Meet some members of the Arizona End-of-Life Options leadership team
Ron Fischler, MD, is the Founding Chairman of Arizona End-of-Life Options (AZELO), an all-volunteer statewide coalition. He is a semiretired pediatrician with a longstanding interest in end-of-life issues. A graduate of Harvard College, Dartmouth and Harvard Medical Schools, he served with the Indian Health Service in San Carlos, AZ, taught at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and founded North Scottsdale Pediatrics. Ron served as a medical staff leader at Honor Health Scottsdale and co-led efforts to improve the patient experience, where he witnessed patients at the end of their lives without a plan who faced agonized deaths. He learned first-hand about end-of-life choices while accompanying a friend in his last six months of life. From 2016-18 he organized and led the Physician Task Force on End-of-Life issues for the Arizona Medical Association and Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association, which completed a survey of nearly 600 AZ physicians regarding end-of-life care. He strongly believes that terminally ill Arizonans of sound mind should have the legal right to access medications to end their suffering, and that physicians who share this belief have an important and meaningful role to play. He has participated in community education efforts on end-of-life care planning. He splits his time between Phoenix and Maine where, in 2019, he watched closely as Maine’s legislature approved its new Death with Dignity Law.
Dwight Moore, PhD, is Chairman of Arizona End of Life Options. He also chairs the Education Committee, which has the modest goal of having all citizens of Arizona understand the basics of the medical aid in dying law as it grows in importance and public support across the nation. Dr. Moore was a team leader for Compassion & Choices in Coachella Valley, California, during the successful 2014-15 campaign to pass the California End of Life Option Act. He currently serves as team leader for the End of Life Washington NW team during his annual six summer months there. Additionally, as a psychologist, he occasionally is asked to assess the mental competence of patients who wish to avail themselves of the law. Now retired, he worked most of his career as an industrial psychologist helping executives become “leaders worth following.” He received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in counseling psychology and is licensed in Washington State.
Tom Fitch, MD, went to Medical School at the University of Kansas, completed a Residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan, and Fellowships in Medical Oncology and Hematology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He practiced at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona facility for 30 years, when he himself was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and lymphoma. He cared for many patients from time of diagnosis through the end of life. During that time, he became convinced that patients with advanced cancers need more open and empathetic communication about their illness and prognosis, better supportive/symptomatic care, and truthful, compassionate, and grace-filled care as they approach the end of life. For those reasons, he became a Hospice and Palliative Medicine physician. Dr. Fitch also concluded that it is simply wrong for people to believe that there is never anything difficult or agonizing about dying—despite the best possible care. A few patients suffer greatly. They need and want an alternative plan of care. It is not rare for a patient to inquire about medical aid in dying, in essence saying, “Doctor, can you help me make this happen sooner?” Sadly, medical aid in dying (MAID) is not legal in Mayo’s location in either Minnesota or Arizona. With a wealth of first-hand experience, Dr. Fitch believes MAID is ethical, and should be legally available—with stringent safeguards—to competent adults who find themselves near the end of life due to a terminal illness complicated by unbearable, refractory suffering, to use as their last act of free will to die with dignity as they reasonably interpret it. He has joined Arizona End-of-Life Options to advocate for a Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) law in Arizona. See Dr. Fitch’s Op Ed in the Arizona Republic: “I’m an oncologist with terminal cancer, and I support medical aid in dying. Here’s why.”
Leesa Stevens lives in Sedona, AZ, and is the leader of the Arizona End-of-Life Options (AZELO) Advocacy Committee. Her responsibilities include creating, developing and implementing goals to educate, influence and lobby Arizona Legislators to support passage of a Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) law in our state. Leesa also is the team leader for the Northern Arizona Chapter of Compassion & Choices. A Michigan native, Leesa earned a BA in education from Michigan State University. A staunch believer in everyone’s right to have control of their own bodies, her interest in end-of-life issues was piqued by the story of California’s Brittany Maynard to end her terminally ill life on her own terms. Two years ago, Leesa’s brother, a Vietnam veteran, experienced a long and painful death which made the issue a highly personal one for her.
Marie MacWhyte is AZELO’s Digital Marketing Lead and her responsibilities include our monthly webinars, bi-monthly newsletter, and our presence on five social media platforms. She holds a BSN from Washington State University and spent 35 years as a registered nurse caring for and educating patients. It was while nursing dying patients that Marie became aware of the widespread suffering taking place among the dying that convinced her of the need for a change in our cultural norms—one that would allow terminal patients the dignity to call it quits when they have had enough living.
Marie recalls one patient who confided in her that she wanted no more treatment and just wanted to die. Marie encouraged her to talk to her family about this. But when the patient relayed her desire to her son, he lashed out at her angrily, demanding she never to speak this way again or he would stop coming to visit. Our medical technology has progressed to the point where we can extend one’s lifespan longer than God intended, and unfortunately this is often at the expense of any quality of life worth living. Now our societal and religious norms need to progress as well, to allow terminal people the freedom to decide for themselves when their lives are no longer worth living and acceptance when expressing these decisions without judgment, or pressure to fight for a longer life. Marie’s personal mission is to make the topic of death and dying as acceptable and non-threatening as other dinner table topics.
Mark Savan, a retired business executive, is a member of the Arizona End of Life Options (AZELO) Steering Committee. Mark has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Optical Engineering as well as an MBA. He spent most of his career working in and leading manufacturing companies in the building products space—serving as CEO of Paradigm Windows; President of Fortune Brands Windows & Doors; and as a member of the Fortune Brands (NYSE: FBHS) Executive Committee. Previous to these positions he was a Principal at the consulting firm of Booz, Allen & Hamilton. Mark’s interest in end of life options began when he served as a primary caregiver for his father who had terminal lung cancer. Mark has been involved with AZELO since 2021 and considers the organization’s cause to be a fight for a basic human right.
Dave Wolf is our Treasurer. Dave is a retired technology project manager and business analyst, with several previous years of experience as an emergency medical technician (EMT) with a fire department in Washington State. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and worked in the tech industry in both Silicon Valley and the Seattle area. He currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona.
Kem Ellis is our Volunteer Coordinator. He writes:
Suddenly in 2018, after eighteen years of accommodating the losses imposed at the whim of sensory peripheral neuropathy, I was facing another loss — the ability to drive. First diagnosed in 2000, I gradually lost feeling in my feet and lower legs, followed by feeling in my hands. Eventually my sense of balance bid me adieu. These earlier losses were gradual, but losing my independence was sudden. From now on I will have to depend on someone else to take me anywhere I want to go.
My neurologists determined I do not have any underlying condition to treat. I am simply the unfortunate victim of a crummy roll of the genetic dice. Since losing the ability to drive I have waged a pitched battle to keep walking. My arsenal includes a cane, a walker, and my NuStep machine. Right now, things are looking better for me physically, but I am homebound.
I have always been active in my community through Rotary as well as serving on, and chairing, numerous local non-profit boards. After moving across the country and losing my ability to go places on my own I was sure my days of civic engagement were behind me. Well, not so fast.
In July 2020 I had the opportunity to begin volunteering with Arizona End of Life Options when I was asked to contact Arizona residents who were interested in volunteering with AZELO. I had never really heard much about Medical Aid in Dying before I started this project.
During the past six months I have enjoyed speaking with many supporters of AZELO and its work. For many, Medical Aid In Dying is an important personal issue. As each person shared their story and invited me to share mine, I realized my sense of isolation was disappearing.
That December I agreed to expand on my work with our volunteers as Volunteer Coordinator for AZELO. As usual, I have jumped into this new role with both feet and guess what, I really think I have a “feel” for it and look forward to sharing our stories.
Mary Ganapol relocated to Tucson from the San Francisco Bay Area in 1996 and is the Southern Arizona Lead for AZELO. Her responsibilities include education, outreach and advocacy in the eight legislative districts representing Southern Arizona. In her last business venture before retirement in 2017, she left the corporate world to become the owner/operator of a home care franchise in Green Valley, Arizona called Seniors Helping Seniors. Coordinating hospice care in clients’ homes gave her firsthand experience with end-of-life issues faced by the dying, their caregivers and their families. While her parents both had “good” deaths, her first husband dealt with becoming a paraplegic and then quadriplegic in his last 16 months of life; he was frustrated with his limited end of life choices. She hosts a Death with Dignity Meetup and describes herself as an enthusiastic volunteer for a variety of non-profits.
David Brandt-Erichsen, a retired researcher in molecular genetics, is our volunteer webmaster. He founded the original incarnation of this website in 1998. A fifth-generation direct descendant of famed abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Lucretia Mott, freedom-fighting is in his genes, so it was only natural for him to be an activist on medical aid in dying in Arizona for the past 35 years, working toward this “last right.” He states: “When it’s my time to go, I want it to be on my terms, not somebody else’s!” His motto: “I will see a medical aid in dying law enacted in Arizona or die trying.”
David is also volunteer webmaster for several other organizations. He is on the Board of Directors and the Volunteer Website Team for the National Space Society, a lifelong passion. He is webmaster for the Natural Arch and Bridge Society and contributed some of his unusual photos of Arizona natural arches to the graphical “Arizona” theme of our website. He is also webmaster for the Elverhøj Museum in Solvang, California—what is now a museum of the arts was originally the home where he grew up, built by his artist parents. He resides in Tucson.