Compassion & Choices Featured in PBS Documentary about Medical Aid in Dying
By Sean Crowley, Senior National Media Relations Director, Compassion & Choices
January 25, 2021
Starting on Jan. 30, PBS stations nationwide will have the option to air a 56-minute documentary about medical aid in dying, “Prescription for Peace of Mind: An option for the terminally ill,” produced by Karin Schwanbeck, professor emerita of journalism at Quinnipiac University, and her husband, Bill Schwanbeck.
The airing of the documentary, as COVID-19 is surging, is timely. The most recent annual Gallup poll on the issue, conducted in May 2020, when there were already more than one million confirmed cases of the virus nationwide, shows 74% of Americans support medical aid in dying, a six-point jump from the 68 percent support in Gallup’s pre-pandemic poll conducted in May 2019 (see question 15 on page 2). The 74% support level includes a majority of every demographic group measured in the survey (see question QN15 on page 4).
In addition, the 2021-2022 legislative sessions in many states begin in January. During the 2019-2020 sessions, 20 states considered medical aid-in-dying bills, so a similar number of states are expected to consider medical aid-in-dying bills in 2021-2022.
Compassion & Choices staff offered guidance and provided interviews for “Prescription for Peace of Mind: An option for the terminally ill.”
“About a third of the people who get the prescription medication don’t actually take [the medication],” says Compassion & Choices President and CEO Kim Callinan. “But what they get is a tremendous peace of mind in knowing that if their suffering becomes too great they have an option. People don’t want to die. They want to live, but they also don’t want to suffer. And this just gives them a prescription for peace of mind.”
“There is definitely a cost of legislative inaction here in the state of Connecticut,” says Connecticut Campaign Director Tim Appleton. “And it’s paid for by those who are at the end of their life, desperate for options.”
“Prescription for Peace of Mind: An option for the terminally ill” also features interviews with terminally ill Connecticut volunteer advocates and loved ones who plead with Connecticut lawmakers to pass medical aid-in-dying legislation.
“Medical aid in dying should be an option for everybody,” says Middletown resident Sharon Hines, an oncology nurse with stage 4 lung cancer and brain cancer. “If I have it, it would bring me such peace of mind to know that I have that as an option. Will I use it? I’m not sure. But I want it as an option … And for me, it’s never changed. I want the ending I want, not the one the disease can give me. I don’t want to suffer another day. For what? When the outcome is going to be the same.”
“I doubt that this will get passed in order to help me,” says Orange resident Mike Mizzone, who died in agony from ALS during the production of the documentary. “But if I can make a difference where it helps another wife, or another child, or another brother, another mother, not lose their son or their daughter so quickly, without any hope, which I think is the biggest thing … it [ALS] is a degenerative muscle disease. That means you’re completely paralyzed. You can’t breathe, eat, talk, walk, move any muscle on your own. You have to have a ventilator breathing for you. You have to have a feeding tube giving you sustenance because you can’t eat and swallow. You can’t talk, can’t kiss your kids. It’s a horrific disease … Whether you’re Christian-based, or Roman Catholic or Jewish, it doesn’t matter. Really think about putting yourself in that person’s position. If it was your significant other, or your mother, or your brother. And really ask yourself, would you want to watch them suffer and lose every bit of their dignity?”
“It was like in the last six months my husband died 50 times in front of my eyes,” says Jennifer Mizzone, Mike Mizzone’s wife. “And then he’d take a breath and I’d be like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Karin Schwanbeck was inspired to produce “Prescription for Peace of Mind: An option for the terminally ill” because her dad suffered terribly with spinal stenosis and several other ailments for years before he died at age 92 in Georgia. Georgia, like Connecticut, does not currently authorize medical aid in dying.
You can watch the entire documentary online at vimeo.com/447566863.