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Questions on This Independence Day: A Message from Death with Dignity Executive Director Peg Sandeen

July 3, 2020

Every year, Death with Dignity National Center Executive Director Peg Sandeen shares a message commemorating and reflecting on Independence Day in the United States. Here are her thoughts on the meaning of Independence Day in 2020.


Most years, my Independence Day reflection celebrates our country’s stated commitment to freedom and self-determination. It mirrors our own commitment to giving Americans with terminal illness autonomy and control in their final days.

This year, my message is different.

What Does it Mean to Be Free?

In light of everything that has transpired in recent months, I find myself wrestling with several questions. What does it mean to be free in the United States? Have we truly lived up to the promise of liberty and justice for all? And how will we as a nation respond to this moment of reckoning that has forced us to confront our own divisions and inequities?

I believe the greatest human freedom is to live and die according to our own desires and beliefs. Death with Dignity has been working to make this a reality for dying Americans for more than a quarter-century. All of us should be able to define for ourselves what constitutes a good life and a good death—and to have access to medical options that allow us to stay true to those values.

Whose Freedom?

Tragically, we have seen in the past few months how many people have been denied this freedom, whether due to the coronavirus pandemic or systemic racism or police brutality. 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.

Since March, we in the United States have seen freedoms many of us took for granted— the ability to safely travel, gather, celebrate, and mourn with our friends and loved ones—curtailed in the name of safety from a virus that cares not for our way of life. Recent protests against systemic racism have revealed, yet again, that contrary to what many of us learned in school, not everyone is granted the same opportunities at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A Pivotal Moment

Our nation was forged through conflict and built on the backs of those who were denied the freedom that is central to our nation’s identity. Today, we find ourselves in another moment of upheaval, with another chance to decide what we want our transformed world to become.

Fulfilling a Promise

What does a post-pandemic U.S. look like? Do we try in vain to return to a previous definition of normal life, or do we reimagine a more just and equitable society that fulfills the promises articulated in the Declaration of Independence? How do we ensure all Americans have access to quality end-of-life care and the ability to control their final days?

I don’t have all the answers. But together, perhaps we can begin to envision an America where everyone has the freedom to decide how they live and die.

In solidarity,



Jim Gray
August 6, 2020 at 5:52 pm

Hi Peg ~
I hope this finds you well and staying safe… I just finished reading this year’s Independence Day message where you have so succinctly expressed your views that many of us share. It is, indeed, a different world we are living through and now more than ever it’s time to stand up and be counted.
As a lifetime resident of Florida and one who lost his mother a few days ago, I have to get involved as deeply as possible to change the minds and hearts of the people in power in Florida who continue to ignore what I believe is a fundamental right to die with dignity.
My Mom was possibly the strongest person I’ve ever known and worked tirelessly in the help others less fortunate.
When she was diagnosed with operative liver cancer 7 weeks ago and given only a few months to live, she begged to be able to end her life and she lived it… on her terms.
The fact that politics and dogma still permeate our system like the cancer that took my Mom is almost unbelievable in this day and time. I am just now becoming aware of the work you are doing and I need to get involved as a tribute to my Mom.
I live in Tallahassee, Fl. and have relationships with some pretty powerful people. I would like to know from you how I can best get started; who I can reach out to and in the words of John Lewis “Get into good trouble”
As a resident of Tallahassee since 1979, I have seen the slow wheels of change, but never made the time to try and move the axle of such slow progress, especially in this area.
With my Mom gone from my sight, but never from my mind and heart, I need to do this for me and for the countless others that believe a person’s right to die is something personal and somehow guaranteed by the very principles of our democracy.

Now more than ever, with such division as you so eloquently put in your letter, let’s take up the cause with more strength and vigor than anyone has found before and get this done in Florida.
It’s time.
It’s without argument.
Please let me know how to start?
Thanks in advance and my best to you and your family…
Jim Gray

Valerie Lovelace
August 10, 2020 at 3:26 pm

Thanks, Jim, for your comments. Look for an email from us!

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