Julie McMurchie

Winner: Extraordinary Board Member Over 35

Julie McMurchie still gets choked up when she talks about the day, in 2001, when her mother died, even though she has been telling the story of that sunny January afternoon to people across the country for the past seven years. “We played music and read poetry … Then she took the medicine and fell asleep in five minutes, with all her children around her. Who wouldn’t want that?”

McMurchie’s mother, bedridden with lung cancer, was a client of Compassion & Choices of Oregon, an organization aimed at helping terminally ill Oregonians with end-of-life decisions—including physician-assisted death, which is legal only in Oregon. Today, McMurchie serves on the Compassion & Choices board of directors in hopes of leading a small revolution in the way Americans think about dying.

‘My goal is for every Oregonian … to know there is a place they can ask questions.’

Although physician-assisted death is legal here under the state’s 1997 Death With Dignity Act, McMurchie feels we have a long way to go in terms of public information and physician acceptance. Many doctors are uncomfortable with the idea of helping patients die, so Compassion & Choices reaches out to them with seminars; the organization also is raising money to expand its public outreach programs. “When someone gets a terminal diagnosis, they are scared and want to know what their options are at the end of life,” McMurchie says. “My goal is for every Oregonian who gets a scary diagnosis to know there is a place they can ask questions, where people will be nonjudgmental.”

In the past three years McMurchie has helped bolster the organization’s annual budget by nearly one-third, and she managed to bring in $77,000 in donations at the last fundraiser (up by $30,000 from the previous year). “This is one of the hardest organizations to raise money for,” says George Eighmey, executive director. “It’s an issue people don’t want to talk about, but having Julie as a public face for this issue in the community has really brought us to the next level of mainstream recognition.” —MC Contact: compassionoforegon.org