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Matthew Whitaker, a campaign director with Compassion and Choices who spoke at Fresno State on Sept. 15, 2017 about end-of-life options. (Benjamin Cruz/The Collegian)

Speaker: Talk about death for terminally ill

Everybody should talk about dying at one point before actual death, said Matthew Whitaker, a campaign director with Compassion and Choices who spoke at Fresno State recently.

Medical options for terminally ill adults who want to end their life was the focus of the discussion last Friday at the University Student Union.

Whitaker discussed California’s laws on medically assisted death, such as the End of Life Option Act.

California became the seventh state to pass legislation to approve end-of-life medical care for terminally ill adult patients who have less than six months to live. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act last year, and it took effect on June 9, 2016.

Also passing such laws are Oregon, Washington, Montana, Colorado, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Whitaker said information about end-of-life care can be helpful for students.

“I think the important thing is to have these conversations about the end of life with each other and our families,” Whitaker said. “People often don’t want to broach the topic until we really bring it up and push it with them.”

Whitaker said his parents, who work in the medical field, find it “uncomfortable” to talk about end-of-life options. When he discussed the topic with them, he said “That was an opportunity to say that I am comfortable.”

Whitaker’s grandmother had ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He took care of her and saw what the end of her life looked like, he said.

“It is an opportunity for your family to tell you how to love them at the end of their life,” Whitaker said.

In his experiences working with terminally ill patients, Whitaker said none had conversations with him about the fact they were going to die.

He said about 40 percent of the patients hugged him and thanked him for the time he spent comforting them by making music together.

“So that is what made me interested in this kind of culture change work,” Whitaker said.

Six months after the End of Life Option Act passed, 191 patients obtained prescriptions for end of life care from a total of 173 doctors in California.

Over the span of a year, more than 500 patients have received prescriptions according to the Compassion and Choices website.

The discussion was hosted by Fresno State’s California State University Institute for Palliative Care.