1People have been dying for all of eternity. Why do we need an organization like yours now?
Just 100 years ago, dying was a much different process for most people. They developed a disease or an infection and generally died in a relatively short period of time. There was no reason to go to the hospital, because there was no way to stop the illness, so people died at home, surrounded by loved ones. However, today we’re facing an issue that is entirely new to the human race. Technology has developed to the point that your life can be extended with feeding tubes, mechanical ventilators, and other forms of medical support for months or even years. Dying from an illness is rarely quick and sudden; and people die in hospitals more often than at home. As recently as the 1940’s most people died at home, but by the late 1980’s only 17% did. Some people want to be kept alive as long as possible, but most do not. Many people fear being kept alive for long periods of time by this new technology, even if they are suffering and have a poor quality of life. In many cases, modern people face worse deaths, living longer with more suffering. Today, it is accurate to say that some medical advances are extending dying rather than extending life. As a result, in the last 20 years and particularly in very recent years, more and more people have come to support something called Aid in Dying.
2What is Aid in Dying?
Aid in Dying occurs when at the request of a terminally ill, mentally competent patient, a doctor prescribes a life ending medication for the patient which the patient must self-administer, if he or she chooses to do so, in order to have a peaceful death. Aid in Dying is currently legal in five states: Oregon, Washington, Montana, California and Vermont. It was also recently legalized for all Canadians in a unanimous ruling by Canada’s Supreme Court.
3Is it the same as assisted suicide?
No, not at all. Suicides are committed by those who can continue to live, but choose not to. They take place in isolation and are often impulsive and violent. To the contrary, Aid in Dying is available only to terminally ill patients who will soon die; the process of obtaining the prescription and ultimately taking the medication usually takes at least several weeks; and it occurs always after consultation with physicians and almost always with support of family. Suicide is tragic and causes suffering for friends and family, and sometimes doesn’t work, leaving the person permanently injured or in a vegetative state. In the states where Aid in Dying is clearly legal, if you are mentally competent and terminally ill, you can choose the time and place of your death; be with loved ones when you die; and die quickly and peacefully. “Assisted suicide” language has been rejected by the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, the American Medical Women’s Association and the American Medical Student Association, among others.
4Isn’t hospice and palliative care enough?
No, a small percentage of patients have suffering that cannot be controlled, even when they are receiving excellent hospice care. When Aid in Dying is forbidden, other options exist but may not be as desirable as Aid in Dying for some patients. Stopping eating and drinking is an alternative but the process usually takes 10 to 14 days before the patient dies. Palliative sedation, for patients who have uncontrolled symptoms, usually pain, is another viable option. Patients are sedated to unconsciousness, usually until death, and life-sustaining treatments are usually withdrawn. But like voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, this process too often takes up to two weeks before the patient dies. Is it fair or humane to put patients and their families through that, rather than giving them the option of dying painlessly at the time and place of their choosing, while they can be conscious of their loved ones’ presence and say their goodbyes soon before dying? Is it fair to force people to linger for possibly weeks before death when the option of Aid in Dying could be available? All terminally ill, mentally competent people should have the right to make this choice for themselves.
5What does EOLCNY do?
For over 15 years, End of Life Choices New York has worked to achieve better care and more choices for the dying through advocacy and education campaigns, having given hundreds of lectures to thousands of citizens, professionals and students. And we have provided free counseling to hundreds of patients and their families. EOLCNY has successfully initiated legislative reforms to improve pain and palliative care, such as the Palliative Care Information Act, and to ensure that advance directives and end-of-life wishes are honored. We are committed to fighting for the right of terminally ill New Yorkers to control the circumstances and timing of their deaths and are currently seeking to establish Aid in Dying in New York through litigation or by legislation.
6If Aid in Dying is legalized, will you go out of business?
No. We have only been focusing on securing Aid in Dying in New York for the past two years. And as important as it is to achieve Aid in Dying, it is just one of our many initiatives designed to ensure that New Yorkers have better deaths than many do now and that their health care wishes are respected. Much of our work is and will continue to be educating the public on end-of-life issues. There is much misperception around hospice and palliative care and the choices one can make to ensure a good death. In addition, there will always be a need for counseling patients and their families about their options, which some medical providers won’t do. And we educate the public about actions they should take now to make sure their wishes are respected if they become unable to make their own health care decisions. We must also continue training new generations of medical, nursing and social work students to effectively help their dying patients. EOLCNY will continue to play a leadership role in changing the culture of death and dying.
7Is there much support for Aid in Dying in New York?
There is overwhelming support. A 2015 poll in New York State by Eagle Point Strategies showed 77% of New Yorkers support Aid in Dying. In New York State Aid in Dying is supported by 72% of Republicans; 67% of self-identified conservatives; 78% of Upstate New Yorkers; and 75% of Catholics. 75% of all Americans support Aid in Dying.
8I donate to Compassion & Choices. Why should I support End of Life Choices New York?
While Compassion & Choices is a national organization, we focus our advocacy, education and support services exclusively on New York State, where we are located. We have fifteen years of experience and relationships with New York policy-makers, health care providers, academics and the clergy, that we continue to harness to create change. We have first-hand knowledge of our state’s health care landscape and have worked successfully in Albany to initiate and pass groundbreaking legislation to enhance end-of-life care. We are active in cities and towns across the state, educating the public, professionals and students, and providing free counseling services to diverse individuals and families who call the Empire State home. We have been enormously successful and have emerged over the years as a highly credible and respected organization. Because New York is such a large and influential state, reform in New York reverberates across the nation. If you plan on dying in New York, or care about someone who will, you should support EOLCNY
9If I give you money, can I get the medication from End of Life Choices to die when I am ready?
No. Aid in Dying has not yet been determined to be legal in New York, and only physicians can prescribe these or any medications. That said, we can fully inform you of all your options and provide enormous support as you go through the dying process.
10Where does your support come from?
Of our approximately $550,000 budget, about half comes from foundations and half from individuals.
11What percentage of your budget goes to support programs?
80%. Our administrative costs are quite low, ensuring that the majority of your gift will go directly to support our unique programs.
12I couldn’t find EOLCNY on Charity Navigator. How come?
End of Life Choices New York spun off from Compassion & Choices in early 2015. Charity Navigator only evaluates organizations that have completed the Form 990 for seven years. We are considered a new organization under their guidelines, so we will have to accumulate seven years of 990s, starting in 2015, before they will evaluate us.
13In addition to giving, are there other ways I can help?
Yes. Please join our email list, so you can receive action alerts and up-to-date information on our fight for Aid in Dying in New York and other relevant issues and respond to action alerts. Sign up at endoflifechoicesny.org. Like us on Facebook, and ask your friends to do the same. We need to show strength in numbers. We also sometimes have volunteer opportunities available, such as tabling at community events, public speaking, and internet research. Lastly, if you know of any groups who might be interested in a presentation by one of our speakers, please contact Director of Outreach and Education Ayana Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 410-0528.