So, What and Who is the NM EOLO Coalition, Anyway…?
By Barak Wolff, Coalition Steering Committee member
The mission of the New Mexico End of Life Options Coalition is to inspire individuals, healthcare providers, organizations and communities to understand and advocate for a full range of end-of-life options for all New Mexicans. Our goal is to authorize and implement medical aid in dying in New Mexico.
Everyone who supports our mission and goal is warmly invited and welcome to become a member of our NMEOLO Coalition. You will be added to our email list and receive a monthly update and other important communications about our efforts. We will also provide opportunities for members to learn more about advance care planning, end-of-life options, and ways that they can support the cause.
The NMEOLO Coalition Steering Committee was convened in 2016 when it became clear from an adverse Supreme Court decision that to authorize medical aid in dying here in New Mexico would require passing a specific law…and that would take organization, communications, building partnerships, and collaborative leadership. In the last five years the Steering Committee has grown in breadth and diversity to now include experienced health care professionals, lawyers, social workers, public health advocates, legislators, spiritual leaders, national partners (C&C and the DWD National Center) and local community Action Team leaders. We are particularly proud that three Steering Committee members, Elizabeth Armijo, Jill VonOsten, and Maria Otero, have all been hired by Compassion & Choices to help support our efforts here in NM, but also to share their expertise and energy with other states and nationally.
The Steering Committee meets monthly to establish priorities, guide outreach, develop partnerships, provide training opportunities and lead advocacy efforts to achieve our goal of enacting medical aid in dying here in NM. In 2019 the Steering Committee forged a fiscal agent relationship with the NM Foundation in order to manage grant funds and receive tax deductible contributions under their 501c3 umbrella.
Local Action Teams are also an important part of the NMEOLO Coalition. Currently there are three active community-based teams in Silver City, Las Cruces and Albuquerque. Several additional communities are working towards similar local teams, all of which are supported by Compassion & Choices with materials and technical assistance. Action Teams set their own priorities for community engagement, public information and education, advocacy, etc.
And last, but not least, the backbone of our NMEOLO Coalition are our supporters throughout the state who believe that medical aid in dying is an important and compassionate end-of-life option that will provide peace of mind to many and a gentle, peaceful death to those who qualify and choose it. We currently have about 3,000 supporters who receive our Monthly Update and are therefore part of our NMEOLO Coalition. We are anxious to grow that number so that we can demonstrate statewide grassroots support for passing the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act in 2021 and then involve supporters in assisting our efforts to effectively implement medical aid in dying here in New Mexico.
Advocate Spotlight: Adrienne Dare
Can death be a positive experience?
For Adrienne Dare, a retired college professor living in Silver City, New Mexico, that is exactly how she describes the death of her beloved mother. This September 5th, Adrienne will celebrate the eighteenth anniversary of the day her mother, Louise Hall, used Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act to end her suffering with terminal cancer.
Louise Hall’s story did not end on that day back in 2002. The legacy of her last choice in life lives on here in New Mexico through her daughter Adrienne.
In the years that followed Louise’s death, Adrienne began telling the story of her mom’s use of medical aid in dying. At first, she shared this very personal story with a group at a local community church. Before she knew it, the shy and quiet professor was driving up to Albuquerque and down to Las Cruces, telling her story to groups like the Humanist Society, the Hemlock Society, Silver City Indivisible, PFLAG, advocates at the ACLU, health symposiums, church congregations, and many others.
What’s the story? It’s a story of life and death: of compassion, gratitude, respect. And it’s best told by one who lived it. Adrienne shared her mother’s story with the Death with Dignity National Center back in 2015 and recently updated it. You can read it here.
Adrienne’s treks up and down the state were just the beginning of her new story as an aid-in-dying advocate. In 2012, the telling of her Mother’s story became testimony for the plaintiff in Morris v. NM – the case that asked the courts if people have a “fundamental right” to aid in dying under the New Mexico State Constitution.
That same year she joined with the national organization Compassion & Choices to organize and convene one of the state’s first community-based Action Teams for end-of-life options in Silver City. Adrienne has led this group of volunteers for years: informing, educating and participating in many community events – from working information tables at the annual Mimbres Health Fair, to hosting community get-togethers to feature the movie How to Die in Oregon, to conducting multiple interviews on the local KURU radio station and publishing a column called “Compassionate Care at End of Life” in the local on-line newspaper Grant County Beat, to providing updates on the aid-in-dying movement to residents at churches and schools; to leaders in business, nonprofit and government organizations; and to candidates for political office.
A surprise to Adrienne that lecturing a group of college students did not prepare her for, was how she would feel the first time she went to testify for medical aid in dying before the State Legislature’s House Health and Human Services Committee. Looking back, she recounted this first foray into Santa Fe politics: “I was so nervous I remember standing up and my legs were shaking.” In the years since then, Adrienne has become one of the state’s most informed and valued advocates on the topic, she continues to testify in support of passing a NM medical aid-in-dying law, informing and advising political candidates and incumbents, and helping many others to understand the importance of passing such a law in the state.
In 2015 and 2016, when aid-in-dying advocates began to coalesce across the state, Adrienne was there to both represent and bring the latest information and developments on medical aid in dying to the residents of our state’s southwestern quadrant. She is a founding member of the New Mexico End of Life Options Coalition and continues to serve on its’ Steering Committee.
As an educator, Adrienne spent a long career teaching college math and computer science. In her “retirement,” her commitment to education continues at Western New Mexico University’s (WNMU), Western Institute for Lifelong Learning, where this fall for the seventh year, she will teach a class on end-of-life issues and options, including medical aid in dying. She has also twice consulted with high school student groups who have selected the topic of medical aid in dying for their National History Day Projects.
Adrienne’s other volunteer passion? She was the architect behind WNMU’s Expanding Your Horizons conference that encourages 5th – 8th grade girls to consider a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This annual conference began in 1993 and this year has grown to serving over two hundred girls from the four southwest counties of the state.
Her work as a volunteer advocate for medical aid in dying has brought her into a circle of other luminary advocates. There was that speaking engagement where she met the long-time physician advocate and medical director at Compassion & Choices, Dr. David Grube. She dined with advocate and author Barbara Mancini who was arrested and charged with helping her dying father kill himself. Learning from Dr. Grube and hearing the horror of Barbara’s story, affirmed the positive and warm feelings she had at her own mom’s death.
Louise’s choice to use Oregon’s medical aid-in-dying law was the spark of something special for Adrienne and for New Mexico. Each September 5th she sends George, the man who helped her mother and her understand Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, a thank you note. Adrienne reflects on the day her mom died: ”I like to honor her on that day. I’m so grateful for the Oregon law and the people who make it accessible to those who really need it. It brought us so much comfort to know that my mom was able to die peacefully, at home, surrounded by her family. I want that for New Mexico’s families.”
We want that too Adrienne.
Q: Why is the New Mexico legislation named “The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act”?
A: In December 2018, when the proposed End of Life Options Act was filed for introduction in the 2019 Legislative session, it was named after Elizabeth Whitefield.
Elizabeth Whitefield was a former district court judge in the Second Judicial District of New Mexico. The well known and highly respected family law judge and attorney died in her home on August 11, 2018 after a courageous eleven-year battle with cancer.
Elizabeth performed what her loved ones described as “one of her greatest acts of service” was her years of work as a medical aid-in-dying advocate and her testimony in support of the End of Life Options Act before several committees of the New Mexico Legislature in 2017. In her testimony, she told the legislators “cancer has stolen everything from me; my ability to work, my ability to eat, my ability to drink. Don’t let me die without dignity.
I implore you to give me the choice that is right for me.”
Elizabeth passed away before we could pass our bill and unfortunately was not able to choose aid in dying. For her service to the State of New Mexico, her passion for choice at end of life and her fierce advocacy to pass medical aid in dying as an option for herself and other terminally-ill New Mexicans, bill sponsors named the 2019 legislation in her honor. You can read more about Elizabeth Whitefield’s life here. For the latest version of the proposed legislation, please see the House Judiciary Committee Substitute for HB 90, 2019. We anticipate that our legislation for the 2021 session will again be named the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act.
Shoutout to Alice Davenport!
Life during the pandemic has been difficult for many. Healthcare professionals, essential workers, and others who venture outside the relative safety of home to go to work or get critical necessities, must take daily precautions to protect themselves and others from the virus. As we all know now, finding the personal protective equipment to protect ourselves and others can be challenging, stressful and costly.
A member of our Las Cruces Action Team, Alice Davenport, is stepping up BIG time and making a difference for her community. As the small business owner of Moonbow Alterations, a combination book store and alteration shop, she has made 5,000 masks to help during this pandemic. These masks have gone to hospitals, caregivers and now to anyone who needs one
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Alice knew that she could put her talent to use by making face masks and donating them to the city of Las Cruces’ essential workers. After giving away dozens of those masks, Alice started to give masks to anybody who might need one to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, or other public places. She was recently recognized by Senator Martin Heinrich as a “hometown hero.” Alice, thank you for being a hero and helping Las Cruces residents take steps to keep themselves safe and healthy!
Countdown to the 2021 NM Legislature
This month we have reached the five-month mark in our countdown! Yes, that’s right…it is less than half a year before the New Mexico State Legislature will convene for the 2021 Legislative Session. Each month of this countdown, we give supporters actions they can take to prepare for and show their support for the passage of medical aid-in-dying legislation.
Action Item: This month, encourage your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues to help you support the important work of the NM EOLO Coalition, Compassion & Choices in New Mexico and across the country by joining our email list at: https://www.compassionandchoices.org/survey/join/.
Title: Here Awhile
Review by: New Mexico End of Life Options Coalition Steering Committee members
Released in June 2020, Here Awhile starring Anna Camp (True Blood, Pitch Perfect), tells the story of terminally ill Anna who returns to Oregon to reconnect with her estranged brother and access the state’s Death with Dignity law. The film recently won Best Narrative Film Feature at the Omaha Film Festival.
In his directorial debut, Tim True and co-writer and Executive Producer Csaba Mera, share their purpose in making the movie on their website:
“We intend to ignite conversation on some of the nation’s most divisive social issues. Telling a compelling story that sparks a dialog is one of the most effective forms of social change and this film will stay with you long after you meet the characters.”
Their intention to spark dialog has come to fruition with national partner organizations like Death with Dignity and Compassion & Choices helping to promote and host movie parties across the country. Compassion & Choices (C&C) has developed a Discussion Guide of the movie. The online Guide can be downloaded and provides everything you might need: instructions for how to host a discussion party, discussion questions, and details about how to get involved with Compassion & Choices to advocate for the passage of medical aid in dying laws.
The actress Anna Camp was recently interviewed about the movie and medical aid in dying as a part of C&C’s Staying Stronger Together Webinar Series. You can view this recorded webinar here – A Conversation with Anna Camp.
Here Awhile is available on iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Prime, and X-Box.
Members of the New Mexico End of Life Options Coalition watched the movie this month and here is a sampling of their brief reviews of Here Awhile:
“A story of 5 people, one who is dying and 4 others who travel their own path to help her. There are many memorable quotes but my favorite came from Gary: The end of your life deserves respect, even if I don’t understand it.” – Phyllis Bergman
“As a movie buff I thought it was pretty good, nicely acted and generally thoughtful, but I found it overly predictable…I kind of knew how each scene would play out. As a medical aid-in-dying activist, I think it is a valuable contribution to the cause in that it covers the basics with good accuracy, shows a range of reactions, and has a lovely, two-tissue, death scene that is as good as it gets. What I liked best were the final physician approval scene and the representation of Gary, Michael’s autistic/agoraphobic/OCD neighbor, who added a lot to the mix of characters going through this story.” – Barak Wolff
“I was disappointed in Here Awhile. I did not think the movie did a good job explaining Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. The passion of a person who is dying but wants to live was not evident. Medical Aid in Dying is to be used by a terminally ill adult whose life has become unbearable. There wasn’t evidence of this kind of passion. In the final scene where Anna took the terminal medicine she should have been in bed and not standing in another room thereby having to be carried into the bedroom when she became weak. I appreciate the effort to bring this story to the public, but this didn’t seem to represent the passionate people who actually do take this path to a peaceful death.” – Adrienne Dare
“This movie showed how young people are impacted by devastating diseases and need to have options. The characters were quite believable and portrayed a variety of types including ethnicity, economic status and disabilities. It also covered many of the key issues with Medical Aid in Dying such as terminal illness, age, state regulations and preparation of the medicine. I totally recommend watching it! I also liked seeing the interview with Anna Camp by C&C CEO Kim Callinan. It made some of the aspects of the movie clearer.” – Jan Wilson
“I thought the movie was tastefully done. I was curious about how they came up with the title and found out that “Anna” was to be the title until they decided to take the title from a lovely Mary Lee Hall poem that is recited in the powerful goodbye scene with Anna’s friends and family.” – Mary Kay Brady
I should die, and leave you here awhile
Be not like others sore undone, who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust and weep.
For my sake, turn again to life, and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort weaker hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine,
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you!