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National Healthcare Decisions Day: La Verne Church of the Brethren

Saturday, April 16, 2023

In recognition of National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), EOLCCA’s Lynne Calkins will speak on a wide-range of related topics including Advance Care Planning (and related documents), end of life options, and medical aid in dying.  Bring your questions and be prepared for a very informative session. For more information on this event, Lynne can be reached at lcalkins@endoflifechoicesca.org
To find out more about National Healthcare Decisions Day, visit https://theconversationproject.org/nhdd/

EOLCCA Client Volunteers (CV) Monthly Meeting

Thursday, January 19, 4:30-5:30 PM (Pacific) via Zoom

many hands forming heart

This monthly discussion of topics and issues relevant to EOLCCA CVs is held on the 3rd Thursday of each month. Zoom information is emailed to all active CVs ahead of time by the coordinator Steffany Lohn, EOLCCA Volunteer Program Manager.

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.

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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.

Last Flight Home

“It was like light from a lighthouse,” says David Timoner of the call he got from End of Life Choices California (EOLCCA) when he and his family were facing the toughest time of their lives.

“The wisdom we got from those final days we will carry with us forever.”

LFH Oscar shortlist pic

David’s 92-year-old father Eli was in the hospital. He had reached a point at which advanced COPD, CHF, and other health issues had become intractable and meant he would have to transfer to a care facility. But Eli knew he wanted to die at home surrounded by those he loved, and he asked about medical aid in dying. His family understood and supported his decision but didn’t know where to turn for help. Vaguely aware of a California law, they still had no idea what to do next.

“The day is a blur,” David says. “I think I googled something like ‘How to end your life legally . . .’ and EOLCCA popped up right on top. I called the number, left a message, and had a call back within the hour.” Lynne, the volunteer at the other end of the phone, was everything David needed at that moment: “Calm, empathetic, and with the answers to all of our questions. Lynne explained how the California law works and reviewed the eligibility requirements.” These, in brief, include the requirement that the patient must be diagnosed as terminally ill, with a six month or less prognosis by two doctors, must make the request himself, be able to self-ingest the medications, and be of sound mind. “Lynne also recommended that my father consider enrolling in hospice care,” David says. She was able to recommend two hospices in our area that she knew had doctors who participate in medical aid in dying. We chose one and brought Dad home.”
Ondi Timoner, an award winning documentary filmmaker, decided to record those days during the then 15-day waiting period mandated after Eli first requested aid in dying medication from the hospice doctor, until he could receive the prescription. She initially intended just to have a family remembrance. After all was over, however, she realized she had the makings of something important.

Ondi’s remarkable film, Last Flight Home, tells the full story. In the ensuing weeks, the Timoner family – Eli and his wife Lisa, their children David, Ondi and Rachel, their grandchildren and friends–would spend invaluable time at home together celebrating Eli’s unique life’s journey. The profound, intimate, loving farewell afforded Eli and his family by California’s medical aid in dying law, is the outcome we at EOLCCA wish for anyone who reaches out to us for similar help and information. That this Southern California family’s experience would be recorded by daughter Ondi and edited into a powerful documentary now being released to widespread acclaim, is a visual testament to the value of medical aid in dying.

At a screening in New York, daughter Rachel told a New York Times interviewer, “And then there is the idea that this film could change laws.” Many of us with EOLCCA worked hard to get the California law passed, and we continue to support expanding the law throughout the U.S. To have had a part in helping Eli Timoner and his family gain peace at his life’s end, and to know that they now join the fight for everyone to be able to make such a choice, is doubly gratifying for EOLCCA.

California is one of a small number of states fortunate to have a law which enables its residents to access this compassionate end-of-life option for the terminally ill. But, from call after call we receive every day, it’s clear that few terminally-ill Californians are even aware of the law, or know enough about it to even begin the process of requesting medical aid in dying from their physician.

Last Flight Home is a film we hope will receive all the top accolades in the film industry for its many-layered and beautiful story. The story behind the film has been well documented in the New York Times. It is one we urge our readers to see as soon as possible and then recommend to friends and family everywhere.

‘Last Flight Home’ is a film we urge our readers to see and recommend to friends and family everywhere.

EOLCCA Lynne with 'Last Flight Home' Director Ondi Timoner and family

From Left to Right: Lynne Calkins with Ondi Timoner, Rachel Timoner, and Lisa Timoner at a recent screening

Asked for advice she might now pass on, Ondi says simply, “Be with your loved ones now. Don’t wait for them to be dying. But there is an incredible quality of life when a person is transitioning. The wisdom we got from those final days we will carry with us forever.”
Perhaps the most profound lesson Eli’s family learned was the simplest. It has to do with summing up life itself – as we humans do so often by looking at accomplishments and honors and all those treasures we accumulate. But no, says Ondi Timoner as she reflects on her family’s journey and the creating of Last Flight Home.

“Look at it as a way to measure our lives,” she says. “Measure our lives with love.”

We hope Last Flight Home will reach the countless families and individuals in situations similar to that of Eli and his family, so that others may learn about the California law in time to make a difference in their own end of life if facing a terminal illness. Our EOLCCA volunteers are always ready to help. Call us at 760-636-8009 or visit our website.

Click here for more information about the film director, Ondi Timoner, and Interloper Films.

Click here to stream it on Paramount+ 

Paramount+ logo

 

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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.