Photo of Abigail Sweeney

Abigail Sweeney

  • Hosted by Georgetown University Health Justice Alliance
  • Sponsored by Pfizer Inc.
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school Georgetown University Law Center
  • Issue area Health Care, Medical-Legal Partnership
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Through the Georgetown University Health Justice Alliance, Abby (she/her/hers) will increase vulnerable cancer patients’ access to free healthcare and estate planning documents by providing low-barrier direct services and integrating pro-bono and student volunteers into the Cancer LAW Project.

Cancer diagnoses generally highlight the importance of planning for life’s inevitable heartaches—of having answers to the questions confronting individuals facing debilitating medical treatments or approaching the end of their lives. In Washington, D.C., not all patients have a chance to make these plans with dignity.

Abby’s project seeks to address the racial health injustice in Washington, D.C. that manifests not only as disparities in disease incidence and outcomes, but also in advance planning. Black patients are less likely to have healthcare planning documents providing end-of-life quality indicators, which results in patients not having end of life wishes followed. Additionally, white families are 5x more likely to inherit than are Black families, reflecting the cumulative effects of living within systems of pervasive racial inequality. Healthcare providers know that future planning legal services can protect the health and well-being of patients and their families, meaning more equitable health outcomes. Up until now, providers could not write a “legal prescription” for patients’ future planning needs. Abby will fill a void in the healthcare system while also creating a robust referral network of pro bono attorneys and student volunteers to scale the project to meet needs. 

Fellowship Plans

Abby’s project will advance racial health equity in Washington, D.C. by increasing healthcare and estate planning legal services for cancer patients at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. She will meet patients where they are and will collaborate with the medical team to tailor legal documents. Abby will establish a pro bono program and referral network that includes recruiting, training, and case placement. Abby will also integrate volunteers into the MLP to address patients’ non-legal needs.

Even with a terminal cancer diagnosis, my Nana dedicated her final months to helping me as a first-year teacher, volunteering in my classroom and later grading student worksheets when she became too sick. Nana’s choice to live her life as she wanted—in solidarity with her granddaughter—should not be a privilege afforded only to some.

Abigail Sweeney /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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