Compassion & Choices
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|Compassion & Choices|
|Motto||Expanding choice and improving care at the end of life|
|Type||Legal and legislative advocacy, counseling|
|Key people||Barbara Coombs Lee|
Compassion & Choices is a nonprofit organization in the United States working to improve patients' rights and choices at the end of life. Its primary though not sole function is advocating for and ensuring access to end-of-life options.
With over 40,000 supporters and 25 active chapters, it is the largest organization of its kind in the United States.
Terminally ill patient services
Compassion & Choices operates the End-of-Life Resource Center, which provides consultants for terminally ill patients and their families at no cost. Professional consultants and trained volunteers work by phone or in person to offer assistance in completing advance directives, also referred to as living wills; referrals to local services including hospice and illness-specific support groups, advice on adequate pain and symptom management, and information on safe, effective and legal methods for aid in dying.
Compassion & Choices' legal advocacy team, which litigates patient cases related to ensuring adequate end-of-life care and choice, represented 16 terminally ill patient-plaintiffs at the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Oregon, defeating the Bush administration's challenge to Oregon's Death with Dignity Act in January 2006.
Through litigation, Compassion & Choices works for terminally ill patients' rights to receive pain and symptom management, to voluntarily stop life-sustaining treatments, to request and receive palliative sedation, and to choose aid in dying under state and federal constitutional protections.
Other important legal cases where Compassion & Choices was a leading advocate have included Vacco v. Quill, Washington v. Glucksberg, Sampson v. Alaska, and more recently, Morris v. New Mexico and Pennsylvania v. Mancini.
History and organization
Compassion & Choices is the successor to the Hemlock Society, founded by Derek Humphry in 1980; the original group was dedicated to "fighting for voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide to be made legal for terminally and hopelessly ill adults." Two choice-in-dying rights organizations emerged from the Hemlock Society and were merged in 2005: Compassion in Dying and End-of-Life Choices. The organization changed its name, according to Humphry, for reasons of "political correctness." Articles of Amendment were filed with the Colorado Secretary of State on October 29, 2004.
Compassion & Choices Action Network is the legislative advocacy arm of Compassion & Choices. The Action Network seeks to pass Oregon-style aid-in-dying legislation throughout the United States, laws that strengthen advance directives, and laws that mandate palliative care training for healthcare providers.
The organization's work is at odds with the views of certain religious groups, notably the Roman Catholic Church, as well as many disability rights organizations such as Not Dead Yet. Fabian Bruskewitz, former Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, pointed out in 1996 that members of the organization incur automatic excommunication, a judgment that was appealed to, and upheld by, the Vatican. During a 2008 ballot initiative campaign that would legalize doctor-assisted suicide in Washington state, Compassion & Choices was accused by Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist John Connelly of engaging in "Catholic-baiting." Despite all of this, 47% of Catholic voters in Washington voted to approve the Death With Dignity Act.
- Vacco v. Quill
- "Washington v. Glucksberg
- Oregon Death with Dignity Act
- Gonzales v. Oregon
- Washington Death with Dignity Act
- Baxter v. Montana
- Family Health Care Decisions Act
- "Role of non-governmental organisations in physician assisted suicide" Stephen J Ziegler & Georg Bosshard, British Medical Journal 2007;334(7588):295 (10 February)
- the organization has worked for recognition of a difference between the terms "assisted suicide" and "legal physician aid in dying" in the criminal code. For example, Oregon law draws a distinction between "suicide" and "aid in dying" for criminal purposes. ORS 127.880 §3.14 
- Schoen, Elenor Anti-Catholic Bias in Mercy-Killing Campaign?, NCRegister.com, October 19–25, 2008