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Our Core: The Essence of Compassion & Choices

Spring 2005

Robert V. Brody, M.D.
With all the adjustments that have surrounded our recent unification, there is one thing that hasn't changed: our mission. Compassion & Choices works to improve care and choice at the end of life. We are here to help people die better. It's as simple as that. Or is it?

With unification, our capacity for advocacy and service has expanded significantly. We have enhanced our Client Support Program to be a premier source of help, support and comfort for those nearing the end of life. Our advocacy presence is felt in courtrooms, communities and legislatures across the country. Our membership and fundraising drives are larger than ever. Chapters and affiliates are merging to create a powerful local presence. How does all this activity translate into what we're here to do?

As it turns out, our mission is not as basic as it may seem on the surface. In order to serve our ultimate goal, there is much that needs be realized.

To start, we may accomplish our goals by action, but we establish them by listening. Our values come from our experience, from the declarations of people we help. The questions that come to us through our phone lines, our mailbox and our web site tell us what is needed by people who are dying, and by the loved ones who support them.

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They need help navigating the maze of options available to them, and accessing choices that their doctors may not talk about. They need information on what is available within the health care system and outside of it. They need someone to be their voice, to pave the way for more safe and legal options at the end of life.

This, then, is on what we base our mission. As Compassion & Choices, we support, educate and advocate for choice at the end of life. This is our purpose. This is our core.

The programs we have in place are well-equipped to position us for success. Nowhere in the country is our Client Support Program matched in its scope. By calling a single toll-free number, clients everywhere can reach a staff counselor and in appropriate circumstances be connected with a local volunteer. Membership status and diagnosis don't matter. Neither does ability to pay -- all our services are provided at no charge. As desired as it is, this level of help and support is unique to Compassion & Choices.

Likewise, our education programs are broad in topic and far-reaching. Our Speakers Bureau is available to provide speakers on end-of-life topics including aid in dying, advance directives, changing the law and more. Local groups hold regular meetings and events that are open to the public, engaging communities in the choice-in-dying movement. Our web site, books and information products are available nationwide to answer questions and help members of the public to educate themselves on the issues.

Effective advocacy is essential to our mission. Our teams in legal and legislative affairs are at work to define statutes, set precedents and, very importantly, change the law. Legal aid in dying is available in only one of our 50 states, and that law is being groundlessly assailed. Laws that demand adequate pain treatment, allow patients to control pain and require professional education on the end of life and symptom management are vital -- if they're enforced. We are sponsors, we are lobbyists, and we are watchdogs. We pass the laws, and we make sure they're used correctly.

Each of these pieces is needed to fulfill our mission. We cannot improve the way people die without a firm foundation and careful grounding. We cannot reach those who need support today unless we make ourselves accessible. Our mission is one of activism. We must reach out.

As we move forward in this young century, we hope to realize change. Our goal is that the role of a choice-in-dying organization such as ours might be referral and moral support. The laws people need will be in place, and the issues people face at the end of life will be so ingrained in our health care community that no one will slip through the cracks. It will be a long time coming.

Our time has come, but we are at the very beginning of the massive social change that will enable our society to embrace choice in dying. Now we must seize the moment, and capitalize on the open-mindedness that envelops our issue. We go into the future with all possibilities open to us. It is a heavy charge, to effect a change that will improve our very humanity.

Fortunately, we are prepared for the challenge. We have the structure and the programs that we need to serve our members and clients while shaping the future. We have the tools and our work is cut out for us. Our mission is to make choice in dying a reality.

Robert V. Brody, M.D., is chairman of the board of Compassion & Choices.




  
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This article was provided by Compassion & Choices. It is a part of the publication Compassion & Choices Magazine.
 

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