REQUEST SUPPORT | DONATE | BLOG

A Good Year

As 2022 winds down, I want to wish all our friends and supporters a happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year. I always find it illuminating to look back and review where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished every year. I am pleased to share my thoughts with you again as we look forward to 2023.     

For a little historical perspective, the Founding Directors of EOLCCA came together with a dream, WAY back in early 2019. After the California End of Life Option Act (ELOA) passed, we each realized there was a huge unmet need to provide the people of California with information and support about end-of-life choice. We talked to our good friends at End of Life Choices Oregon, to see what they had done and how they had gone about starting a nonprofit to meet this very real need. We were told “OMG, don’t do it! It is a TON of work!!”.  Well, that didn’t stop us – it only lit our fire and got us going! And yes, it has been a ton of work. But it has been a labor of love with no regrets, and we all continue to be grateful to be a part of this growing, thriving nonprofit organization and community. We have now poured a foundation, put up the walls and a roof, and are starting to put in the windows and doors. It is a very exciting time for End of Life Choices California.

New Staff

One of the things I am most personally pleased about is the recent hiring of our first Executive Director, Cindy Lauren. She started a few weeks ago and we are already feeling the great benefits of adding her to our team. Cindy brings an invaluable depth of experience from years working with other health-related nonprofits in leadership roles. She has a keen understanding of capacity building, fundraising, growth management and volunteer programs. We are super excited to have her on board and you will be hearing from her soon. You can read about Cindy here on our website. Welcome, Cindy!

We also had another amazing new hire this year, Steffany Lohn, our Client Volunteer Program Manager. She comes to us with years of experience managing volunteer programs in direct service organizations. She has taken to End of Life Choices California like a duck to water, and we are delighted to have her on our team as well. You can read more about Steffany here on our website. Great to have you with us, Steffany!

Dedicated Volunteers

This year we enhanced our programs enabling our more than 40 volunteers to expertly manage over 700 direct inquiries from the terminally-ill and their families seeking help navigating their end-of-life choices. Physicians and social workers call us frequently for information on how to work with the California End of Life Option Act and we are honored to be able to support them in their work with their patients and often our clients.  More than 17,000 new users came to our website this year, up from 13,000 in 2021, as a result of our growing social media presence and focused outreach to senior living communities, LGBTQ groups, and religious institutions seeking to learn more about end-of-life options and the California ELOA.

pictured below right, SoCal Volunteers and below left, NorCal Volunteers

SoCal brunch
EOLCCA NorCal volunteers in Dec 2022

Our volunteers also provided numerous education programs (in-person and on Zoom) specifically geared to equipping both nonprofit and for profit hospice staff with the information they need to help their patients access the ELOA, and gave interviews and educational presentations in Spanish to the Latinx community. Our goal is to improve inclusivity and equitability to  marginalized populations that might not have access to great, or even adequate, end-of-life information and medical care. 

Having Options

That being said, I feel it is always important to remind people that we are not attached to any particular end-of-life path or outcome for any of our clients. There are MANY end-of-life options. The majority of the people who reach out to us are primarily interested in medical aid in dying. But sadly, many people still don’t qualify and we provide information and support on all the other end-of-life options. We continue to feel this work is vital and we will never only talk about medical aid in dying. Everyone, no matter their situation, deserves to have all the information available to them to make the choice that is right for them, and it is our commitment that everyone has access to this information.

Last Flight Home

Also this year, we were thrilled to see the launch of the award-winning film, ‘Last Flight Home’. It focuses on ailing Eli Timoner’s extraordinary life, as well as his ultimate wish to have a peaceful death with family by his side.  Searching for options for Eli, his son, David, quickly found EOLCCA’s website and called.  

Lynne Calkins, an EOLCCA Founding Director and volunteer answering the phone that day, took that call.  She was able to counsel David by explaining about all the end of life options his Dad might consider in his situation, including going onto hospice and requesting medical aid in dying under the California ELOA.  At his request, Lynne was able to give David the contact information for several hospices servicing his Dad’s home area, which she knew participated in the ELOA. This was possible thanks to the confidential in-house resources carefully built and maintained by our volunteers to help our clients obtain needed information quickly. (Lynne pictured at left with Ondi Timoner at a fall screening of the film.)

Lynne and Ondi at Santa Monica screening

The ‘Last Flight Home’ is a testament to the value of the California ELOA and to having access to factual information about one’s end of life options. The film is an excellent vehicle to raise needed public awareness nationwide about all the ways medical aid in dying laws enable peaceful death for both the terminally ill and their loved ones. It is absolutely a “must-see”!

You Make All This Work Possible

We are very proud of the work we do and are committed to expanding our impact throughout the state. The majority of terminally-ill Californians still do not know about the End of Life Option Act nor about what end-of-life options are available. Because of your belief in our mission, we have been able to keep our commitment to provide educational presentations as well as all services to clients and others at no charge, ensuring accessibility to all. As the year closes and you consider year-end donations, we hope you will consider making a gift to EOLCCA today; we rely on the generosity of caring people like you to make this work possible. Please know how thankful we are for your interest and support. 

In closing, I send out heartfelt thanks, as always, to our amazing Volunteers and our Board of Directors. We have made it a practice to be a working board, and we offer our volunteers many different ways to be of service in supporting our organization. Everyone jumps at the opportunity to keep the momentum going. And we have been very successful. We couldn’t help as many people as we do, and spread the word as wonderfully as we do, without them. Thank you.

Blessings to you all.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year,

Judy Neall Epstein
President, Board of Directors

How We Help Our Clients

When I first joined EOLCCA’s Board of Directors, I decided to go through the volunteer training so I could get a handle on our core work: to help Californians learn about their legal end-of-life options, and to help facilitate their choices. The training was excellent. Afterwards, I spent several blocks of time  being “on call” – to answer initial questions and give people the resources and guidance they requested. I told my colleagues I would probably never “attend” a death because I had not done it before, and I wasn’t sure I was emotionally prepared. I did leave one small loophole: I would do so if other volunteers were not available and our client was ready to take the medication.

Severe pain

Well, that day came! We got a call from Kaiser Permanente’s End of Life Options Program with information about a patient who qualified for medical aid in dying and he wanted to take the medication as soon as it was delivered. Billy (the name I will give him) had cancer with metastases to his bones and brain. He was in severe pain. The medication was on order. He  lived alone and his only brother lives on the east coast. The Kaiser EOL coordinator asked if  EOLCCA volunteers were available to help him through the process.

Since most of our local volunteers were busy with other clients, I agreed to do it, with the understanding that a more experienced volunteer would be available to help me on the day Billy planned to take his medication. I was assured that would happen, since EOLCCA’s practice is to always have two volunteers attend a death together. 

Relieved and… grateful

I visited Billy a few days before he planned to take the medication. As someone who would be at his bedside on the day he takes the medication, I wanted to get to know him a bit, and I wanted him to feel comfortable with me. He gave me a short synopsis of his life. Since we were both avid readers, we exchanged information about our favorite authors. I also reminded him that at any point in time, he could simply decide not to take the medication. He told me that if he had had the medication at that moment, he would take it. He had thought a lot about it, and he was ready. He was relieved and grateful that he lived in a state where medical aid in dying is legal.

Still sure

On the day of the planned death, an experienced volunteer became available and we arrived in Billy’s room shortly after the Kaiser pharmacist hand-delivered the prescription. He had already explained the medication process to Billy. Billy took the anti-nausea medication, the first step in the medication protocol. We again reminded Billy that it was his choice to take the subsequent life-ending medication or not, but once he did, there was no turning back. He told us he was still sure of his decision.

volunteer at bedside
Having time for last goodbyes

Billy’s brother requested a final FaceTime visit with him to say good-bye, and Billy agreed. During that last conversation, Billy gave him some direction about his financial affairs, and asked about his nephew. His brother, somewhat stunned, told him how his nephew was doing and to just make sure he was as comfortable as possible. It was a tearful call, but an important one, and deeply appreciated by Billy’s brother.

After Billy took the final medication, he chatted with us, mostly about his love of books. After ten minutes, he fell into a deep sleep, and passed away peacefully in about an hour with the two of us by his side.

At the end of the day, I felt honored to have had the privilege to support Billy in his choice to use medical aid in dying, and to witness his passing. From the first phone call through the day of Billy’s death, we spent many hours on his case–and this is not unusual. I was also fortunate to participate in the very core of the work we do at EOLCCA: to help our terminally-ill clients find relief from their suffering, and achieve the peaceful, dignified death they want.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Stewart Florsheim serves on the Board of Directors of End of Life Choices California and chairs its Outreach and Education Committee. He has been an activist and leader in the end-of-life choice movement in California since 2003. During that time he was deeply involved in the effort to successfully pass the California End of Life Option Act in 2015. Stewart has given many presentations on end-of-life choice, including on radio and TV. 

EOLCCA supports a strong team of experienced volunteers throughout the state, ready to help anyone, anywhere in California free of charge with information and support regarding all end-of-life planning and choices, including aid in dying through the California End of Life Option Act. You can find comprehensive information on our user-friendly website. To support our work, or request an educational presentation, please visit ways to help.  Thank you.

Talking to your Doctor about MAID

When your plans include California’s End of Life Option Act

 

Medical aid in dying is a legal end-of-life option in 11 US states and jurisdictions, including California. Aid in dying has been available to Californians since 2016 via the California End of Life Option Act (ELOA).

Talking to your doctor

Medical aid in dying is a sensitive and personal topic. While I am not currently facing a terminal condition, I take comfort in knowing medical aid in dying would be available if I needed it in the future. Some of you may be in a similar situation. However, others of you may be nearing the end of life with a life expectancy of less than six months.  

If you qualify for the ELOA, these are crucial first steps:

Be specific when talking with your doctor.  

While prescribing aid in dying is legal in California, not all doctors choose to participate. So it’s necessary to confirm whether your doctor supports medical aid in dying. A direct and concise question like: “Will you prescribe medical aid in dying for me using California’s End of Life Option Act?” makes your request unambiguous. You may also choose to first acknowledge all that your doctor has done to extend your life, using a statement like: “I appreciate all the support you’ve given me; yet I’ve made peace with understanding my death is nearing and need to ask one more thing of you . . .” 

Ensure your request is documented in your medical record.

Communicating your request to receive aid in dying is a key requirement of the ELOA. So even if your doctor declines to prescribe such aid, following up with an ask that your request be written down and noted is recommended. (A recent court challenge to the ELOA removed the requirement for doctors to document the request.) If your doctor declines and does not offer a referral, you may reach out to End of Life Choices California and a volunteer can direct you to nearby providers known to support aid in dying. When your doctor accepts your request, and documents it, there’s often an opportunity for a heartfelt conversation about what this means for you. 

For those of you who would want access to medical aid in dying if needed in the future, firstly, ensure you have completed an Advance Directive. In addition, talking with your doctor to express your wishes remains key. 

These are important first steps: 

* Schedule a doctor’s appointment specifically for an end-of-life planning discussion.

Physicians often get behind schedule and can seem rushed. Thus getting an appointment just for an end-of-life planning discussion is a good strategy. When scheduling, you can specify your planned topic, or simply make it a general check-in. (If you use Medicare, your doctor will be reimbursed specifically for an end-of-life planning discussion.) 

* Avoid generalities and use specific language.

Relaying your awareness and understanding of California’s ELOA is a great way to start the conversation. Then staying focused with a direct question like: “If I ever had a terminal diagnosis and was eligible for medical aid in dying, and I asked you to prescribe the medication for me, would you do so?” will bring clarity. 

Being direct about a sensitive and personal topic like aid in dying can be intimidating. But the more clearly you express yourself, the more likely your doctor is to really “hear you” and understand not only your request, but also your priorities and values. 

Refer to this material on our website for additional information about the ELOA and medical aid in dying or call and ask for a volunteer to assist you.       

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Becky Oliver is a volunteer with EOLCCA.  Her professional life has been spent as part of Silicon Valley’s tech industry.  Outside of work, her personal passions include contributing to end-of-life causes, with a specific interest in the nature of care for the aging and those nearing end of life.  

EOLCCA supports a strong team of experienced volunteers throughout the state, ready to help anyone, anywhere in California with information and support regarding all end-of-life planning and choices, including aid in dying through the California End of Life Option Act.  Please find comprehensive information on our user-friendly website at www.endoflifechoicesca.org. To support our work, please visit www.endoflifechoicesca.org/ways-to-help/.  Thank you.

 

The Day I Die: The untold story of assisted dying in America

Anita Hannig’s The Day I Die: The untold story of assisted dying in America has taken a well-deserved place as the definitive book on medical aid in dying. Want information on how it works? On the history of the assisted dying movement? On the future of legal death with dignity laws? Hannig covers it all, in a book that reads like a personal, informal conversation with the author.

In a recent conversation…

Hannig spoke recently with this reporter about The Day I Die – which is filled with stories of her own experience as a hospice volunteer, and accompanying other volunteers and professionals – and about the work we do at End of Life Choices California (EOLCCA).

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of assisted dying,” Hannig says. “They provide firstline support for families and patients, and it’s hard to overestimate the role they play. In my research, I witnessed how much families and their loved ones leaned on volunteers for their technical expertise but also – and equally importantly – for their human touch and care. In a time of great vulnerability and uncertainty, volunteers help patients navigate the ins and outs of qualifying for the law and accompanying them each step of the way afterward. The emotional labor volunteers put into their work is nothing short of admirable. I have profound respect for their work.”

Hannig, an associate professor of anthropology at Brandeis University, invested five years of study and hands-on involvement in writing The Day I Die. Along the way she accumulated a wealth of stories – poignant, humorous, heart-tugging, enlightening – that she shares in the book.

The Day I Die ,by Anita Hannig

A book to give to those you love

Looking ahead, Hannig says she wants to be optimistic about the future of the law, “but in the current political (or perhaps judicial) climate I am not sure such optimism is warranted. In the long term, however, I do think that we as a society will gradually move into a direction of granting more rights and freedoms to the dying. My hope is that assisted dying will eventually become legal in all fifty states.”

For now, Hannig says “there are still some misunderstandings about all the different steps someone needs to complete to qualify for assisted dying. Most people think it’s more straightforward than it actually is. Or they wait too long to start the process. Many are still under the impression that there’s a “magic pill,” when in reality the protocol of the medications is quite nuanced and complex. My book talks about the fascinating pharmacology of dying in more detail.”

The Day I Die, in fact, talks about the fascinating work of assisted dying in all its important, often difficult, always rewarding details. It’s a book to read, to keep and to give to those you love. 

++++++++

A lifelong newspaper and magazine writer, EOLCCA Board Member Fran Moreland Johns has published fiction, nonfiction, and several books. Her focus on end-of-life issues includes many volunteer years, numerous articles and one book, Dying Unafraid. She holds a BA in Art from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and currently blogs at Medium.com and franjohns.net. Her short story collection, Marshallville Stories, was released in April 2022.

EOLCCA supports a strong team of experienced volunteers throughout the state, ready to help anyone, anywhere in California with information and support regarding all end-of-life planning and choices, including aid in dying through the California End of Life Option Act.
Please find comprehensive information on our user-friendly website at www.endoflifechoicesca.org.
To support our work, please visit www.endoflifechoicesca.org/ways-to-help/.  Thank you.