By Adrienne Dare of the Silver City End of Life Options Coalition

Most people would prefer to die at home surrounded by family and friends while being made comfortable. But even the best hospice or palliative care may not be able to alleviate all types of suffering for all people. As more states follow Oregon’s lead and allow the option of Medical Aid in Dying (MAID, wherein a terminally ill, mentally capable adult requests a prescription they may self-ingest to bring about a peaceful death), more and more people are realizing that MAID is a positive option for the few people who would need it.

Support for this option appears to be picking up momentum, particularly among baby boomers who have watched their parents needlessly suffer because they did not have the option of MAID. Currently about 1 in 5 people in our country live in a place where MAID is legal.

Gallup’s 2017 polling shows 73% of the U.S. population approves of MAID, nearly doubling support since Gallup first polled on the question in 1947. A December 2016 Medscape survey reported that 57% of physicians support this practice, up from 46% in 2010. A majority from faith groups support MAID, including Catholics at 70%.

In October 2014, Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with terminal brain cancer, created a video that went viral. She moved her family to Oregon so that she could end unbearable suffering by using Oregon’s Death with Dignity act (at that time MAID was not legal in California). She was making a statement to say all states should allow this option for a peaceful death. Before her video there were only four states with legislation supporting MAID; after this video, 25 states had such legislation. Brittany had a great impact on this movement. Inspired by her advocacy, since 2015 California, Colorado, the District of Columbia and Hawaii have enacted MAID laws, and a number of others are considering such legislation.

Although the American Medical Association’s (AMA) opposition to MAID remains unchanged, a move to solidify the group’s opposition to the practice failed to win approval late in 2018. Hopefully the national AMA will eventually drop their opposition, especially given the large number of physicians who support MAID.

In the meantime, though, 11 AMA state chapters have dropped their opposition to medical aid in dying: Oregon Medical association in 1997; California Medical Association in 2015; Colorado Medial Society, Maryland State Medical Society, and Medical Society of the District of Columbia in 2016; Maine Medical Association, Minnesota Medical Association, Nevada State Medical Association, Vermont Medical Society, and Massachusetts Medical Society in 2017; and New Mexico Medical Society in January 2019. Notice that 10 of these chapters have dropped their opposition since Brittany Maynard’s high-profile use of MAID.

The American Academy of Family Physicians is one of the largest national medical organizations, with over 131,000 members. In their October 2018 meeting the AAFP approved a resolution to adopt the position of “engaged neutrality” toward medical aid in dying as a personal end-of-life decision in the context of the physician-patient relationship. In other words, physicians felt patients should know all the options available to be able to make their own decision. When Governor Jerry Brown of California signed the MAID law in California, he had the same attitude saying “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

For decades lawmakers feared that sponsoring MAID bills would hurt their chance of getting elected or re-elected. Not so in our recent midterm elections. Nearly all the lead sponsors of bills in 28 states to authorize MAID who ran for re-election won (13 out of 14 state senators and 49 out of 53 state representatives.) Voters elected or re-elected at least 5 governors who publicly support MAID, including New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham.

A bonus to having a MAID option is that care for all is improved by prompting the conversations between doctors and patients about all end-of-life options. Hopefully the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Bill supporting MAID in NM will be enacted in our 2019 legislative session. Future articles in this column will be updating you as to the progress of that bill.

For more information on end of life options see the following resources:

Compassion & Choices and Death with Dignity National Center

To contact the Silver City End of Life Options Coalition or leave comments: sceolocoalition@innerconnections.us