In connection with our January 9 event at UUFE for end-of-life choices, UU liFE interviewed Dr. Alexa Fraser, who leads the Maryland campaign, and Gail Woodall, UUFE co-organizer, about the program and the Compassion and Choices movement.
UU liFE: Who should be interested in this program? And why Unitarian Universalists?
Alexa: Anyone who will die should be interested—that’s all of us. UUs should be particularly interested in this program as the 1998 UU General Assembly approved a statement that the organization supports the right of an adult near death (within six months) to get a medical prescription to end their life. This is consistent with all of our 7 principles—from democracy through the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Gail: This is a growing grassroots effort by many people, who, if the choice is available, may or may not choose to use it. People who support this movement do not want to deny the choice to others. It provides for individual autonomy. I believe our first principle, respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, provides the underpinning for this bill. The Death With Dignity laws currently in place in 5 states are affirmation of this.
UU liFE: Do you think there can be such a thing as a “good” death? Can you talk about that?
Alexa: I think there can be lots of ways that someone can have a good death. It all depends on the persons preferences. If they have a terminal diagnosis and want their family around them and want to be sure to die not in too much pain, the Death with Dignity choice is one that would fulfill their conditions. Other people might well choose differently – feeling good about dying without medication or whatever. It is very individual.
Gail: I would rather think in terms of “a good life” than “a good death”. When the life of an individual is no longer good or meaningful, I would like to see a choice available to bring that life to a gentle end.
UU liFE: What’s happening on the political stage at the moment?
Alexa: In Maryland, there is a bill in the legislature to allow someone with the condition mentioned above to receive such a prescription if THEY ask. Passing that bill is consistent with our faith’s beliefs (though using it is an individual choice). Nationally, legislation to allow medicare coverage of conversations between doctors and about end of life choices.
Gail: The passage of this law is supported by young and old. End-of-life decisions are important for all ages.