15 Jan 2019

Working to Improve the End of Life

An advocate makes the case for more humane options for end-of-life care


Laurie Leonard (MBA 1977) is executive director of End of Life Choices New York, a nonprofit advocacy, counseling, and educational organization. In the following interview, she discusses the group’s mission and her reasons for serving.

“When I got to be in my 40s, I got more curious about death and dying than I had been when I was younger. As I started finding out more, I realized there was a tremendous amount of misinformation out there about death and dying.

“The mission of End of Life Choices New York is to have everybody have the greatest chance possible of having a peaceful death. We educate the public and medical professionals about end-of-life issues, like advance directives, palliative care, and hospice. We provide individual counseling to patients who are dying and their families, and advocate to get the laws changed in New York State to improve end-of-life care. We have gotten several laws passed in New York State having to do with end-of-life care. One, for example, requires doctors to inform patients of their end-of-life options, including hospice and palliative care. This was information that most patients were not receiving from their doctors previously.

“Medical aid in dying is also called physician-assisted death, sometimes. And what it is, is the ability of a mentally competent, terminally ill adult to get a prescription from their doctor that they can use to end their life, if they choose to do so. It's legal now in six states. The people in those states say they feel enormously reassured. A third of those who get the prescription never actually use it, but they feel enormously comforted that if things get rough, they will have that ability to gather their loved ones around them and say goodbye and take this medication. And within five minutes, they're unconscious. Within 30 minutes, they die. Polls show that most of the general public––almost 80 percent––is in favor of legalizing aid in dying.

“I feel that when I came to the Harvard Business School, I really learned how to think. They teach you how to articulate your position on issues and how to convince other people that something is right. It wasn't a matter of learning facts and figures. It was learning how to use my mind to find solutions.”

(Published January 2019)

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1977, Section A

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