In 2017 and despite opposition by nurses and groups like the National Association of Pro-life Nurses, the American Nurses Association (ANA) approved a new position on “Nutrition and Hydration at the End of Life” supporting a form of suicide called VSED ( voluntary stopping of eating and drinking) to “hasten death”.
The ANA also stated regarding VSED that nurses who have “an informed moral objection….should communicate their objections whenever possible, to provide safe alternative nursing care for patients and avoid concerns of patient abandonment” (Emphasis added)
In March 2019, the American Nurses Association (ANA) then wrote a draft position paper “The Nurse’s Role When a Patient Requests Aid in Dying” that would have dropped the ANA’s long-standing opposition to physician-assisted suicide and even change the term “physician-assisted suicide” to “medical aid in dying”. The paper would require nurses to be “non-judgmental when discussing end of life options with patients”, and that nurses who object to assisted suicide are still “obliged to provide for patient safety, to avoid patient abandonment, and to withdraw only when assured that nursing care is available to the patient.”
In other words, nurses would have to abandon their vital role in the prevention and treatment of people with suicidal ideation for some of their patients when the issue is assisted suicide. Conscience rights could only be invoked if free from “personal preference, prejudice, bias, convenience, or arbitrariness”. (Emphasis added)
Many people responded with shock and dismay, including many nursing organizations like the National Association of Pro-life Nurses and even the Canadian Catholic Nurses Association that warned about their experience after assisted suicide was legalized there in 2015:
“we experience ongoing demands for access to lethal injections for new categories of patients, including “mature minors;” those who write advanced directives; and those whose mental illness is the sole condition underlying their request.” (Emphasis added)
THE FINAL POSITION
Now the ANA has issued its final position on “The Nurse’s Role When a Patient Requests Medical Aid in Dying” (aka physician-assisted suicide) that claims it is not “a stance for or against medical aid in dying but rather to frame the nurse’s compassionate response within the scope of practice”. (Emphasis added)
However, this new final position has the same problems as the draft when it states that a nurse should:
“Remain objective when discussing end-of-life options with patients who are exploring medical aid in dying”
And now, a new requirement is added for the nurse who objects to participating in assisted suicide:
“Never ‘abandon or refuse to provide comfort and safety measures to the patient’ who has chosen medical aid in dying. Nurses who work in jurisdictions where medical aid in dying is legal have an obligation to inform their employers that they would predictively exercise a conscience-based objection so that appropriate assignments could be made.” (All emphasis added)
This obligation to preemptively inform employers about objections to participating in terminating life opens a nurse to potential discrimination, bullying or even termination of employment, not to mention the chilling effect on ethical men and women considering a nursing career.
In its press release on the final position, the ANA states that its new position is “a step in a new direction for ANA and provides guidance for almost 1 million registered nurses in the U.S. who practice in the nine jurisdictions where medical aid in dying (MAID) is legal.” The ANA also states that “This statement is intended to reflect only the opinion of ANA as an organization regarding what it believes is an ideal and ethical response based on the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements.” (All emphasis added)
However, the ANA also claims that it ‘is the premier organization representing the interests of the nation’s 4 million registered nurses’ even while less than ten percent of the nation’s nurses are members of the ANA or other professional organizations” and that number is declining.
The ANA along with the American Medical Association (AMA) are the best known health care professional organizations and both are very politically active.
Ironically and just last month, the AMA House of Delegates decisively reaffirmed the AMA’s long-standing opposition to assisted suicide while the ANA has now surrendered its influence to the pro-assisted suicide movement.
Just as bad, the ANA has now effectively abandoned ethical nurses’ conscience rights when it comes to deliberate death decisions.
Although we now have the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division established by the Trump administration in the Office for Civil Rights to enforce already existing “federal laws that protect conscience and the free exercise of religion and prohibit coercion and discrimination in health and human services” and has a link to file a conscience or religious freedom complaint, it’s final rule implementation has now been delayed by lawsuits.
As assisted suicide and other such deliberate death decisions continue trying to expand, it is more necessary than ever that all of us-the public as well as healthcare professionals-understand and fight the pro-death movement to regain our trust in the healthcare system.