The Right-to-Die Organization Compassion and Choices

Nurse Consoling Senior Patient In Hospital

David Pereiras / EyeEm / Getty Images

Aid in dying, or physician-assisted suicide, is seen by many as a humane and dignified option for people facing terminal illness. Compassion and Choices is one of the most active organizations working toward the legalization of aid in dying across the United States.

The Mission of Compassion & Choices

Compassion & Choices is a right-to-die organization that aims to improve care and expands choices at the end of life. The mission of the organization is three-part: to support, educate, and advocate.

The organization supports patients and their loved ones at the end of life and helps guide their search for a peaceful death. Compassion and Choices are active in educating the public and healthcare professionals about end-of-life choices and advocates for patients and health care professionals in legal and legislative matters.

History of Compassion & Choices

Compassion & Choices is an off-shoot of the now nearly defunct Hemlock Society that was started by Derek Humphry in 1980. Humphry left the leadership of Hemlock after publishing his suicide how-to book "Final Exit". Hemlock Society changed its name to End-of-Life Choices and subsequently merged with another right-to-die organization Compassion in Dying in 2005 to form Compassion & Choices. The history of the right-to-die movement in the United States dates back to the 1960s with the first bill introduced in Florida.

Legal Work of Compassion & Choices

The main mission of Compassion & Choices is to legalize the use of physician aid-in-dying, also known as physician-assisted suicide, for mentally competent, terminally ill patients. The organization is a strong advocate of aid-in-dying laws and have helped pass bills legalizing physician aid-in-dying in three states — Oregon, Washington, and Montana. All three states have legalized the use of a lethal dose of medication prescribed by a physician for terminally ill patients.

Compassion & Choices isn't only involved in physician aid-in-dying laws. The organization is also a strong advocate for quality palliative care and symptom management. Kathryn Tucker, Compassion & Choices legal director, has backed court cases stemming from inadequate pain and symptom management.

In one such case, Ms. Tucker and a Nebraska trial lawyer took on an Omaha nursing facility that marketed itself as a "hospice house" but failed to provide hospice services, including pain management, that leads to the painful death of Frances Tolliver. Another case filed against a California nursing facility for failing to control the pain of Lester Tomlinson, who died from a very painful type of cancer, was settled out of court.

Compassion & Choices also advocates for physicians who are targeted for "overtreatment" of pain. Dr. Joan Lewis of Albuquerque, NM was charged with overprescribing opioid pain medication to six patients suffering from chronic pain. Compassion & Choices, along with Americans for Better Care of the Dying and The American Academy of Pain Management, wrote an amicus brief in support of Dr. Lewis' work with chronic and debilitating pain. 

In another case, Dr. Harold Luke of California had his medical license revoked after administering morphine to treat a patient's pain. Dr. Luke's medical license was reinstated after receiving support from Compassion & Choices.

Was this page helpful?