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AFFORDABLE HOUSING was a major issue in District elections for mayor and council, with most candidates agreeing that new strategies and investments are needed to meet the demand. So it is rather curious — even counterproductive — that city planners have advanced a plan that would limit the ability to expand housing in key neighborhoods. The zoning board should not sign off on such an ill-advised plan.

A proposal unveiled last year by the D.C. Office of Planning would limit the ability of property owners to expand rowhouses or convert them into condos. Neighborhoods in the R-4 zone, which accounts for about 35 percent of the District’s low-density residential lots, would see the maximum building height allowed as a matter of right lowered from 40 feet to 35 feet; condo conversions would generally be limited to two units.

The proposal was developed largely in response to resident complaints about pop-ups, rowhouses that are renovated with upward extensions. We are sympathetic to complaints about unsightly additions that are incompatible with the character of a block. But it is by no means clear that this proposal would be the best solution to those issues. The lower height limit might curtail some of the worst pop-ups (note, though, that the most egregious cases have been in neighborhoods that would not be covered in the down-zoning) but the more common complaints about bad design or cheap construction would go unaddressed. A far better approach, as underscored by several speakers at the Zoning Commission’s recent public hearing on the issue, would be for a design review process that would help to ensure neighborhood compatibility. Another problem with the plan is that it diminishes the value of homes.

What’s most concerning, though, is that the proposal would restrict housing at a time when more is needed to meet the demand. Not only will this lead to higher housing costs, but it also basically puts off-limits the very parts of the city where transit and other amenities are in place to support the needed new development.

Harriet Tregoning, who once led the Office of Planning, is among those opposing the change, and her thoughtful letter about the likely consequences of this move hopefully will give city officials pause. The Zoning Commission, which has the final say and is set to discuss the issue Feb. 9, should make clear this ill-advised down-zoning is a non-starter. City planners, under the direction of the new administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), need to take another look and come up with a comprehensive strategy that addresses issues of neighborhood character without adversely affecting the supply and cost of housing. 

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Johnson Law Group represents firms and NGOs that receive government grants and contracts. We have represented companies and organizations that do business with all levels of the government: local, state and federal. We have reviewed and negotiated on behalf of our clients contracts, cooperative agreements and grants with United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of State. We have a sharpened appreciation for dealing with the federal government, having implemented agreements ourselves with various governmental agencies and international organizations. We also have represented clients who have had disputes with the government and have represented clients against the government for example in the recent case of Phillips v. Mabus, 894 F.Supp.2d 71 (DDC 2012), which set the standard for constructive debarment. We have drafted teaming and subcontracting agreements and non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. We have prepared and filed applications for clients who want to qualify for one of the Small Business Administration’s socioeconomic programs such as the Woman-Owned Small Business, Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business and HubZone Programs.

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Johnson Law Group works closely with executors and personal representatives to administer estates, including filing petitions for probate, developing estate inventories and accounting's, and closing estates.

We are particularly knowledgeable about juvenile financial guardianship and the needs of families with dependents with special needs.

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The law and our client legal needs don’t always have working hours and although we do, we make every effort to be available in case of emergency. We maintain state-of-the-art information and communication technology, and count client responsiveness among our most important priorities.

Call us today: 202-544-1515

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NPR host Diane Rehm emerges as key force in the right-to-die debate
Diane Rehm and her husband John had a pact: When the time came, they would
help each other die.
John's time came last year. He could not use his hands. He could not feed
himself or bathe himself or even use the toilet. Parkinson's had ravaged his
body and exhausted his desire to live.
"I am ready to die," he told his Maryland doctor. "Will you help me?"
The doctor said no, that assisting suicide is illegal in Maryland. Diane
remembers him specifically warning her, because she is so well known as an
NPR talk show host, not to help. No medication. No pillow over his head.
John had only one option, the doctor said: Stop eating, stop drinking.
So that's what he did. Ten days later, he died.
For Rehm, the inability of the dying to get legal medical help to end their
lives has been a recurring topic on her show. But her husband's slow death
was a devastating episode that helped compel her to enter the contentious
right-to-die debate. 
"I feel the way that John had to die was just totally inexcusable," Rehm
said in a long interview in her office. "It was not right." 

Diane Rehm and her late husband, John Rehm, wrote a book about their
marriage. John died last year after suffering from Parkinson's disease.
(Matt McClain/The Washington Post) 
More than 20 years after Jack Kevorkian jolted America with his
assisted-suicide machine, Rehm is becoming one of the country's most
prominent figures in the right-to-die debate. And she's doing so just as
proponents are trying to position the issue as the country's next big social
fight, comparing it to abortion and gay marriage. The move puts Rehm in an
ethically tricky but influential spot with her 2.6 million devoted and
politically active listeners. 
Now 78 and pondering how to manage her own death, Rehm is working with
Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life organization run by Barbara Coombs Lee,
a key figure in Oregon's passage of an assisted-suicide law and a previous
guest on the show. Rehm will appear on the cover of the group's magazine
this month, and she is telling John's story at a series of small fundraising
dinners with wealthy donors financing the right-to-die campaign.
If asked, she said she would testify before Congress.
Rehm's effort comes less than a year after Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old
woman suffering from terminal brain cancer, moved to Oregon to legally end
her life, giving the issue a new spin. That she was young and beautiful
helped proponents broaden their argument, making the case that it is a civil
right, not just an issue for graying Baby Boomers.

Brittany Maynard was 29 when she died in Oregon last year. She had brain
cancer and moved to Oregon because of the state's death with dignity law.
The Maynard case prompted a surge of activity among state lawmakers pursuing
so-called death-with-dignity laws, including in Maryland, New York, Florida,
Kansas, Wisconsin and the District. Progressive politicians and voters say
the country is ready for the conversation.
"Kevorkian was before his time," Rehm said. "He was too early. The country
wasn't ready."
Public opinion on the issue depends on how it is described, according to
Gallup, which has found strong support for doctors helping patients end
their lives "by some painless means," but a far slimmer majority in favor
"assisting the patient to commit suicide." Not surprisingly, groups such as
Compassion & Choices studiously avoid using the word suicide. 
Laws granting the right to die exist in only three states - Oregon,
Washington and Vermont. New legislation faces staunch opposition from
religious groups and the medical establishment. 
In Massachusetts and other states where legislation has failed, proponents
faced well organized public campaigns from the Catholic church, whose
American bishops call suicide a "grave offense against love of self, one
that also breaks the bonds of love and solidarity with family, friends, and
Pushback from the American Medical Association has been equally fierce, with
the organization saying that "physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally
incompatible with the physician's role as healer, would be difficult or
impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks."
Both sides of the debate see Rehm's entry into the debate as an important
"She brings gravitas, she brings her experience and she brings a level of
reason and sanity to this discussion that is severely lacking when you look
at the opponents of death with dignity," said Howard Ball, a University of
Vermont political scientist and author of "At Liberty to Die: The Battle for
Death with Dignity in America." 
Ira Byock, a palliative care physician and vehement opponent of assisted
death, has argued against the movement on Rehm's show. Though he credits her
for having him on, he said her story and influence distracts from the
conversation the country should be having about improving end-of-life care.
"It sucks all of the oxygen out of the room," he said.
'I don't want comfort'
They met in 1958. John was a lawyer at the State Department. Diane was a
"Physically, she was a knockout," John wrote in a book they published about
their marriage. But there was more. "It became clear, for example, that
Diane had a fierce intellectual curiosity." She never went to college, but
had a copy of "Brothers Karamazov" on her desk.
Diane recalled his crew cut, his physique, his own intellectual curiosity.
"We loved taking long drives into the countryside," Diane wrote, "and then
going out for pizza and wine at Luigi's, talking about our dreams, our
fantasies, our attraction to each other."
They wed and had two children, but marriage wasn't as easy as falling in
love. John was a loner, a workaholic. Diane was more outgoing, centered on
family. They disagreed about so many things, nearly breaking up.
One thing they agreed on: Death.
"We had both promised each other we would help each other when the time
came," Diane said, "if there was some incurable or inoperable disease."
The end of John's battle with Parkinson's last June was that moment. They
had a meeting with his doctor. Their daughter, Jennifer Rehm, a physician in
the Boston area, listened on the phone. She said, "Dad, they can make you
comfortable." Her father replied: "I don't want comfort."
The doctor made it clear he couldn't help, but offered the self-starvation
option, which the Supreme Court has ruled legal. John, living in an
assisted-living community, didn't immediately make the decision. The next
day, Diane went to visit.
"I have not had anything to eat or drink," he told her. "I have decided to
go through with this."
"Are you really sure?" Diane asked.
"Absolutely," she said he told her. "I don't want this."
Diane stayed by his bedside. A couple days later, he went to sleep, aided by
medication to alleviate pain. She read to him, held his hand, and she
"I prayed and prayed and prayed to God, asking that John not be suffering in
any way as his life was ebbing," she said. 
Like his wife, John was Episcopalian, a church that has passed a resolution
against assisted suicide and active euthanasia. She didn't think God minded
very much. 
"I believe," she said, "there is total acceptance in heaven for John's
decision to leave behind this earthly life."
As John edged closer to death and the end of their 54-year marriage, a
priest friend came to visit. Diane got a glass of red wine for a service of
Holy Communion next to her husband's bed. She put a drop of red wine on his
lips. The priest performed last rites. 
She spent the night with him, and in the morning she went home for a quick
shower. Then she received a call - come fast, he's slipping away. She missed
his death by 20 minutes. She is still angry about that. If he could have
planned his death, she and his family would have been there.
"That's all I keep thinking about," she said. "Why can't we make this more
peaceful and humane?"
John donated his body to George Washington Medical School. At his memorial
service, some 400 people packed St. Patrick's Episcopal Church -
journalists, academics, policy makers and religious figures, including
Marianne Budde, bishop of the Washington Episcopal Diocese.
Diane returned to work not long after. She told her producers she wanted to
do another show on assisted dying. 
It wasn't until the last few minutes that Rehm told listeners what her
husband had done: "John took the extraordinarily courageous route of saying,
'I will no longer drink. I will no longer eat.' And he died in 10 days."
Richard from Florida called in. "You have my deepest sympathies and
empathies with the loss of your husband," he said. And then: "I've got to
get to the state that gives me the choice."
Rehm said she knows that as a journalist, she must be careful.

Diane Rehm, right, during "The Diane Rehm Show" at WAMU-FM in Washington..
(Matt McClain/The Washington Post) 
"As strongly as I feel, I don't want to use the program to proselytize my
feelings," she said. "But I do want to have more and more discussion about
it because I feel it's so important."
Sandra Pinkard, Rehm's producer, said she appeals to listeners, in part,
because she is so open about herself. She and John discussed their marriage
on the air. She detailed his struggles with Parkinson's. 
Rehm came back to the assisted death topic in late October after Brittany
Maynard announced plans to end her life.
Byock joined her on the show, knowing, he said, that "on this issue, she is
clearly an advocate." Though she didn't mention her husband, he said he had
to be "very assertive" to counter the focus on Maynard's undeniably dramatic
Still, he said he would go back on the program "in a heartbeat" because it's
becoming a forum for the debate.
"It's people like her listeners that I want to talk to," he said. "I am
sincerely grateful for giving me access to her listeners."
Her last moments
They still talk, Diane and John.
"I miss you so much," she'll say out loud, alone in her apartment. When
President Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal last year, she
told John, "It just breaks my heart you weren't there." 
She could hear his voice: "Don't worry, I'm there."
Wherever he is, Rehm has plans to join him. But she doesn't intend to die
the way he did. Shortly after John's funeral, Rehm made an appointment with
her doctor to talk about her death.
"You have to promise," Rehm told the doctor, "that you'll help me."
The doctor, Rehm said, was "receptive" to the request. "I think over a
period of time he or she would provide me, if I were really sick, with the
necessary means," she said. 
Rehm can't fathom being in the "position where someone has to take care of
me. God forbid I should have a stroke, I want to be left at home so I can
manage to end my own life somehow. That's how strongly I believe."
Like John, she is donating her body to GW medical school. Once students
finish learning from her remains, her family will take her ashes to the
family's farm in Pennsylvania, spreading them near the same hickory tree
that shades John's ashes. 
Rehm can vividly see her last moments. She is in her bed, at her home,
"My family, my dearest friends would be with me holding my hand," she said.
"I would have them all around me. And I would go to sleep."

Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post's local enterprise team. He
writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.
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Johnson Woman Believed to Be First Vermonter to Use End-of-Life Law 
Lung cancer hit Annette Vachon hard and fast. 

She was diagnosed last April. She died in October at age 64, after taking a
prescribed dose of lethal drugs. The Johnson woman was the first Vermonter
to use the state's 2013 law that allows terminally ill patients to hasten
their own deaths, according to her neighbor and friend, Meg Harris. 

"This being an option for her was such a comfort," Harris said.

Harris said Vachon's oncologist agreed to prescribe the lethal dose of
medication that Vachon requested. Getting a second doctor to sign off, as
the law requires, was harder. "It's such a new law, a lot of doctors were
reluctant to put their names on it," Harris said. "There was definitely some
dragging of the feet." 

Once a second physician agreed, Vachon was able to find a pharmacist willing
to fill the prescription. But the pharmacist had little information about
how the drugs would work, Harris said. The prescription wasn't cheap - $450.
Harris said they paid for it out of pocket, uncertain about insurance

Many health care professionals, including hospice organizations, are wary of
the new law. Some oppose it for ethical reasons. Vermont is one of only
three states, along with Oregon and Washington, with a law making it legal
for a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose to a terminally ill patient who
seeks it. Montana and New Mexico court decisions have allowed the practice
in those states, too.

Since the law went into effect in May 2013, doctors have reported writing
five prescriptions for lethal doses, according to the Vermont Department of
Health. Vermont's law does not include any other reporting requirements, so
information about how many patients ended up using the drugs is available
only anecdotally. 

Two people who received prescriptions died before using the drugs, according
to Linda Waite-Simpson, director of Compassion & Choice, an advocacy group
that supports the law. 

Waite-Simpson, who has consulted with several families and physicians about
the law, said that as far as she can ascertain, Vachon was the first to end
her life with the prescription. Waite-Simpson said Vachon's physician
consulted with her during the process, though Vachon herself did not. 

Harris came forward to talk about her friend's death after reading a January
28 Seven Days story about Maggie Lake, a 60-year-old Windham County woman
who used the law to hasten her death in January. Lake, who had battled
cancer for nine years, was believed to be the third Vermonter to end her
life using the law. 

Vachon, a retiree, had owned a stenography business in Boston and later
co-owned a coffee shop in Johnson. She was a strong supporter of Vermont's
Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act when it passed in 2013, her
friend said. That was almost a year before she was diagnosed with Stage IV
lung cancer, Harris said.

After her diagnosis, the cancer progressed quickly despite two radiation
treatments, Harris said. By June, Vachon decided she would pursue a
prescription for a lethal dose. As an animal lover who had seven cats,
Vachon didn't understand why euthanasia was so accepted for pets but not
people, Harris said.

By October, she knew her time was short, Harris said. Morphine was not
controlling the pain and was making her occasionally delusional. 

Harris picked the prescription up for her on a Thursday. Just having the
drugs in the house, she said, made Vachon feel more at peace. "It was
interesting to see how much that changed for her," Harris said. "Her only
goal was to do this with dignity and humor."

That Sunday, Vachon became more ill, Harris said. She decided the next day,
Monday, October 27, would be her last.  "Had she not taken the prescription
she probably would have lived only a week longer," Harris said.

Vachon's friends gathered in her home that day, Harris said. "Everybody was
in the room with her when she passed," she said. Vachon's hospice nurse
insisted on being present, which was a great comfort, Harris said.

First, Vachon took an anti-nausea medication. She then waited 30 minutes to
take the pentobarbital dose that would end her life, Harris said. She mixed
the prescription with warm water and juice.

"She sat up and let everybody know, 'I'm going to be honest. I am scared,
but I am grateful,'" Harris said.

She died within 16 minutes, Harris said.
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