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July-August News Roundup: “Making the Call” on Aid in Dying

July 31, 2020

Death with Dignity Executive Director and Maine Advocate Featured on National Podcast

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel is one of the most oft-quoted physician-bioethicists in stories about the medical mysteries and moral quandaries of COVID-19. He and fellow bioethicist, Dr. Jonathan Moreno host a podcast, “Making the Call,” about the medical and ethical issues at the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic. The the July 8, 2020 episode featured a conversation with Death with Dignity Executive Director Peg Sandeen that explored the ethics of medical aid in dying. Maine resident Karen Wentworth, the second individual to receive a prescription under the Maine Death with Dignity Act, also shared her story and what led her to access Maine’s assisted-dying law. Listen to the episode here.

We recently published the first two installments of Karen’s story, featuring her written and spoken reflections on “making peace with life through death.” Here are parts One and Two. The final installment will be published August 7.


Latest Report on California’s End of Life Option Act Released

California this month released its fourth annual report on utilization of the state’s End of Life Option Act, which went into effect in June 2016. A total of 618 terminally ill patients received prescriptions written by 246 unique physicians for medical aid in dying in 2019, and 405 patients took the medication in 2019. As in Oregon, Washington, and other states with assisted-dying statutes, California’s law is used sparingly, with no documented instances of abuse or coercion since implementation began.


Hawaii Doctor: Our Care, Our Choice Act Improves End-of-Life Care

“Big Island doctor says having an end-of-life option improves end-of-life care,” West Hawaii Today, 7/5/20

The Aloha State’s Our Care, Our Choice Act has brought peace at the end of life to terminally ill Hawaii residents since January 2019. Charlotte Charfen, an emergency-room physician who works in Kona, said having an aid-in-dying option improves end-of-life care across the board and not only for patients who access the law. It opens up conversations between doctors and patients — and patients and families.


Support for Aid in Dying Remains Strong in Massachusetts

Massachusetts lawmakers made history in May, 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. Below, several Massachusetts residents express their support for death with dignity.

“Bill to Allow Medically-Assisted Death in Mass. Awakens an Old Debate,” WAMC, 7/6/20
“Katherine J. Atkinson: ‘Death with Dignity’ and the Disabled,” Daily Hampshire Gazette, 7/8/2020
“Letter: End of Life Options Act offers dignity, comfort,” Cape Cod News, 7/25/20
“My turn: Making final choice about quality of life,” Greenfield Recorder, 7/27/20


Two Moving Op-Eds from New York

” Many people with disabilities want to die peacefully at the end,” The Eagle, 7/25/20

As the U.S. commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a doctor living with cancer and multiple sclerosis explains why she supports death with dignity. The purpose of the Act, she says,“is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else,” according to the American Disabilities Act National Network. Medical aid-in-dying legislation honors this historic law’s mission, by providing people with disabilities the same autonomy and freedom as everyone else to make our own healthcare decisions at life’s inevitable end.”

“Another Voice: Terminally ill New Yorkers need a peaceful dying option,” Buffalo News, 7/28/20

Two New Yorkers with terminal cancer urge their state lawmakers to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act, which was tabled when legislators voted to suspend the legislative session back in March. “The sad truth is New Yorkers with incurable, terminal diseases are dying no matter what,” they write. “And we are at even greater risk because of our weakened immune systems of dying in agony if we get infected with Covid-19. Ensuring that terminally ill New Yorkers have the option to die peacefully is as important now more than ever. ”

Read about our work to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act here.


The COVID-19 Chronicles, Part 3

In our most recent news roundups, we shared stories that explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the healthcare system and on the national conversation around death and dying. We’ve also written our own articles featuring perspectives on these issues from experts in end-of-life care and others who work with dying and grieving individuals. Here are two thought-provoking stories we read this month:

“The Pandemic Should Change the Way We Talk About Dying,” The Atlantic, 7/3/20

The above piece quotes Dr. Joel Rowe, an emergency medicine physician in New York City:

“End-of-life conversations are hard. Yet the coronavirus is with us, and we should use this period of collective grief and suffering to reflect and plan. A patient’s wishes, written in the form of an advance directive and made known to those who would make decisions for her in the event she’s unable to, can empower those she loves most and offer some certainty during one of the most challenging times in their life.”

“Boom Time for Death Planning,” The New York Times, 7/16/20

The Times profiles several startups targeting millennials who, in the COVID-19 era, “are newly anxious about their mortality, increasingly comfortable talking about it and more likely to be grieving or know someone who is.”

Read all our COVID-19 content here.



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