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Posted on August 3, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Compassion & Choices today praised D.C. Health for
releasing two years of reports showing it is making progress in
implementing the D.C. Death with Dignity Act, despite
repeated
congressional attempts to repeal the law
since it took
effect on Feb. 18, 2017
.

The D.C. Death with Dignity
Act

allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live
to have the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can
decide to take if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable, so they can
die peacefully in their sleep.



Eight states
currently allow medical aid in dying: California,
Colorado, Hawai’i, Montana
(via state Supreme Court ruling), New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and
Vermont. In
addition, Maine
will allow this option starting Sept. 15. Collectively, these 10 jurisdictions
represent more than 1/5 of the nation’s population (22%) and have more than 40
years of experience successfully implementing this medical practice.



D.C. Health
released two reports showing
no D.C.
residents used the law in 2017
, but that four
terminally ill D.C. residents received prescriptions for aid-in-dying
medication in 2018
; two of these people took the medication to peacefully end
their suffering from cancer, but two others died before taking the medication.

“Repeated
congressional attempts to repeal the law have unfortunately caused confusion
about the status of the law, discouraging doctors, healthcare providers and
patients from participating in it,” said Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion &
Choices. “We know from experience that just having this option provides comfort
to terminally ill patients, whether they use it or not, because they know they
won’t have to suffer needlessly when they die.”



Compassion
& Choices has been working in partnership with D.C. Health to educate the
healthcare community and the public about the law, including 15 public
presentations and five medical trainings to healthcare providers and the next
medical training is set for October. Last September, Compassion & Choices
launched a
public service
announcement campaign to educate D.C. health care providers and residents about
the law
.
The PSA narrators were
WAMU podcast show host
Diane Rehm
,
whose late husband John died in agony from Parkinson’s disease, and
Dr. Omega Silva, a retired D.C.
physician and a former president of the American Medical Women’s Association,
who testified in support of the law.



“We thank D.C.
Health for working in partnership with us to help educate the healthcare
community and the public about this important end-of-life care option for
terminally ill adults to peacefully end intolerable suffering,” said Donna
Smith, the D.C. and Maryland campaign director for Compassion & Choices.
“Equally important, this law is helping us educate D.C. residents about all of
their end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care, that
provide relief from suffering for the vast majority of terminally ill patients,
but everyone.”

Even though
healthcare facilities can prohibit doctors affiliated with them from
participating in the law, four healthcare systems have policies that allow
doctors and other health care providers to discuss medical aid in dying with
terminally ill patients and allow their doctors to prescribe aid-in-dying
medication: George Washington
University Hospital
, GW
Medical Faculty Associates
, Sibley Memorial Hospital, and VITAS Healthcare.



In addition,
Compassion & Choices has had 21 clients who called its free end-of-life
consultation line (800.247.7421) since the law took effect two years ago (9 in
2017, 12 in 2018).

The first publicly known
D.C. resident to use the law was Compassion & Choices volunteer advocate
Mary Klein
,
who was the face of the campaign to pass it, implement it and preserve it. Yet,
Mary still had trouble finding a prescribing doctor. In response,
Compassion &
Choices launched a week of compassion in April 2018
to make a public plea
to find Mary a prescribing physician and conducted trainings on the practice of
medical aid in dying with 80 doctors, health care administrators, nurses and
social workers. Mary finally found a prescribing physician, got her medication
and died peacefully last August.



“Mary
struggled for months to find a compassionate physician willing to prescribe her
the medication, even though her days were clearly numbered,” said Mary Klein’s
wife of 37 years, Stella Dawson. “Ovarian cancer had spread throughout her
body, treatments no longer were working, and she was enrolled in hospice. When
at last she found a doctor willing to help, the relief was immense. We were
able to enjoy our last weeks together joyfully celebrating our life. Only when
the pain was overwhelming did she take medical aid in dying. Mary passed away
peacefully at home, as she wished and had fought so hard to do. She has given
all of us gift and inspires me to continue working to preserve this
compassionate law.”



Compassion
& Choices offers a free Doc2Doc consultation service for physicians who
want to learn about the practice of medical aid in dying from experienced
doctors with years of experience practicing it (800.247.7421 or
doc2doc@compassionandchoices.org). In addition, the
end-of-life care group offers a free pharmacist2pharmacist consultation service
(503.943.6517 or
P2P@CompassionAndChoices.org).





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