Since early April, most of the emails welcoming me to End of Life Washington (EOLWA) as Executive Director have almost apologetically pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a challenging time to step into my new role. Indeed, it is a time to be adaptable, courageous, and to tap into all of our strengths. I am grateful to be here in this moment with you.
Now, we are deeper into the pandemic’s impact on individuals, families, and on our local and state economy. We are also seeing broad social unrest and signs of a looming recession or worse. There is as much, possibly even more, uncertainty as there was in early April.
I am writing, with Bob Free, EOLWA Board President, not to depress or to stress you, but to share our thoughts on what End of Life Washington brings to this unprecedented moment in our lives.
We can’t predict all that is ahead of us. Yet EOLWA’s profound sense of care, commitment to reducing suffering, and dedicated community create a moral center that informs our end-of-life advocacy, education, and support services. These qualities will guide us through this challenging time.
We bring a bold fidelity to reducing suffering at the end of life. From our earliest beginnings, several Washington Hemlock board members didn’t want people dying alone and in pain. They started a new organization, Compassion in Dying, to help terminally ill adults with end-of-life choices. Reducing suffering is at the heart of what we do, including our relentless pursuit of Death with Dignity and other statutes and laws that support end-of-life choices.
Today, in response to both the complexities and the suffering associated with COVID-19, EOLWA has created the attached PREPARATION AND CHOICE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19. This guidance is intended to help the significant number of people who have serious symptoms, who definitely need medical treatment, and who may not survive this disease. During this challenging time, there are things one can do to be prepared and empowered to make good choices. We hope you find this guidance helpful. It is also available on our website.
Care is personal. Today, Washington is one of only eight states and the District of Columbia that have Death with Dignity statutes—laws that give patients the freedom to choose from a full range of end-of-life options, including how they die. We are the only end-of-life choices organization which connects community volunteers to qualified clients who want the option of using Death with Dignity medication. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that our volunteers have had to adjust quickly and be creative to support clients and their families through telehealth. Our services have remained constant.
Over the next 12 months, we hope to reactivate our commitment to the provision of information and client support for the option of Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED) for individuals. There are numerous Washingtonians who are not eligible for Death with Dignity, but if they had the choice, the support, and care, may choose to hasten their own dying by making an informed decision to refuse fluids and foods of any kind, including intravenous hydration and nutrition.
We know that we can improve the reach of our care, both culturally and geographically across our state. Several years ago, palliative care physician Dr. Sunita Puri stated that, “Death may be humanity’s great equalizer, but the inequalities suffered in life–leading to a shorter life expectancy–become inequalities in the experience of dying as well.” We know that inequalities exist when it comes to health and to care. Join us over the next year as we listen, learn, and grow so that all Washingtonians have expanded choice and care on their terms.
Community allows us to weather whatever comes our way. It has been our strong and vibrant community that has brought EOLWA to where we are today. We don’t know what this next year will bring our way. But, I know that we are better together. I hope that we can find ways to strengthen our sense of common purpose and community this next year. We may find ways to safely gather in small groups. We will expand ways for us to learn and connect online. Join us! There is a place for any and all who want to positively influence what it is like to die in Washington State. Thank you for your ongoing support. We look forward to connecting with you throughout the coming months.
Download our free resource, Preparation and Choice in the time of COVID-19.