Volunteer Spotlight: Pete Van Dorn

Tech entrepreneur Pete Van Dorn represents the third generation of a family devoted to autonomy at life’s end.
January 27, 2021

Active contributor to Compassion & Choices’ innovative Executive Volunteer Program, which assigns people with specialized skills to compatible projects, Pete Van Dorn learned about Compassion & Choices through his mother, Betsy Van Dorn. Betsy is a longtime advocate for medical aid in dying, and ardent supporter and former board member of Compassion & Choices. “Growing up, it was kind of always in the background for me,” Pete recalls. “Of course as a kid I was more focused on my kid stuff, but I noticed how dedicated she was and how much time she spent on the organization. As I became a bit older, maybe after college, I asked her more and learned about the kinds of work Compassion & Choices does.” 

Pete’s maternal grandparents were also strong proponents of medical aid in dying, becoming the subject of reverent articles in The New York Times and Newsweek memorializing their meticulously thought out choice to die together in Massachusetts in 2002 to escape extremely painful chronic conditions. “Knowing them, that was exactly what they wanted,” Pete says. “They had lived life on their own terms and wanted to exit on their own terms. It was, for them, a very dignified and satisfying way to go.” 

With a background in internet startups and larger tech firms since finishing business school at the University of Chicago, Pete has taken on numerous invaluable projects for Compassion & Choices involving research and data, from exploring potential partnerships for the organization to compiling political candidates’ positions on medical aid in dying. He personally hopes to see the expansion of awareness around end-of-life issues in general, and especially among younger people, before death is imminent. 

“People need to have conversations, regardless of what their choices may be, just so they’re thinking about death and making plans,” he says. “It’s always eye-opening to me how little these important issues are discussed. Whether it’s politicians on either side or general news articles, it does seem like it’s one of the last forbidden topics. But every family, every individual will have to face these issues. Having conversations early on benefits everyone regardless of their politics. It’s a very nonpartisan issue that we’re all going to die, so I’m glad to help shine some light on this movement, and again, not tell people what they should do, but just let them know what their options are — that there are options — and ultimately it’s their choice.”

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