Celebrating one year of expanded end-of-life options
June 18th marked one year since the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act went into effect. Passing the law made New Mexico the eleventh jurisdiction in the U.S. to authorize medical aid in dying as one of the choices available to qualified individuals at the end of life.
It had taken advocates four years in the courts, followed by five years and three 60-day legislative sessions, to garner the necessary votes to pass the Act. The resulting law that passed has placed New Mexico on the map with what is now regarded as the most progressive aid in dying law in the country and is being used as a model for other states considering such laws.
With this first year in the books, let’s take a look back to the last year and how we got where we are today…
Just a month before the law went into effect our new non-profit, End of Life Options New Mexico (EOLONM), was created with the goal of promoting advance care planning and helping New Mexicans access the end-of-life options that are right for them, including medical aid in dying. “This new law is a powerful reaffirmation of the right to self-determination that allows us to make our own healthcare decisions and have a measure of control regarding our end-of-life options,” declared Barak Wolff, chairman of EOLONM’s Board of Directors.
The law did not specify a state agency or other entity to help implement the law. But the grassroots advocates who worked to pass the law – patients, family members, healthcare providers, clergy, and community leaders – knew that the legislation was just the first step in helping more New Mexicans have the kind of death they wish for… with less suffering, uncertainty and fearfulness. Public and clinical education and one-to-one individual support, like the kind provided by EOLONM, has been the crucial work to make the law accessible by patients and families who request assistance.
“As we celebrate the first anniversary of the law going into effect, I am proud to report that our new law is being well utilized and we’ve been able to assist those who have requested information, asked questions, or sought assistance or referrals for care,” continued Wolff. In May 2022, EOLONM reported that they were aware of more than 100 New Mexicans who have been assisted in relieving their suffering by accessing medical aid in dying. Over 90% of these patients were enrolled in hospice and their deaths were attended by clinicians at the bedside.
Many of these clients and their families have been assisted by EOLONM volunteers through education, resources, referrals and personal support. EOLONM First Year Annual Report issued this past February and available on our website here, details various metrics of the services provided as well as information about the organization.
And where we go from here…
As is usually the case, there remains much to be done. While most of the requests for information and support from EOLONM have come from those living along the Rio Grande corridor from Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and down to Las Cruces, Wolff stressed that “people throughout the state and especially in rural areas need this support as well. EOLONM is strongly committed to extending our reach and developing educational programs and individual services that serve all of our diverse populations and communities throughout the state.”
It is important to understand that very few who qualify for medical aid in dying actually choose to use it. Many people are well served by their clinicians and hospice agencies and die without undue suffering. However, the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act brings peace of mind to many who have a serious diagnosis and are uncertain about their end of life. To be eligible, one must be an adult over the age of 18, diagnosed with a terminal illness with a prognosis of 6 months or less to live, and be capable of making their own healthcare decisions and self-administering the medication.
Wolff is quick to point out that “all end-of-life choices are respected and our work at EOLONM is non-judgmental. Some seriously ill folks will want to pursue every possible treatment with the intent of living as long as possible…while others may be suffering physically and/or existentially and they may choose to hasten their death by using medical aid in dying or other available options. There is no right answer”, he contends, “it is for each of us to decide, if we are fortunate enough to have such choices available to us.”
As we celebrate 365 days since the passing of the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act, we look to the future with optimism and a vision that we can create a sustainable organization with the necessary support and resources to help those who may urgently need our services at the end of their lives.
Celebrate 365, is a fundraising campaign launched on June 18, 2022, which asks supporters, like you, to contribute to the cause. We want to assure you and others that we will be here for you – and all New Mexicans – when you or they need us most.
Read more about the campaign here. Help us support end-of-life options every day, Donate now.
Volunteer Spotlight: MaryKay Brady
Like most avid readers, MaryKay Brady always has a book on her nightstand. Being the go-getter that she is, “mk” (lower case) as her friends call her, also has a book on her desk, another in her car’s glove compartment, several more stowed away in her Amazon cart and yet another list of “must reads” posted on her refrigerator right next to her advance directive, DNR and NM MOST form.
In fact, it was her love of books and thirst for knowledge that first brought mk to the end-of-life options movement. A retired banker, now living in a retirement community in Las Cruces, mk’s interest was piqued when she picked up a copy of Finish Strong, Putting YOUR Priorities First at Life’s End, a 2018 book written by Barbara Coombs Lee, president emerita/senior adviser of Compassion & Choices (C&C).
After experiencing the death of her husband and friends and contemplating her own ending, mk’s read of Finish Strong motivated her to “have the conversation.” She was motivated beyond expressing her wishes to her own loved ones, she wanted others to have the kind of death they wanted. She wanted to understand why we, in U.S. society, refuse to talk about our inevitable deaths. She was intent on humanizing death, or as she is fond of saying, “death is a human event, not a medical event.”
So, what did she do?
She started a book club, of course. She invited friends, neighbors, other book fanatics to read Finish Strong with her and come together each week to discuss the book and to discuss death. One thing led to another and the next thing she knew, she was online volunteering to work with C&C. “She took the lead almost immediately” says C&C NM Organizer and fellow EOLONM board member, Jill VonOsten, “organizing our volunteers in Las Cruces and coordinating the C&C Action Team down there.”
As the C&C Action Team grew, mk organized call-in and write-in campaigns to legislators to pass the medical aid in dying bill. She and her Action Team volunteers made presentations to local community groups, gave interviews to the newspaper and on the radio, served on the Las Cruces Palliative Care Coalition, and so much more.
Keeping her pace at 100 mph, mk was not slowed by the work of a hard fought legislative victory. By the time the End-of-Life Options Act finally passed in 2021, mk’s work was just beginning. “She didn’t kick her shoes off and relax even for a moment, she was on to the next hill to be conquered and thank goodness for her tenacity and her energy,” praised VonOsten.
Immediately she pivoted from legislative advocate to service provider. Throughout the pandemic she had spent her days working to pass medical aid in dying and spent her nights studying and taking the INELDA (International End-of-Life Doula Association) course training for death doulas. She also began volunteering for a local hospice during this time. A studier of all things, mk wanted the first-hand experience and to know the materials inside out – the hospice experience, the resources, the law – all with the intent of providing the best support to others at the end of their lives.
When the new nonprofit End of Life Options New Mexico (EOLONM) was formed and a call went out for volunteers to form the inaugural board, mk stepped up and threw her hat in the ring. After all, she had served on nonprofit boards before. She, her husband, and a group of like-minded individuals had started a nonprofit organization some years back called Friends of Rockhound State Park to protect and enhance the state park just outside Deming, NM. Now she was ready to join the small team at EOLONM, to protect and enhance everyone’s right to self-determination, that which allows us to make our own healthcare decisions and choices at the end of our lives.
As one of three founding board members now ending her first year of a two-year term of service, mk has dedicated herself full time to the effort. In addition to serving as Treasurer and Secretary of the Board, she also took on the job of Volunteer Coordinator for southern and eastern New Mexico. In this role, she recruits, invites, trains, onboards, coordinates, and supports new volunteers.
Much of this last year’s success can be credited to mk’s work ethic, team approach, and “can do” attitude. She’s our friend and a “rock” solid volunteer. She’s an invaluable partner in the effort and she’s dedicated to making sure that all New Mexicans, and particularly those in the south, have access to information and support for all end-of-life options, including medical aid in dying.
Give Grandly in Grant County
Silver City, NM – EOLONM volunteers in Silver City, led by long-time Volunteer Coordinator of Western NM, Adrienne Dare, participated in this year’s Give Grandly! Day in Grant County, NM on May 7, 2022.
Presented by the Give Grandly Coalition and sponsored by the Grant County Community Foundation, Give Grandly! is a powerful 24-hour, online giving event that connects donors to the causes they believe in. The purpose of the day and the work of the Coalition is to support charitable, educational, environmental, artistic and scientific nonprofits in the four-county region of Grant, Luna, Hidalgo and Catron counties. Donors can choose to give to any of the participating nonprofit organizations who serve the communities of Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna Counties.
With Give Grandly! Coalition event organizers make the case for community giving on their website, stating that this kind of giving event is particularly important in rural southwestern New Mexico where the community “depends on the work of nonprofits to provide services that for-profit companies provide in urban areas. Our very lifestyle here depends on our nonprofits.”
EOLONM hosted a information table and raised more than of $2,400 from 27 individuals. Funds were received from folks who visited our table that day, those who donated to multiple organizations (including EOLONM) by using a donation form, those who chose to give to EOLONM online through the Give Grandly! portal, and $500 in matching funds from the Grant County Community Foundation.
Thank You GRANDLY to our Grant County volunteers and all of our donors who support our work in southwestern New Mexico.
2022 New Mexico Women’s Veterans Conference
Albuquerque, NM – On Saturday, June 11, 2022, EOLONM participated in the New Mexico Women’s Veterans Conference held at the Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) Workforce Training Center in Albuquerque. The conference, presented by the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services (DVS), was free for women veterans and transitioning active-duty women service members and offered them information about VA, state and other veterans’ benefits—including benefits specifically for women veterans.
EOLONM volunteers included Retired U.S. Army Major and RN, Mary McLaren from Las Cruces and Jean Mucher from Rio Rancho. They offered a welcoming smile and greeted veterans at our information table with brochures, pens and educational materials on advance healthcare directives and end-of-life options.
Volunteers reported talking with a diverse group of veterans. Some of the young women were already organized with advance care plans, others had family they anticipated having to help with planning. Some were seniors that were glad to have the additional information. While only a few knew about the new medical aid in dying law, many relayed stories of family members who struggled and suffered at the end of their life.
ABQ PrideFest 2022
Albuquerque, NM – A hot day in the triple digits did not deter the crowds that came by the thousands to be a part of the 2022 Albuquerque PrideFest celebrations also held on Saturday, June 11, 2022. PrideFest is a celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex, plus (LGBTQIA+) communities with the purpose of promoting social and self-acceptance, achievements, legal rights, and demonstrating pride. After a Pride parade that ran along Central Ave in Albuquerque, the crowd gathered and continued with a celebration that included dance, music, expression, fun, and diversity at the Main Event at Expo New Mexico.
As you can tell from the colorful pictures below, fun was had by all! The EOLONM information table was decked out in all the colors of the rainbow, inviting one and all to stop by and visit. Volunteers talked with more than 120 different people about end-of-life options and the importance of completing advance healthcare directives. Thank you to volunteers Carol Glassheim, Nan Burke, Phyllis Bergman (and husband Rick), Larissa Willsey, Rick McAllister, Jill VonOsten and Jan Wilson. Hope to see you at next year’s Pridefest!
2022 Statewide Nurse Educators Conference
Albuquerque, NM – June 13, 2022, CNM Workforce Training Center in north Albuquerque was the site of the 2022 Statewide Nurse Educators Conference, entitled “The Dynamic Nurse” and hosted by the New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence. EOLONM volunteers – Former State Representative Debbie Armstrong, Hospice Nurse Libby Hopkins and retired Nurse Practitioner Phyllis Bergman – gave an update on the implementation of medical aid in dying to crowd of about 150, including an audience of about fifty in-person as well as one hundred who joined virtually.
If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it is just how critical nurses are to almost every aspect of quality healthcare, and end-of-life care is no exception. Nurses are a primary support to those seeking options and care at end of life. When nurses understand the law and the resources that exist to help, they can better guide and support their patients at time when their caring support is needed most.