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San Diegans Weigh In On State Right-To-Die Bill

This file photo shows Brittany Maynard and her husband Dan Diaz at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Oct. 21, 2014.
Associated Press
This file photo shows Brittany Maynard and her husband Dan Diaz at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Oct. 21, 2014.
San Diegans Weigh In On Right-to-Die Bill
Brittany Maynard Family Pushes California Right-To-Die Bill
Brittany Maynard Family Pushing California Right-To-Die Bill GUESTS:John La Grange, retired commercial fisherman with Compassion & Choices, a national advocacy group supporting end-of-life options. Jimmy Akin, "Catholic Answers Live" on KCEO-am.

Maureen Cavanaugh: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The story of Brittany Maynard the young terminally ill woman who decided to end to her own life last fall made national headlines. The 29-year-old used Oregon’s death with Dignity Law to die before suffering the final stages of her brain cancer. Maynard’s story has renewed interest in death with dignity legislation and today California Law Makers will announce an End of Life Options at Advocates of the Act point of poles that show overwhelming supporting California for Medical Aid in dying, but opponent’s stress they believe there are real risks involved for the most vulnerable members of society. Joining me our John McGrane with compassion and choices, it’s an organization supporting aide in dying. John lost his wife to ovarian cancer six years ago and John welcome to the program thanks for coming in. John McGrane: Thank you, good evening. Maureen Cavanaugh: And Jimmy Haken is the host of the radio show catholic answers, Jimmy welcome. Jimmy Haken: Thank you very much Maureen. Maureen Cavanaugh: Now John the proposed California End of Options Act is being announced today in Sacramento, what would this legislation do? John McGrane: This legislation would basically do the same thing that law and Oregon is done, in regular a dying person option of having drug that would end their life the time they chose to do it. Maureen Cavanaugh: And the doctor would be able to prescribe that drug? John McGrane: Yeah it will prescribe by a doctor but not administered by a doctor, it has to be self-administered. Maureen Cavanaugh: Now you wrote an op-ed piece about Brittany Maynard choice were you spoke personally about your experiences with your wife’s death. Why did you feel compelled to share that story, because it must be quite difficult for you? John McGrane: I probably could have done it to the course to the event but it is time to buy it had thought about a lot when Brittany went through that and I thought this story little bit listen to some other responses to it and one of them I heard on a local radio show was literally called and he had lost his wife to a heart disease which is probably feel sudden and he said, he thought it be a mistake for Brittany Maynard to do that and her husband should have stopped her from doing that and that he would have given anything to have another hour with his wife and that really I didn’t agree with that it was my experience was almost the opposite of that, we had great times together and I love my wife very much but the last week with her was very painful and severed no purpose that I could see. Maureen Cavanaugh: One other things you said is that Brittany gave for family a gift by deciding to end her life what do you mean by that? John McGrane: By doing what she did, they have good memories of her as beautiful young women who was in control with her life and the things that happen when you are dying are not pretty and they do not talk about even by doctors, they don’t give you all the details what’s going to happen to a dying person and I don’t blame for that especially the situation like California where there is no option and to tell all the horrible things that are going to happen it was almost to make it worst to me, so but I found out the hard way what happens to a dying person and I just felt that I had to put that information out there because I don’t think it has been put out. Maureen Cavanaugh: And it left you with memories you rather not have? John McGrane: Yes it does, I guess post-traumatic stress think I am fine now but it definitely it leaves memories and because those are the last memories you have with the loved person, they kind of overwhelmed some here, the more pleasant earlier memories sometimes. Maureen Cavanaugh: Now you tell me Haken have you ever gone through an experience similar to Johns? Jimmy Haken: Yes I have, I also a widower and I lost my wife to colon cancer and so I know exactly what Johns talking about, death is an unpleasant thing and there are bad and scary things that happen. At the same time I have a different view point about this legislation and for some other same reasons actually that John mentioned, my concerned includes the fact that if doctors shift in their roles from being healers, to also being killers or people who are enabling killing then that’s going to harm as you said outset, some of the most vulnerable people in society including people who are facing the end of their lives, there will be pressured, that will be put on those people to in their lives and I have seen it myself, when my wife was in the process of passing the doctors and nurses wanted to her for go treatments that were able to her, so that she would die sooner and when she was confronted with this, she was very firm and she said I want to live and she was adamant about it, but lot of people might not be there, they might give in their pressure they can feel scared, and alone at that time of life and their family is going through an unpleasant experience and they can feel like I need to just go ahead and end my life in order to please my family or things like that or please my doctors and it can take a situation with the family should hang together and actually put them against each other. Maureen Cavanaugh: Yeah just a point out, you lost your wife 22 years ago, they were no End of Life Option Legislation anywhere at that time? Jimmy Haken: No and she wouldn’t wanted it. Maureen Cavanaugh: Right now you and here to the catholic churches our positon to assisted suicide besides the pressure that people might feel are there any other practical reasons against it? Jimmy Haken: In the most practical reason is the fact that each human being is born with an dignity and that dignity needs to be respected, sometimes that means undertaking difficult circumstances but that what shows true humanity and what we need to do is deal with the pain that people are going through there all kinds of options in medical sciences blessing as more everyday with new options for treating the pain we need to end the pain, not kill the patient. Maureen Cavanaugh: Now the organ death with dignity large and has passed 18 years ago and yet there has been no rash of people are being forced to end their lives because of monitory concerns and other three states of past Death with Dignity Laws shouldn’t that relief your concerns about the law? Jimmy Haken: Even the people there are two things to say that, first one is even the people who are dying as a result of this, it maybe something they have asked for but it’s a tragic situation and it’s not the best one for them or for their families. The second thing we say is we really don’t know because the Oregon build is not required physician reporting their no penalties if they don’t report physicians do not have to present at the times drug administered and consequently we simply do not have good statistics on this and frankly the people who advocate this are the ones who have been looking at the statistics the most and they are going to have tendency to cook them. Maureen Cavanaugh: John you say just to Jimmy’s point in your essay you actually say you don’t know if you wife would have want it to end her life, so why therefore are you advocating these afford Death with Dignity Laws? John McGrane: I said that I don’t know if you would have decided to use that options you had it but I do know that towards the end when she was really suffering a lot she did ask isn’t there some where I can end this, so that’s the reason. Maureen Cavanaugh: With your work with compassion and choices you must, have you heard a lot stories like your own similar to your own people who are looking for options, let’s put it that way? John McGrane: When I wrote this opinion piece ended up being posted on slate there was huge number of comments posted and most of the comments were favorable but a lot of people posted their own stories and I thought of mine was not unique and it was not the worst and the people posted stories of deaths worse than what my wife suffered, so it’s a problem, it’s out there it’s not unique situation it happens all the time and what I have seen the effective the Oregon Law haven’t seen negative consequences and they have pretty strict procedures it’s not just somebody decides to do this in one afternoon and [indiscernible] [00:09:16] and that it’s, it is a set procedures done overtime. There is many chances to opt out and many people do opt out even after getting the prescription from the doctor, many of people end up never taking it, I guess, they never reached the point where they feel to have to do it. Maureen Cavanaugh: I guess that’s the really big point to me because no one will be forcing anyone to actually take these drugs and end your life, this is an option that if the law were to pass would be able to people if they wanted to take it. Jimmy Haken: You are dealing with the situation as an ideal hypothetical, in reality if you turn doctors from being healers and killers, it foster the cultural death its already there and present in the medical profession and the endpoint of that is something we can already see now, it’s too new in Oregon, but if you look at other countries like Belgium where they have had a assisted suicide euthanasia laws on the book for a long time you see in result in there is study in Flanders in Belgium that showed that 32 percent are basically a third of all patients terminations, we are not even requested. Doctors once they are set on that path their subject human foibles like anyone else even here in the US I remember reading an article from a medical general back in 80s about a doctor who took it on himself to just terminate a patient, it was published enormously of course was man would have gone jail, but he took on himself to terminate a patient without even asking anybody including the patient. Maureen Cavanaugh: Let me ask you John because Jimmy makes the point. The American Medical Association is not supporting death with Dignity Laws because they believe threatens the doctors identity as a healer have you heard that argument and what do you think about that? John McGrane: I have heard that argument and I don’t buy it for one reason I don’t see doctors being involved in the process of death my own wife didn’t see a doctor in their last two months of her life, once she decided that she was going to discontinue the chemotherapy which was no longer effective and requested hospice care, she never saw a doctor after that. So and I wonder how many doctors are by the bedsides of dying patients for hours and hours, nurses are, never trust opinion of nurse more frankly. Maureen Cavanaugh: And Jimmy post indicates that Californian support a death with dignity legislation by two to one margin, why do you think that is? Jimmy Haken: I think it’s entirely a product of the way the question is asked everyone is aware that you can get kind of poll results you want depending on how you ask the question. If you ask the question should patients have right to die with dignity you can get higher response but if you reframe it in terms of should doctors be put in position of helping patients kill themselves, you can get a very different response, just the way the debate is been framed here on today talk exclusively in terms of death with dignity and dying with dignity as supposed to killing patients if you want to go to other extreme we could even be using new short term like euthanasia, but instead there is a persistent drumbeat it foster by the media many times of framing the issue in a way that's positive to the pro-euthanasia side speaking exclusively in terms of death with dignity for example. Maureen Cavanaugh: This is not the first time John that California’s tried to an act in end of life assistant's law; do you think that it has political support to pass this time? John McGrane: I think it might, I think Brittany Maynard story is really affected a lot of people and also have the history not to look at in Oregon and Washington and other states that have these laws and we don’t see a lot of negative things that have been worried about predictive what are going to happen, they didn’t happen, so there is the track record and more people are aware of these things and Brittany Maynard story has really brought to the forefront I am optimistic it really thinks like since like public opinion is changed on this. Maureen Cavanaugh: Will the Catholic Church be mourning a campaign against the passage on this law in California Jimmy? Jimmy Haken: Well I haven’t talked anybody about that, I haven’t talked any bishops this morning, but based on prior experience I will be confident that the church would want to standup for the cause of life in this situation as it does in all situations. Maureen Cavanaugh: So do you agree with what John has been saying that the idea that perhaps there has been a significant shift in public opinion now about having a law like this and perhaps using a law like this in more judicious sense than your concerns would indicate? John McGrane: I think that it’s an unknown question precisely because of the way polling is done we really don’t have good numbers on this, there may be shift or there may not have been shift, there is no way to know that just like there is no way to know the real affects the Oregon Law has had because there is an interest group that is primary one driving this research in this area and its distorted, it can be trusted. Maureen Cavanaugh: Just one last question, you don’t think that if there were many people who are actually being forced to die against their will in Oregon that would have got out in the newspapers or in the media? John McGrane: I think that it might not have respect there are people I think the people here in San Diego who having pressure put on them by their families, by their doctors in certain ways that pushed them towards the edge, pushed them towards that final cliff and it happened silently, it happened without making the media, it happens without people knowing about it and it’s a real danger and we need to standup for vulnerable who are in precisely that type of situation. Maureen Cavanaugh: Well, this legislation is being announced by a number of State Senators and Legislators today in Sacramento and will see where it goes. I have been speaking with John McGrane with compassion and choices that’s an organization supporting aide in dying and Jimmy Haken is the host of the radio show catholic answers on KCEO AM 1000, thank you both very much. John McGrane: Thank you. Jimmy Haken: Thank you Maureen.

The story of Brittany Maynard, the young terminally ill woman who decided to end her own life last fall, made national headlines. The 29-year-old used Oregon's death-with-dignity law to die before suffering the final stages of her brain cancer.

Maynard's family on Wednesday joined Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, to introduce an "End-of-Life Options" bill.

The California proposal would require patients to take the fatal medication themselves.

Advocates of assisted suicide point to polls that show overwhelming support in California for medical aid in dying. But opponents stress there are real risks involved for the most vulnerable members of society.

John La Grange, a member of national advocacy group supporting end-of-life options Compassion & Choices, said people deserve to have the choice to die.

La Grange, who lost his wife Linda to ovarian cancer, told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday that she had horrible symptoms before dying in 2008. Those last memories overwhelmed his earlier, brighter memories with her, La Grange said.

"When you're dying, it is not pretty," La Grange said. "I found out the hard way what happens. (The legislation) would give a dying person the option of having a drug that would end their life at a time they chose to do it. It would be prescribed by a doctor but not be administered by a doctor — it would have to be self-administered."

Jimmy Akin, host of the radio show "Catholic Answers," also lost his wife to cancer, but he disagrees with La Grange. Akin said this legislation is contrary to human dignity and a perversion to the medical profession.

"If doctors shift in their roles from being healers to also being killers or people who are enabling killing, that's going to harm some of the most vulnerable people in society," Akin said. "There will be pressure on those people to end their lives. What we need to do is deal with the pain that people are going through."

The California bill is modeled after the Oregon's law enacted in 1997. According to the Oregon state government, 1,173 people have been prescribed with lethal prescriptions and 752 people of them have died since the law went into effect.