Just months after urging the California Legislature to empower her to cease her suffering on her own terms as she battled an aggressive form of cancer, Jennifer Glass died in her San Mateo home Tuesday night.
Despite her condition, the 52-year-old was an active advocate for Senate Bill 128: End of Life Option Act and her supporters remain saddened the legislation, which could have allowed Glass to avoid more suffering, stagnated in the Assembly.
A former communications specialist who took charge of high-power campaigns such as for Facebook and Oracle, Glass turned her attention to the state’s right-to-die initiative after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2012, just four months after marrying her husband Harlan Seymour.
A national spokeswoman for the movement who worked closely with the advocacy group Compassion and Choices, Glass died while California lawmakers stalled on a right-to-die law. SB 128 would give patients who are terminally ill the right to terminate their own life after completing a series of checks and balances with doctors and mental health professionals.
Glass fought to extend her life through chemotherapy as well as radiation and even did better for a time; however, a CT scan taken in June of this year showed her cancer had spread to her lungs, liver, abdomen, pelvis and brain. Unable to tolerate chemo, she decided to die at home, Seymour said.
As her lungs filled with fluid making breathing difficult and her pain increased, Glass opted to undergo palliative sedation — a process in which she is medicated into a coma then nutrition and fluids are withheld until the patient dies from the disease or dehydration.
It took her more than five days to die, a disheartening time marked by her awaking from the coma in a panic one evening, Seymour said.
“By the time she started palliative sedation, she was in so much pain, she really couldn’t say goodbye to people. If there was an end-of-life option, she could have started earlier, even just one day, she could have said goodbye to her loved ones and had a quiet death,” Seymour said. “Palliative sedation is really just a slow motion version of what the end-of-life option offers. Instead of a seven-day, dragged-out death in a coma, it’s a death that could just last a few hours and allows for a better ending with one’s family. … It would have been a great comfort to her if she had the choice to end her life in a faster manner. She would have suffered less.”
Had SB 128 been enacted, Glass would have been able to obtain aid in dying through prescription medication that she could have taken at home allowing her to die in her sleep, sometimes in as little as 30 minutes — as in the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Bay Area resident who moved to Oregon to exercise her right to die, according to a press release from Compassion and Choices.
Opponents say SB 128 could have unintended consequences as insurance companies looking to cut costs or those without good access to health care may be more inclined to use these types of laws.
“The concerns of our coalition, there are many but primarily, is that you cannot base broad public policy decisions on one case, you have to look at all of California and not just a single individual or a narrow group of individuals,” said Tim Rosales, spokesman with the Californians Against Assisted Suicide. “Consider how these policies would impact everyone in a state as diverse as California; particularly in parts of California where people do not have access to the types of health care where they can get second and third opinions or access to better treatment.”
Rosales noted many states across the country turned down legislation dealing with the issue this year and instead, California should focus on making hospice and palliative sedation more accessible.
While opponents often cite palliative sedation as a suitable alternative, representatives from Compassion and Choices argue Glass’ case proves it didn’t allow her to die peacefully.
“With Jennifer, it obviously did not work as effectively. … It’s really important for people to understand that in reality, palliative sedation does not work for everyone and those folks need another option. Medical aid in dying is that option,” said Toni Broaddus, campaign director for Compassion and Choices California. “In that sense, this legislation is really somewhat neutral because it doesn’t tell anyone what they have to do at the end of their life, but it says you can have all the medically possible options out there at the end of life. Public policy, and this is good public policy, I think is for the state not to be telling people they can’t have access to a service or prescription that many other states are using.”
Glass’ family agreed adding palliative sedation is not as dignified and can be much more painful for both the patient and their loved ones. Glass’ sister Mavis Prall noted it was not the quick nor peaceful option she was fighting for.
“She did not want her loved ones to have to watch the life drain from her over a five-day period, nor to watch her lose all dignity as her body slowly shut down,” Prall said in the press release. “Members of the California Legislature should be aware that their inaction has painful consequences. I urge them to pass the End of Life Option Act this year.”
Glass publicly spoke in support of SB 128, co-authored by state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, as she fought to provide those who are suffering with a choice.
Glass had been scheduled to testify in the Assembly’s Committee on Health July 7 but the hearing was canceled and has yet to be rescheduled. Broaddus acknowledged while SB 128 easily passed the Senate, there weren’t enough votes in the Assembly. Yet as Glass requested, they will continue to advocate for the bill to be adopted this year, Broaddus said.
“Her message to us had been ‘keep fighting, don’t stop fighting,’” Broaddus said. “This issue is very very personal for people. Despite what it may appear, it does not break down party lines or ideological lines. It’s something people look at very personally based on their own experience.”
Sen. Monning expressed his condolences while noting SB 128 is still in action.
“My heart goes out to her family. We will continue to pursue Jennifer’s commitment to establish the right of terminally ill patients to have all end-of-life options made available to them,” Monning wrote in a press release.
Seymour said he would continue to support the right-to-die movement that could have spared his wife from further suffering and prefers she be remembered as a strong, loving and logical woman.
“Jennifer was very worried about suffering greatly in the process of her death, and she was concerned about what it would do to her loved ones. She didn’t want to die drowning in her own lung fluid and that’s essentially how she died,” Seymour said. “If you allow palliative sedation, there’s no reason not to allow a faster, less traumatic, less painful way of going as well. … I really want to see Jennifer’s legacy and her dream of having an end-of-life option come true.”
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