on the subject:

https://www.deathwithdignity.org/news/2020/04/covid-19-end-of-life-care/

For Washington-specific information about POLST, check out this resource from our friends at End of Life Washington and contact them with any additional questions:

https://endoflifewa.org/choices-and-planning/polst/

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