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What MAiD Is, and What It Isn’t

Illness, dying and death can be troubling and fearful subjects. Not the kind of thing you bring up at brunch or over an after work beer. In a way that is too bad, these are things that happen to everyone, and by avoiding them, we give away much of our own power when we have to confront them.

Someone may find themselves at the mercy of perhaps well meaning, but not helpful, family members, caregivers or healthcare people. They may find their options and ability to decide what they want, and what they don’t, are chosen by others, and not necessarily the choices they would have made for themselves. There are lots of times in life when we don’t get to do as we wish; at the end of life, I would hope this is the one time when that person’s wishes are paramount.

The End of Life Option Act, a California law allowing medical aid in dying (MAiD) for the terminally ill under specific circumstances passed in 2016 (and subsequently updated very recently with some good changes), is a law that will allow you, under certain circumstances, to make the greatest choice of them all, that of how and when you will die. For all of us, death is inevitable, and most of the time, we don’t know when or how it will happen. For others, though, that fate is more clear and direct; a terminal diagnosis with a short time prospect. How to best experience that time is a direct benefit of MAiD.

MAiD is a gift

For someone facing an incurable cancer, an overwhelming neurological disease, relentless and increasing pain, yes, death will come, but only after extended suffering. For these folks, having lost so much thus far, having the right to choose when to die is a gift. With MAiD, this person, it could be you, one of your parents or relatives or even a close friend, can obtain medication that will painlessly end their life, when they wish and on their own terms. Not in a hospital, but at home, surrounded by the things and people that are important to them.

For anyone facing the uncertainty of death, having some say, control and dignity is a far better prospect than lying in bed, suffering and wondering when the end will come.

This gift is MAiD.

But isn’t that suicide?

Suicide is a charged concept, that of someone taking their own lives is sad and unnerving. MAiD is NOT suicide, it is not physician assisted suicide. MAiD is medical assistance in dying; it is the law that allows someone who is terminally ill with a 6 month or less prognosis to choose the day and time they will die, which is something that is going to happen for sure.

MAiD is not suicide, assisted suicide or euthanasia.

 

peaceful river scene
Having time for last goodbyes

MAiD is the managed time frame of an inevitable outcome; it is not any other intervention. Combining hospice and palliative care with MAiD allows someone the dignity and control they deserve. MAiD offers a sense of acceptance on personal terms that so many say they wish at the end of their lives.

There is the story of the man, terribly ill and in tremendous pain, his wife had passed previously and he was lonely and utterly miserable. His depression was profound and his family didn’t know which way to turn to help him. He was informed about the option of MAiD, which he had not known of. After learning about his qualifications and that this indeed was available to him, his family reported a total reversal of mood: he made his plans, relaxed into the time he had, and his last days were peaceful and calm.

To me, this is what MAiD really is: it is courage, choice and control. It is grace and peace and in fact true compassion.

I am very proud of these dedicated, caring volunteers from EOLCCA, who provide this deeply compassionate effort to those who want it. By addressing the huge question of how we live, and how we die, End of Life Choices California embodies the compassion each of us deserves at the most critical times.

Please follow us on Facebook or Instagram, sign up to receive our blogs and messages; you never know when this may become an issue and we are here for anyone who needs us at this critical time.

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Cindy Lauren is EOLCCA’s new Executive Director. To reach her directly, please email clauren@endoflifechoicesca.org

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.

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