Terminally Ill California Mom Speaks Out Against Assisted Suicide

By Stephanie O’Neill

Stephanie Packer
Stephanie and Brian Packer make lunch with their children, Brian, 11, Savannah, 5, Scarlett, 10, and Jacob, 8.

Stephanie Packer was 29 when she found out she had a terminal lung disease.

That’s the same age as Brittany Maynard, who last year was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Last fall, Maynard, of Northern California, opted to end her life with the help of a doctor in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal.

Maynard’s story continues to garner support for right-to-die legislation moving through legislatures in California and several other states. Now, Packer, another young California woman, is stepping up to share her story, but she wants people to draw a different conclusion.

On a recent spring afternoon, Packer, 32, is in her kitchen, preparing lunch with her four children.

“Do you want to help?” she asks the eager crowd of siblings gathered tightly around her at the stovetop.

“Yeah!” yells 5-year-old Savannah.

“I do!” says Jacob, who is 8.

Calmly managing four kids as each vies for the chance to help make chicken salad sandwiches can be trying, but Packer cherishes these moments.

In 2012, after suffering a series of debilitating lung infections, she went to a doctor who diagnosed her with scleroderma. The autoimmune disease causes hardening of the skin and (in about one-third of cases) other organs. The doctor told Packer that it had settled in her lungs.

“And I said, ‘OK, what does this mean for me?’ ” she recalls. “And he said, ‘Well, with this condition you have about three years left to live.’ ”

Packer is on oxygen full time and she takes a slew of medications.

She says she has been diagnosed with a series of conditions linked to or associated with scleroderma, including lupus, gastroparesis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, interstitial cystitis and trigeminal neuralgia.

Packer’s various maladies have her in constant, sometimes excruciating pain, she says. She also can’t digest food properly and feels extremely fatigued almost all the time.

Some days, Packer says, are good. Others are marked by low energy and pain that only sleep can relieve.

“For my kids, I need to be able to control the pain because that’s what concerns them the most,” she says.

But Packer says physician-assisted suicide isn’t something she is considering.

“Wanting the pain to stop, wanting the humiliating side effects to go away — that’s absolutely natural,” Packer says. “I absolutely have been there and I still get there some days. But I don’t get to that point of wanting to end it all, because I have been given the tools to understand that today is a horrible day, but tomorrow doesn’t have to be.”

She and husband Brian, 36, are devout Catholics. They agree with their church that doctors should never hasten death.

Stephanie Packer 2
Stephanie Packer, 32, is terminally ill with the autoimmune disease scleroderma.

“We’re a faith-based family,” he says. “God put us here on earth and only God can take us away. And he has a master plan for us, and if suffering is part of that plan, which it seems to be, then so be it.”

They also believe if California legislation called SB 128 passes, it would create the potential for abuse. Pressure to end one’s life, they fear, could become a dangerous norm, especially in a world defined by high-cost medical care.

Instead of fatal medication, Stephanie says she hopes other terminally ill people consider existing palliative medicine and hospice care.

“Death can be beautiful and peaceful,” she says. “It’s a natural process that should be allowed to happen on its own.” Even, she says, when it poses uncomfortable challenges.

Brian has traded his full-time job at a lumber company for weekend handyman work so he can care for Stephanie and the children. The family downsized, moving into a two-bedroom apartment they share with their dog and two pet geckos.

Brian says life is good.

“I have four beautiful children. I get to spend so much more time with them than most head of households,” he says. “I get to spend more time with my wife than most husbands do.”

And it’s that kind of support — from family, friends and people in her community — that Stephanie says keeps her living in gratitude, even as she struggles with her terminal illness and the realization that she will not be there to see her children grow up.

“I know eventually that my lungs are going to give out, which will make my heart give out,” she says. “And I know that’s going to happen sooner than I would like — sooner than my family would like. But I’m not making that my focus. My focus is today.”

Stephanie says she is hoping for a double lung transplant, which could give her a few more years. In the meantime, this month marks three years since her doctor gave her three years to live. So every day, she says, is a blessing.
Complete Article HERE!

Too young to die: Even elderly put off talking about end of life

By  Ruth Gledhill

Less than a third of people have discussed what they want to happen at the end of life. Just four per cent have written advance care plans for when they are dying. Yet more than two thirds of people questioned say they are comfortable talking about death.

Even older people are unlikely to discuss what will happen at the end of their lives.

The NatCen survey of more than 1,300 people showed seven in ten want to die at home. This is at a time when six in ten people die in hospital.

The research, commissioned by Dying Matters Coalition, examines public attitudes to issues around death, dying and bereavement.

While people have strong views about the end of life, they are still unlikely to have discussed their own death. This was mainly because people felt death was a long way off or that they were too young to discuss it. Nearly one in ten of people aged 65 to 74 years old believed they were too young to discuss dying.

Three in ten people had never seen a dead body. Just one per cent of the sample said they would go to a minister, pastor or vicar for information about planning the end of life. Most people’s preferred choice for seeking information was a friend or family member, or their GP.

This was despite the fact that nearly seven in ten of the respondents described themselves as Christian. Nearly two in ten said they were atheist or had no religion.

Professor Mayur Lakhani, chair of Dying Matters, said: “As a practising GP, I know that many people feel frightened to talk about death for fear of upsetting the person they love. However, it is essential that people do not leave it until it is too late. Planning for needs and wishes helps you to be in control, and it helps those we leave behind.”

One carer said: “It’s not easy to talk about end of life issues, but it’s important to do. Now that we’ve put our affairs in order and are talking about what we want, we can ‘put that in a box’ as it were, and get on with living one day at a time, cherishing each day together, as I know it’s going to end one day.”

A bereaved widow said: “If you talk about dying, you can say everything you want or need to. There are no regrets.”
Complete Article HERE!

Heart of the Treasure Valley: Volunteers offer compassionate companionship for those who would die alone


Margaret Leahy sits quietly beside a hospital bed, holding the hand of a dying woman. She knows her name, but that’s about all and — it is enough. Margaret talks quietly to the woman, breathes a prayer, strokes her hair, dampens her lips.

Margaret Leahy, 75, is part of a group of volunteers committed to the belief that no one should die alone — that’s the name of their group. Working at Saint Alphonsus hospital, they sit with patients at the end of their life who have no one else who can be with them. “There are people who don’t (have anyone else) and they deserve to have somebody there,” says Margaret. “It’s just being a presence, really, just being there. … Sometimes it’s just holding their hand or stroking their head or taking care of their mouth that gets all dry.” Here Margaret, a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, sits in their memorial garden.

For whatever reason, the woman has no family or friends to be with her in the last hours of her life. But she has Margaret, along with a small group of hospital volunteers, who will take turns being by her side until she dies.

She says: “Compassionate companionship …

“These people are at the end of their lives, but they have a whole story and history behind them. And I may not know (the story), but they have a life that deserves respect.”

This person might be a transient, just passing through, or had an accident far from home. Or be someone alienated from family, or an elderly person with an elderly spouse who can’t be at the hospital. All of them perfect strangers.

“They’re not. They’re family. …

“You’re able to be with somebody in one of the most critical moments of their life. There’s birth and there’s death. And there’s usually a lot of people around the birth and not too many people around the death. …

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”

Margaret is part of an all-volunteer group called No One Dies Alone, a national organization with local chapters where people are moved to create them. The nucleus of this group is a partnership between Saint Alphonsus Hospital and members of Sacred Heart parish, begun 10 years ago by Mary Fran Brown.

When death is imminent for someone without family, usually 48 to 72 hours more or less, nurses will contact the chaplain who sets into motion a beeper and subsequent phone calls to the small pool of 20 or 25 volunteers who will come in four-hour shifts around the clock. Margaret is one of the relief coordinators.

“You’re not always the one there when they die (it is someone else who is) but all the volunteers feel the same way: It is a wonderful gift that we’ve been given to be able to do this.

“ … It’s a gift to me, but it’s also a gift I can give to them.”

Everyone volunteers for different reasons, and Margaret’s are many. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a nurse, and over the years, there have been many people who have died while she was working.

“They have not been ignored, but you’re in with them, you walk out — and they die. Or you go care for someone else, come back half an hour later — and they die. So I’ve seen people that have had nobody with them.”

Among the deaths in her own family, Margaret has been able to care for one sister. But she wasn’t able to be with her parents, another sister, her brother or sister-in-law when they died. She had been with them and then had to come home; other people were with them at their deaths.

“So I think it’s kind of a way of giving back.”

On just her third day on the hospital floor as a young nursing student, Margaret went into the room of a heart patient.

“He starts, as I now know, having chest pains. The dear nuns were very sweet; they felt I was young, so they had me leave the room. So I wasn’t in the room. … I’ve often felt that’s another reason I’ve been drawn to this work: because I couldn’t be there for him.”

When it’s their turn, volunteers check in with the volunteer office and the nursing staff and then go to the room. Most of their people are unconscious or semi-conscious.

“They say hearing is the last to go and they hear voices, they feel touch. So we hold hands, we talk. …

“I read a great article years ago that struck me. It said, ‘Even when you’re dying, you’re living.’ It’s a much more positive aspect to look at that. (Death has) become something you don’t fear.”

Margaret might read out loud or read to herself; she might say rosaries out loud or silent prayers, depending on the person’s religious preference. When she was with her sister, she knitted.

“It’s being the presence there, letting them know they’re not alone. It’s a very sacred time to be there. It’s sacred because it’s so real.”

One time, Margaret was sitting by the bed, holding hands with a woman. A nurse, a friend of Margaret’s, came by to check on both of them and they were talking softly across the bed.

“We both … looked down and she had very quietly passed away. And I thought, you know, that’s not a bad way to go, with people right beside you, talking, so you know you’re not alone. … A feeling of connectedness.

“(A peaceful death) — that’s what we wish for everybody. It doesn’t always happen, but when it can … There’s so much un-peaceful death in the world, it’s nice to be able to see that somebody does have one.”

The services that No One Dies Alone provides are for people of any or no denomination, but Margaret’s volunteering comes from a place of deep faith.

“Visit the imprisoned, visit the sick. Care for the sick, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless; take care of those that are in need — and these are people who are in need.

“That’s where my faith is coming from, caring for another in whatever way you can. It’s so integral, it’s so hard to put into words. …

“There are a lot of volunteers who are doing it to simply be of service to another human being — another type of faith.”

Margaret is also on the Board of Directors for Friendship Clinic, a free medical clinic on Latah Street, and is one of the clinic managers. She also does home visits for St. Vincent de Paul and does faith-based community nursing at Sacred Heart. Her husband, Rick Leahy, is a volunteer at Corpus Christi House.

“It’s a need to give. …

“If you had asked me at 25 (years old) what I thought I’d be doing at 75, I think I would have said I would be happy to be alive. But … I often just seem to step into things and, it seems, I seem to fill a need and it seems to fill a need in me.

“Maybe it helps me become a little bit more complete, a little more whole, a little less egocentric. …

“I always wanted to be a nurse (and) I’m still a nurse. I thought the other day: This is ridiculous at my age. But I know a lot of nurses who are older than I am that are still going. Maybe that’s it. (Volunteering) keeps you involved in life. Or death. …”

Margaret realizes that the volunteering she does isn’t for everybody. One of her daughters, for instance, works in an office in Minneapolis. On a recent Thursday, the daughter gave blood; on Friday, she tutored refugees; on Saturday, she fed the homeless.

“Her skills (are not nursing) but she still feels the need to go out and help. I think a lot of people want to help and try a lot of different things before the thing that really fits them comes along. I think that’s OK. Everything (you do) gives you a different perspective.”

And age has little to do with anything. When she retired, Margaret joked to an older friend that now she was an elder.

“(My friend) said, ‘I’m an elder, Joe’s an elder, Ellen’s an elder. You are an elder-in-training.’ I thought, ‘I can do that.’ (When I retired) at 65, you tend to think, well, this is it — and it’s not. (Life) goes on and on and if you look at it as an elder-in-training, then you have a job. …

“It’s nice to know I can keep growing at my age. You don’t think about it, but you do (keep growing). Sometimes faster, I think, than when you were younger.”

Sometimes, Margaret will be with someone when they die.

“(I say), ‘Goodbye. You’re free to go.’ I usually say a prayer.

“The staff has procedures to follow (and) one time there was a nurse and a student nurse when this lady died. Or gentleman, I can’t remember. The nurse said (to the student), ‘You just stay here while I go do this.’ I could tell the poor girl was just really not comfortable.

“I finally said, ‘You know you really don’t have to stay here.’ I said, ‘I’m OK. I’m not afraid to be alone with them.’

“You don’t learn that young, you learn that as you grow, and it’s not (at all) fearful.”

Margaret will stay for a while longer in the hospital room.

“I guess I don’t think about it as they’re going to heaven. You want them to go to peace, to go wherever they want to go — back into the universe, whatever. At that point, it’s their individual destiny.

“For me, it’s just … being able to be there for somebody. So they’re not alone.

Complete Article HERE!

Right to die: Dr Rodney Syme hands patient Ray Godbold life-ending medication


A small brown bottle of liquid sits on the table, positioned between the two men.

The glass has no label, but both the patient and the doctor know what it holds.

Cancer sufferer Ray Godbold, left, meets Dr Rodney Syme, of Dying with Dignity Victoria. Photo: Justin McManus

The sick man calls it “control” and the urologist calls it “medication”, but the non-prescription substance has another name.

Nembutal was once a common sedative but is now more often used by vets to put pets to sleep. It is also the drug of choice for those who believe in the “right to die” – when physical pain and emotional misery become too much to bear.

Ray Godbold, 59, wipes his runny nose and explains what has led him from his home in Inverloch to this Philip Island holiday shack, surrounded by chittering birds perched in coastal banksias.

He has come to meet with Dr Rodney Syme, 79, the controversial vice-president of Dying with Dignity Victoria, to discuss the final stage of his life and his control over how those minutes unfold.

They first met here 12 months ago. Godbold had stage four gastroesophageal cancer, which had spread to his liver and lymph nodes. They kept in touch as the disease progressed. Now they are back.

Reasons for concern have been mounting. The cancer is taking more of his metabolism away, along with his appetite and energy. His pain and discomfort are growing, with dizzy spells and a few falls.

“I can tell – in myself – that the cancer will eventually…” he pauses, stopping to gather his thoughts. “I’m not as well as I have been.”

Both men know how his disease will progress from here.

Catastrophic events such as a heart attack, pulmonary arrest, embolism or severe bleeding are a risk. Liver failure and jaundice are a concern and, as the cancer spreads, cachexia or “wasting”.

“If I was here in my underwear, you would see the ravages of the cancer on my body,” says Godbold. “If I took my clothes off, you would say I was already cachetic.”

Ray Godbold was once a palliative care nurse – he is now dying from gastroesophageal cancer.

Godbold talks the talk because he spent 34 years as a nurse. As a midwife, he has been in the delivery room for the arrival of so many newborns, and he has also been present in homes and hospices as countless others have died in his specialist palliative care.

Godbold knows what a bad death looks like, and he does not want that for himself or his loved ones. And so he wants that little brown bottle on the table. He wants control.

He does not want to meet any new doctors or nurses in his final days. He does not want a drip of morphine and Midazolam to send him into a coma.

He does not want strangers making decisions about his death while he is unconscious, while his family sits for hours, days or even weeks – waiting for his last breath.

He has been positive up until now, but new metastases have come up and there is a creeping “existential despair” about how the end will come.

“My thoughts are starting to get a little bit darker, about death approaching,” he says. “I have had a psychological change.”

Rodney Syme nods. He points out that doctors cannot measure pain, breathlessness or tiredness. They cannot quantify despair and therefore must accept that only the patient can judge when suffering becomes insufferable.

He has been helping people in this situation for 25 years, by doing what he is about to do.

He hands the bottle over.

“That’s medication for you – some Nembutal,” he says. “You need to take that by mouth, and you will have total control of that. It’s not my intention that you take it. I hope you don’t need to take it. But if you run into a brick wall, then that is what I sometimes call the key to the fire escape.”

If needed, this small bottle of Nembutal will be enough to end Ray Godbold’s life.

The two men shake hands and begin discussing the efficacy of what is, in effect, a black market substance. Nembutal is a “border controlled drug”, possession of which is a breach of law. Penalties range from imprisonment to fines of up to $825,000.

“If you take it,” says Dr Syme, “you will go to sleep relatively quickly and peacefully, and you will not wake up.”

If Godbold ingests the powerful barbiturate, he will be able to talk to his family for a few minutes, but the conversation will slow. He might yawn deeply, lying there in his bedroom. He will close his eyes at times, and drift into sleep.

In unconsciousness, the drug will slow his brain activity and nervous system. His heart rate will weaken. His breathing will become shallow. He will be dead in perhaps 20 minutes.

“Thank you,” he says. “It gives me great peace of mind to know that I’ve got it in my possession. I very much appreciate what you’re doing for me.”

What both men are doing is taking a stand. They are mounting a public challenge to current laws that deny people the right to take their own life with the help of a doctor, through medication that can assist their passing in a peaceful and reliable way.

Ray Godbold and Dr Rodney Syme are making a public stand on the “right to die” issue.

They expect a reaction. They want a debate – about what Dr Syme has already done for decades.

Paul Russell, director of HOPE, an organisation devoted to preventing euthanasia and assisted suicide, said it was “frustrating” that any doctor would supply patients with life-ending medication. “Euthanasia is never safe.”

One of his main arguments against “right to die” legislation is the inevitable “incremental extension” of those laws. In the Netherlands and Belgium, he says, people have been euthanised after psychiatric illnesses, botched sex change operations, or fear of going into a nursing home.

The story of Ray Godbold creates an “impetus for change”, he says, but equally there are other stories that should create “cause for pause or thought”.

In Victoria, it is a criminal offence to incite, aid or abet a suicide, with a maximum penalty of five years’ jail, yet no Victorian doctor has been charged with assisting suicide in the past 50 years.

Ray Godbold with his wife, Robyn. Both are nurses, and know what suffering looks like.

Dr Syme says he has been “frightened” to publicly reveal his work as it might get him into “deep trouble”, but says the time for hiding has passed.

State Parliament has rejected 16 euthanasia bills over the past 20 years, and although a new inquiry into end of life choices has been launched, Dr Syme feels the issue needs a push.

He is happy to make his actions known, and is even delivering an address on the subject to the annual conference of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians later this month.

Offering people this kind of control, he says, helps relieve angst and potentially extends life by removing anxiety about death. Then finally, as a last resort, medication can be a way out of a protracted and gruesome passing.

“I’ve set out to challenge whether what I am doing here publicly is a criminal offence,” he says. “I believe I can argue that it’s not – that it’s good palliative medicine.”

Ray Godbold at home in Inverloch, tending the garden in readiness for winter.

Ray Godbold is a believer in palliative care. He knows it may be enough for him, as it was for right to die campaigner Peter Short.

But he does not want to be forced to rely on their restrictive processes when the end of his “mortal cycle” is near – when he believes he should have a choice.

“When it comes to the end of my life,” Godbold says, “my trust is with myself.”

In the meantime, he is painting the house, bedding down the garden for winter, and making sure there are no odd jobs left behind when he is gone.

He wants to be ready for that moment, in every way.

“I want to gather my family around me and just say goodbye, and go my way – not your way,” he says. “Now’s the time.”
Complete Article HERE!

Catawba students examine death and dying in honors class

Most college students arrive on campus expecting to live a long, long life and planning to take courses focusing on the ways that humans live and think, knowing, as Socrates says, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” It might come as a surprise, then, that this spring 19 honors students at Catawba College chose to take a course entitled “Joining the Choir Invisible: On Death and Dying.”

Student Savannah Miller looks at different grave stones. Julieanna Herriven/Catawba College

Team-taught by English professor Dr. Janice Fuller and psychology professor Dr. Erin Wood, this honors course was designed to explore the biological, psychological, religious, and sociological phenomena at work when humans die and prepare to die. The course also explored postmortem realities, including how various societies treat human remains and memorialize the dead.

The course was structured around texts and films from a variety of disciplines, ranging from “How We Die” by neurosurgeon Sherwin Nuland, “Final Gifts” by hospice nurses Maggie Callahan and Patricia Kelley, and journalistic works on cadavers and American ways of memorializing the dead. The class also analyzed films like “Harold and Maude” and “Afterlife” and the television series “Six Feet Under” as texts to help them examine and develop their attitudes toward death.

Yet it may have been through experiential learning that the students most directly encountered dying and death.

Hospice volunteer and poet Michael Gaspeny spoke to the class about his closeness with patients faced with end-of-life decisions. Gaspeny’s stories brought the reality of working with distinctive dying patients to life.

“Everyone is an individual until that person disappears from this earth,” Gaspeny began. To make his point, he shared a few of his award winning poems about his hospice patients.

“People die as they live,” Gaspeny said.

Students visited UNC Chapel Hill’s Exercise Science cadaver lab where they viewed two cadavers donated to the lab for the advancement of science. Despite the chilly room and chemical smell the students remained eager to have a hands-on experience with the cadavers.

“At one point I was able to hold the brain of one of the cadavers,” said Kala Byrd of North Wilkesboro.

The cadaver lab gave her an understanding of how simple yet complex the human body really is and what death takes away from the living person.

The visit to the cadaver lab prepared the students to read Marianne Boruch’s “Cadaver, Speak,” a 32-section poem written in the voice of a 99-year-old cadaver Boruch observed in Purdue University’s Gross Anatomy lab. After reading the poem, the students presented the poem through a theatrical reading that was open to the public.

The staging caused students to have vivid memories of the cadavers they had personally observed at the UNC lab and helped bring the poem’s 99-year-old cadaver to life. Sara Sellers of Salisbury commented that Boruch “presents this cadaver as a person who has a past and who has memories. The beauty in this is that the 99-year-old lived a full life before death. Death is better than not ever existing.”

On a chilly Saturday in March, the class took a field trip to local graveyards. These cemeteries gave the students insight into local traditions and values followed in honoring loved ones in distinctive ways.

“I was rather shocked by how much I loved the Salisbury National Cemetery. I am a staunch believer in individuality when it comes to after-death plans … (yet) I admired the uniformity of all of the headstones … These soldiers were a united force that fought for a common goal and that unity is still on display after death,” Michael Jones of Salisbury wrote.

For the final paper, students outlined the end-of-life plans that they might want to make, using Aging with Dignity’s document “Five Wishes.”

At the beginning of the class, many students expressed anxiety about the fact of death. Some admitted being unable to conceive of really dying – an idea that Jo Ann Beard expresses in her essay “Undertaker Please Drive Slow.”

“It is impossible to imagine not existing because in order to imagine you must exist,” Beard said.

And yet imagine and plan and enact death the Honors students did. Perhaps, after all, the unexamined death is not worth – well, dying.
Complete Article HERE!

Death Makes Life Possible – Redefining Attitudes Towards Death and Dying

Newly Released Book and Documentary by Social Anthropologist, Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D., Explore How to Transform Our Fear of Death into New Models for Living & Dying.

What if contemplating and facing our mortality allowed us to live our lives more fully, without fear? In the newly released film and companion book Death Makes Life Possible, Dr. Marilyn Schlitz, PhD, presents a wealth of teachings and practical guidance on how to turn this taboo topic into a source of peace, hope, connection, and compassion.

“Our beliefs about what happens when we die define how we live today. And more and more of us are discovering a radical truth: when we release our fear of death, we open to an immensely richer life right here and now.” says Dr. Schlitz.DEath-Makes-Life-Possible1-620x868

Rich in scientific investigation and varying worldviews, the book and film feature eminent scientists and scholars, spiritual leaders, devout skeptics, health practitioners, and people from all walks of life, revealing the myriad ways that we grow and change by expanding our perspectives on the ultimate mystery facing each one of us.

The timeliness of this topic is highlighted by the more than 10,000 baby boomers reaching the age of sixty-five every day in the United States alone. By 2040 the number of people turning 65 is calculated to hit 1.3 billion worldwide. However death is not a topic reserved for the elderly since it is something everyone will eventually face. These works invite us to address our views about death and to examine our beliefs about what we think will happen next.
“As we seek to transform our views on death,” says Dr. Schlitz, “we can build new perspectives on our mortality that redefine who we are and what we are capable of becoming.”

Death Makes Life Possible release date: May 1st, 2015. Executive Producers are Marilyn Schlitz and Deepak Chopra. The film is distributed by Specialty Studios. The book is published by Sounds True Publishing.

Marilyn Schlitz, PhD, is a social anthropologist, writer, and speaker who has been a leader in the field of consciousness studies for more than three decades. The author of Consciousness and Healing (Elsevier, 2004; with Tina Amorok and Marc Micozzi) and Living Deeply (New Harbinger, 2008; with Cassandra Vieten and Tina Amorok), she serves as president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Dr. Schlitz lives in California. See marilynschlitz.com.

Death Makes Life Possible – Revolutionary Insights on Living, Dying and the Continuation of Consciousness by Marilyn Schlitz / Sounds True / May 1, 2015 / Paperback / 233 pages / ISBN: 978-1-62203-416-1 / ebook ISBN: 978-1-62203-453-6 / US $17.95 / Self-Help, Death and Dying / World Rights

Death Makes Life Possible – Transforming the Fear of Death into an Inspiration for Living by Marilyn Schlitz / Specialty Studios/ Digital Release / May 1st, 2015 : Amazon / DVD – Educational & Community Screening Licensing: deathmakeslifepossible.com


What happens to your Facebook profile after you die?

Your online accounts and profiles can live on after you die. Here’s how to plan for your digital afterlife

By Jeff Blyskal

Life used to be so simple. You lived, you died, and the assets you amassed during your time on earth were passed on to your heirs. Now, however, there is some new unfinished business that needs to be taken care of before you go: your personal digital assets.

What are these? Well, your Facebook wall is one of them. The digitized thoughts, photos, and videos that you post there are stored at data centers in the U.S. and Sweden. And think about all of the other Internet services with storage features that you’ve come to rely on—among them mobile bank accounts, online mutual-fund accounts, and bill-pay accounts.

If you write a blog, you may have years of published material online. If you operate an Etsy account, sell stuff on eBay, or own an online business, you have even more property scattered about on so-called cloud servers. We’ve all amassed a king’s ransom of those personal digital assets. One study released by McAfee, the security technology company, estimated their average value at almost $55,000 in the U.S.

The problem is, “after you die, there’s no one monitoring all these assets anymore, which makes them vulnerable to theft,” says Gerry W. Beyer, a professor at Texas Tech University School of Law and a leading expert on the estate-planning aspects of digital assets.

Complicating matters, secret usernames, passwords, and other login codes used to keep intruders out die with you. That makes it very difficult or even impossible for your survivors to take proper control of your digital assets. State laws granting rightful access to survivors are in their infancy, while user agreements usually bar access by others to protect their customers’ privacy.

Here is Beyer’s advice for properly protecting your digital afterlife.

Start with an inventory

Because it’s easy to save frequently visited website addresses on your Internet browser’s bookmarks bar, the first entry in your paper-based inventory should be a list of the usernames, passwords, and other login access codes to your computers, tablets, smart phones, and other connected devices. Do the same for your encrypted hard drives, flash drives, and other storage devices; encrypted home network routers; voice mail; and any fobs, cards, or other physical digital-key devices that require multifactor authentication security.

Your inventory on paper should then list the Web addresses where your trusted agent can access your account-login pages, along with the necessary e-mail accounts, usernames, passwords, security codes, and login procedures. Don’t forget the information needed to reset the password, often your e-mail address where a reset code will be sent, and the secret “Who was your best childhood friend?” question(s), whose answers only you know.

Find and appoint an agent

Because there may be indecorous photos or e-mails or other digital secrets you don’t want your survivors to see, take steps to prevent a family National Enquirer eruption. Neatly segregate the indelicate material from the harmless, find and retain a trusted third party to handle your digital affairs, and instruct him on how to manage it. This is best handled by a family attorney, executor, or estate administrator.

Draw up a power of attorney

Don’t put instructions and access information into your will because that becomes a public document once it’s admitted into probate. Instead, have your estate attorney draw up a digital-assets durable power of attorney. That will legally authorize your attorney or the trusted agent you name to gain access to your accounts and devices, should you become incapacitated, incompetent, or otherwise unable to handle your own affairs. Your agent’s authority under the durable power of attorney ends when you die, but thereafter, your personal representative (executor under a will, administrator if intestate) picks up the authority to act.

Store your inventory safely

Of course, all of your access codes are the keys to your digital kingdom, so the printed inventory should be kept securely in a safe-deposit box, Beyer says. Maintain a digital version of your print inventory to note changed passwords or newly added Web services. Store that on an encrypted flash drive, and retrieve and update the paper version as often as is feasible. Destroy the old print list after the new one replaces it.

Look for user controls

Online services have not yet caught up with the digital afterlife concern. “Many have some sort of policy in their user agreement that may allow access to an executor or authorized agent upon submission of a death certificate and documentation,” Beyer says. “The industry could solve the problem by providing a screen when you open an account, asking who you authorize to have access if you become disabled or deceased.”

But Beyer expects companies to get up to speed on this in the coming years, and some have already done so. Google’s Inactive Account Manager, launched in 2013, lets you instruct the Internet giant on what to do if your account becomes inactive for any reason, including your death. You can choose to have your data deleted after three to 12 months of inactivity or authorize trusted contacts who can receive data from some or all of your Google services, including Blogger, Drive, Gmail, and YouTube.
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