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June News Roundup: Momentum in Massachusetts, COVID-19 Chronicles, and a Reckoning on Racism

June 30, 2020

Amid protests and a pandemic, the U.S. faces a reckoning on race (again)

Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, statistics on COVID-19 deaths have laid bare how longstanding inequities in access to quality healthcare have left Black and Brown communities more vulnerable to illness and premature death. The widespread protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in May have revealed, yet again, that systemic racism is a public-health issue.

We continue to amplify the voices of people of color who are leading efforts to build an equitable healthcare system that works for all. Below are stories featuring perspectives from Black doctors on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and a death doula leading conversations about racism in end-of-life care.

“‘I am tired’: what Black doctors need you to know right now,” Forbes, 6/12/20

Excerpt: “We know what the experience is like without personal protective equipment, to be infected with Covid-19, and the potential risk for serious mental health outcomes. What we don’t know is how this is disproportionately affecting Black doctors. We can hypothesize based on what we know and say this will affect their mental health more, but we also need to hear directly from them. This is the time to listen and learn and center their experiences.”

“Black doctors need more than demonstrations, they need change,” Forbes, 6/16/20

In this piece, Black doctors share their thoughts “about the role of their colleagues and institutions in this critical moment. Will they make sustainable change? Is it finally time to have more than hope? Or is it, again, empty words.”

“How do you foster a ‘good death’ in a racist society?,” Los Angeles Times, 6/25/20

Excerpt: “As a Black death doula, Alua Arthur has spent a lot of time thinking about what a “good death” means — how racial bias and racism can both be the cause of death and affect how people die, just as it affects how we all live. “The American dream is shaped by the white experience,” said Arthur, “and the way we conceive of a good death is largely based on the values we hold for living a good life.”

For many, a “good life” ends with excellent medical care. However, It has been well documented that the medical field is rife with implicit racial bias. Arthur sees parallels between the end-of-life work she does as a death doula, and the collective experience of grief and loss so many are currently feeling.

“It started with the coronavirus pandemic,” Arthur said. But now, the deeper, more systemic disease of racism is being properly recognized. “Somebody just got a diagnosis they were not prepared for,” she said, “but hopefully it will lead to the death of an old ideology.”


Death with Dignity’s Statement of Solidarity

In a statement of solidarity with those protesting police brutality and centuries of systemic racism, we articulated our organization’s official and unequivocal support for the Black Lives Matter movement:

At Death with Dignity National Center, we value the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings. We work every day to realize a future in which all people have the freedom to decide how they live and die. Our commitment to these values places us in solidarity with the Black community and those protesting against centuries of oppression, injustice, and lives cut short by violence. Black lives matter.

Read the full statement here.


The COVID-19 Chronicles, Part 2

In our last news roundup, we shared stories from across the U.S. about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting death, dying, and end-of-life care. We also published our own pieces about these topics, compiling insights and advice from experts related to frequently asked questions about end-of-life care in the COVID-19 era, as well as what it means to die alone and grieve the dead in a pandemic.

We continue to follow coverage of these issues in local and national media. Below are several of the many thought-provoking pieces published on COVID-19 in June.

“In a time of isolation, mourners are navigating death at a distance,” Street Roots, 6/14/20

Excerpt: “Family members are facing unimagined barriers to partaking in end-of-life care for loved ones. There are adult children who haven’t seen their dying parents in months. Family members who lack personal transportation may fear a trip on public transportation to see mom or dad because it could increase coronavirus transmission. And then there’s the pain associated with trying to explain to a person who’s dying why their relatives are wearing personal protective equipment — or why they are visiting digitally rather than in person.

But there’s an incidental silver lining that comes with the move to digital, said bereavement coordinator Rondi Hunt, who provides resources and support to families after a patient dies in hospice.

“I’m doing a lot more over the phone,” she said, “and probably having a lot more phone contact with folks because they are at home and people are feeling very isolated and not getting much interaction otherwise. I’m actually talking to people probably more than I did before.”

“When doctors and patients talk about death over Zoom,” Wired, 6/15/20

A thoughtful examination of the pros and cons of telemedicine in a pandemic.

Excerpt: “In the midst of difficult moments, [palliative-care doctors] were excited to discover that they could have these serious conversations and treat patients effectively over the phone. “There is amazing potential for tele-palliative care to bring people together in new ways and in very joyful and surprising ways,” says [Dr. Claire] Anduka.”

“The pandemic broke end-of-life care,” The Atlantic, 6/16/20

A collection of unflinching first-person accounts from palliative-care doctors on the front lines of pandemic response at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s hospital.

Excerpt: “I’ve been part of a lot of deaths of patients in palliative care. We don’t see a lot of death like this—without any family members present. We aren’t used to being that person at the bedside, trying our best to provide the comfort that a family member’s presence would provide and feeling inadequate in that at best. Afterwards I gathered his nurses and respiratory therapist and we talked. Everyone agreed it was unlike anything they had been part of.

It was the first time I had touched him. And in the ICU, probably one of the only times I’ve physically touched the patient.”


A Major Milestone in Maine

“On this date in Maine history: June 12,” Portland Press Herald, 6/12/20

On June 12, we celebrated the first anniversary of the Maine Death with Dignity Act becoming law. Like many campaigns to pass death with dignity statutes, the victory in Maine was the result of a multi-decade effort involving grassroots supporters, lawmakers, lobbyists, and our staff. Read more about the long road to victory in Maine and California, whose End of Life Option Act went into effect four years ago this month.

The adoption of a death with dignity law in Maine had ripple effects across the Northeast. In September 2019, a fledgling group of advocates in a neighboring state launched New Hampshire Death with Dignity, a grassroots group to pass an aid-in-dying law in the Granite State. In Massachusetts, where we have worked for nearly a decade, legislators last month advanced a bill out of committee for the first time in history.

Speaking of which:


Momentum in Massachusetts

Massachusetts lawmakers made history last month, when the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health voted to advance the End of Life Options Act. It was the first time a death with dignity bill advanced out of any committee in the Bay State: a welcome sign of progress toward policy reform in a state where we have worked since 2012.

“Kafka’s death by choice bill advances,” Wicked Local Staughton, 6/15/20

Excerpt: “After at least five legislative sessions without advancing beyond the committee stage, bills that would open the door to doctors prescribing lethal doses for terminally ill patients got favorable reports from the Committee on Public Health.

Supporters of the legislation cheered the progress and said that the COVID-19 pandemic ‘has shined a spotlight on the importance of a compassionate death.'”

Advocates affiliated with our partner organization, Western Massachusetts Death with Dignity, continued to pen letters to the editor that were published in newspapers across the state. Here are just a few:

“Letter: Doctor in support of End of Life Options Act,” The Millbury-Sutton Chronicle,” 6/9/20
“End of Life Options Act is needed,” Greenfield Recorder, 6/10/20
“Letter: Support the Death with Dignity Law,” The Salem News,” 6/11/20
“Carrie West: Supports End of Life Options Act,” Daily Hampshire Gazette, 6/15/20
“Letter: End of Life Options Act Must Be Passed by July 31,” Worcester Telegram, 6/19/20

Read more about our partnership with Massachusetts Death with Dignity here.


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