Attorney Rebekah Millard researches and writes briefs for Life Legal Defense Foundation where she serves the pro-life cause as a staff attorney. She also does contract work for other clients. A recent graduate of Oak Brook College of Law in Fresno, she lives in Oregon. She has passed the bar in California and looks forward to passing the Oregon bar. She intends eventually to become established in private practice and do pro bono work for LLDF.
Why did you choose to work with Life Legal Defense Foundation?
In 2008, I was clerking for my uncle, an attorney in Sacramento, and he and another attorney suggested I look at LLDF. I read the mission statement and immediately knew that this was a group I wanted to work for. I offered to intern, interviewed, and was hired for a part-time position. What do you enjoy about your work? I love the law for its own sake and because it gives me a way to be of service. I do research as needed. I like the time crunch during a case when urgent things pop up and the lead LLDF attorney asks for information on a jury selection issue, a statute, or an ordinance.
What is the broadest issue you have researched so far?
The conscience issue: what are the rights of an individual to seek medical treatment beyond that which healthcare providers recommend, and what are the rights of health care providers to refuse to participate in treatment options that violate their consciences? This specifically involves the dilemmas that arise with situations such as taking an individual off of life support, and physician assisted suicide. Do health care professionals have the right to refuse to perform abortions or refuse to assist in suicide in the states where it is legal? The issues are very interesting. As a resident of Oregon, the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide, I know families who have faced end-of-life problems. In one case, a friend’s grandfather was dying at home and his long-time doctor voluntarily said, “You don’t have to go through this. I can give you pills.” The patient and his wife were shocked, since he had not asked for such advice. The doctor said he was required to make the offer. The patient refused. Some family members considered reporting the incident to the medical board. It made me think about what would happen if an Oregon patient asked a physician to hasten death and the doctor’s conscience would not allow him or her to administer a lethal dose. End-of-life health care issues are treated very differently in different states. Three states now allow physician-assisted suicide. Even our horrible law here in Oregon has some patient protections, although we do not know how that will play out in practice or whether all patients actually will have the protection promised. Other states have very strong patients’ rights laws while some are silent on the issue. I was also pleased to discover that many states provide explicit protection for health care professionals to protect them from being forced to participate in health care treatment which they find unconscionable.
Are you doing any other work related to end-of-life issues?
One work in progress is an LLDF brochure with legal information to guide planning on end-of-life decisions, such as health care directives. We hope people will use it before a health care crisis occurs. There will be a lot of detail, a sample form, steps to follow, links to helpful web sites, and issues to be aware of, such as the physical signs of dying. A registered nurse will write the medical information. I am helping with legal research and editing. I’m excited because this will be a practical tool that will allow people to take action without being intimidated about complex legal and medical issues.
A new year has begun; do you expect any new themes for LLDF in 2010?
Volunteer attorney Joanna Galbraith and I will be looking at cases that may lend themselves to pro-active strategies, including ways to go after medical malpractice and zoning violations at abortion clinics. We will analyze what has worked in the past and recommend strategies that lead attorneys might consider as we continue to try to protect the lives of unborn children.
What were the highlights of your first year with LLDF?
The chance to learn from the best in this field has been the highlight for me. Besides learning practical skills, I’ve become more aware of what actually goes on in the pro-life movement. I now know about groups such as The Survivors, a young people’s group with members my age who have been represented by LLDF.
Growing up, I did not even know they existed. I have learned how peaceful pro-life demonstrators often are unfairly treated by officials. I was privileged to sit in the second chair during the trial phase of the Conrad case from San Bernardino.
The judge allowed us to use video images showing peaceful, legal free speech activity by pro-life defendants who were arrested on a college campus. It really hammered home the point that the public, the police and courts need to learn that peaceful prolife activists have nothing to hide, that they have committed no crime. It has become very clear that what we hear in the news is not the whole story. This year, for the first time, I did go out in front of a clinic in Portland, where most of the Oregon clinics are. It helped me to understand more about the wonderful people who are acting peacefully on important issues. I am definitely learning!
You have referred to life issues at both ends of the human lifespan. Why are you pro-life?
I am from a pro-life family—parents and grandparents—but we were not politically active, and did not talk about the issues much. My own pro-life convictions arose when I was about twelve. My mother had a miscarriage at home. The baby was so tiny, with head, hands, feet, fingers and toes, and just fit into my dad’s hand.
We mourned that baby. The experience really made an impression on me. I am interested in many aspects of the law— business law, government over-regulation, family law—but the pro-life issue is the most important. We cannot pretend to get anything right if we do not respect the most basic right, the right to life.
Are you optimistic that pro-life principles will prevail in the United States?
Since joining LLDF, I have been privileged to feel as if I am contributing to pro-life issues, the kind of issues for which we must stand up and fight. Once established as an attorney, I look forward to volunteering for Life Legal just for the satisfaction of working with wonderful people on issues that are so important. Ultimately, I believe this battle is going to be won in the right way by organizations like LLDF. It is fun to be part of a group with this attitude.
[Life Legal has recently updated its sample Advance Medical Directive, in PDF and word-processable formats (RTF and DOC), suitable for use in California. It is available, along with some explanatory text at http://lldf.org/pmdd-info.html—the page also includes a link for easy emailing to people that you think may find it useful. Links to information for PMDDs for other states are listed on the same page.—Ed.]