“What Kind of Mother is 8 Months Pregnant and Wants an Abortion?”

Just after Christmas, the popular fast news website Yahoo News published the article “What Kind of Mother Is 8 Months Pregnant and Wants an Abortion?”  “as an example of one of our best of 2015.” (emphasis added)

In this story, an anonymous woman called “Kate”, a married mother of one daughter, found out at almost 8 months that her unborn second daughter had Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a genetic disorder that can result in mental and physical disabilities. A subsequent test was said to show severe brain abnormalities.

Kate, now an administrator of the website “Ending a Wanted Pregnancy” which includes a Poor Prenatal Diagnosis Index, decided to have an abortion-for her unborn daughter’s sake. Adoption and keeping the baby were mentioned as options but were rejected by Kate without explanation.

As Kate relates her story:

The doctor said, “We expect your baby to have moderate to severe mental retardation; she’s going to have moderate to severe physical disability; she is probably never going to walk or talk; she will possibly never be able to lift her head; she is going to have seizures all of the time… (and) Babies like this one are not generally comfortable enough to sleep.”

In that moment, I had to shift my thinking. I was hoping for special ed, and had been focusing on questions like: How much should you save to know your special-needs daughter will be OK after you die? I was thinking about long-term care and mild to moderate disability. Instead, I had to think about a baby who was probably not going to live very long, and the longer she lived, the more pain she would be in. That realization – that I was more scared of her living than of her dying — is what made the choice for me.

Kate then tells how difficult and expensive ($25,000) it was to find an abortionist to perform such a late abortion. Kate’s doctor eventually found one in Colorado, far from Kate’s home in Boston and Kate endured a four day abortion procedure.

Kate relates the procedure:

The whole first day was counseling and testing to make sure it was safe to do the procedure. They want to make sure you completely understand what is going to happen and that no one is pressuring you into the decision. At the end of the day, I signed all the paperwork, and the doctor injected the baby with a drug that, over a few hours, slowed her heart to still. It was a very, very difficult day. Euthanizing the baby is, obviously, a very hard thing to do. (emphasis added)

On the fourth day, labor was induced and Kate delivered her dead daughter.

Kate’s 2 year old daughter cried when Kate told her that her expected sister was “gone”. Three years after the abortion, Kate says

Now, every six months or so, we talk about it again — her understanding of it evolves as she grows. At this point, she knows the baby died because she was sick in a way the doctors couldn’t fix, because she had holes in her brain, and you need your whole brain to be healthy.

Kate’s story was obviously meant to generate sympathy for a distraught mother and thus show why abortion should continue to be legal. However, the shocking description of the third trimester abortion and the continued effect on the mother and sister undermine the narrative that abortion is the best option in such a difficult situation.

ANOTHER SIDE TO THE LATE-TERM ABORTION DECISION

Personally, I know what it is like to be told that your baby has severe problems and might die. I was told just a short time after my daughter Karen was born that she had an inoperable heart defect and would live just “2 weeks to 2 months.” I know the panic and fear that mothers like Kate must feel but in my case, as in many others, the doctor turned out to be  wrong about her terminal diagnosis.

Although my Karen later died of complications from pneumonia before her open heart surgery, I treasure the almost 6 months we had together and I have no regrets.

Today, I also have a wonderful stepdaughter who has Turner’s Syndrome, one of the conditions listed in the Poor Prenatal Diagnosis Index on the  “Ending a Wanted Pregnancy” website, and she is now a kind, generous woman who has no mental or physical disabilities.

In both these cases, abortion would have “solved” nothing.

Unfortunately, stories like Kate’s are desperately discouraging to women and families facing a difficult prenatal diagnosis. Tragically, the article also ignores the help and resources available to help such children and their families.

For example, the article does not mention groups like local Birthright centers and the website Prenatal Partners for Life which is “dedicated to providing families, either expecting, or those who have had, a child with special needs or a life limiting condition, the support, information, and encouragement they need to make informed decisions involving their preborn or newborn child’s care.” There are also support and information websites for specific conditions like the Dandy-Walker Alliance , the condition that Kate’s baby had.

And anyone who reads pro-life news sites such as Life News  and NRL News Today  has read many inspiring stories of hope and even unexpected happiness when a woman chooses life for her baby despite a difficult or even terminal diagnosis.

These and other other websites also contain information about Project Rachel, an organization that helps women, men and even families to heal after abortion.

CONCLUSION

I am not writing this blog to condemn Kate or other women who have had abortions. My heart goes out to them and I wish I could have had a chance to personally offer help, options, encouragement and information. I consider these women as additional victims of the abortion mentality that has so infected our society.

However, I do have a problem with abortion supporters who use such tragic stories to garner sympathy and support for their political agenda of legal abortion at any time for any reason and paid for by taxpayers as “reproductive health”.

Women and their babies deserve better.

Miracle Baby Comes Home for Christmas

Francesca and Lee Moore-Williams held their beautiful 18 month old daughter Bella’s hand as her ventilator was turned off and they waited for her death. But just 30 minutes later, Bella awoke  “kicking and screaming” according to the UK’s Mirror newspaper article “Miracle baby whose life support was turned off home for Christmas”. Five months later, she is scheduled to come home this Christmas.

Bella’s health became a concern in April when clumps of her hair fell out. Three months later, she took a turn for the worse and was admitted to a hospital in critical condition. Doctors told the parents that a MRI scan showed abnormalities on both sides of her brain and at some point, the decision was made to turn off the ventilator supporting her breathing.

According to the Mirror article:

She was later diagnosed with the genetic disorder Biotinidase deficiency, which is so rare it affects just one in every 60,000 births.

Sufferers of the condition do not produce enough biotin – a vitamin which is essential for healthy cell growth.

The deficiency can be fatal if left untreated but will now be managed safely with tablets.

And today:

Bella, of Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, who turns two in January, is now learning to walk and talk and her hair is growing back.

Experts say she is around eight months behind other children her age but she is expected to catch up.

Francesca said: “She’s at nursery and to look at her you wouldn’t think she’s been through what she has.

Perhaps this Christmas “miracle” also holds a message about the need for hope and humility for those of us in the medical professions.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

 

 

Contraception and Informed Consent

My late grandmother always told me “Never discuss religion, politics or sex”. Contraception can touch on all three of these topics and birth control itself can usually be counted on to arouse strong and conflicting opinions in any group.

However, contraception is crucially also a medical issue. With a range of contraceptive options and so many contrary claims about benefits and risks, it is essential for everyone, especially women and girls, to know the facts when they have to make a decision.

As Dr. David J. Hilger writes in his December 2015 article titled “Contraception and Informed Consent-Women Need a Full Account of the Risks”, the first oral contraceptive was marketed in 1960 and

“Despite early indications of severe and sometimes life-threatening risks, oral contraceptives were quickly approved and widely accepted. It was not until after oral contraception was widely utilized that many of the medical risks were published. Information regarding risk continues to be discovered and is reported in the medical literature, but it is not widely publicized.”

What I appreciated about this article was that it contained not only the latest information on some of the medical risks of oral contraceptives but also the latest research in Natural Family Planning, a routinely overlooked topic even in a doctor’s office or clinic. It is essential for women to know all the options, risks and benefits when making a birth control decision to have truly informed consent.

MY JOURNEY

As a nurse, I thought I was well-informed about contraception when I started using the Pill in 1974. At that time, all I knew about side effects was the risk of weight gain which I experienced myself when I almost could not fit into my wedding dress! I stopped 18 months later when my husband, a doctor, read medical journal articles about the increased risks of blood clots with the Pill

I never used hormonal birth control again and I eventually learned and practiced Natural Family Planning which worked great for me in both conceiving and postponing pregnancy.

It was many years later when I discovered more information about contraceptives in medical journal articles about the possible post-fertilization (abortifacient) effects , increased risk of depression or, most ironically, increased risk of sexual dysfunction. For me, the knowledge of the possible abortifacient effect alone would have kept me from ever using hormonal contraception.

In recent years but rarely mentioned in the media, there has also been many  birth control lawsuits filed against a number of different kinds of birth control pills and devices.

CONCLUSION

My children and especially my daughters, gave me even more incentive to research the facts when their public schools gave sex education classes and I discovered glaring lapses and inaccuracies. For example, condoms were promoted as safe sex even though a Centers for Disease Control fact sheet admits that

However, condom use cannot provide absolute protection against any STD.”

Another example is that Natural Family Planning was ignored in favor of a negative depiction of the old “rhythm method”.

In the end, I believe that birth control is not a decision to be taken lightly and that women of all ages have the right to know the potential risks and options. I only wish I had known more myself in 1974.

All I Want For Christmas Is…..A Kidney

All I want for Christmas is a kidney but not for me. I want it for my wonderful daughter-in-law Bernie, short for Bernadette.

Bernie Valko had a kidney transplant when she was 15 years old after a birth complication damaged her kidneys and almost cost her life. For almost 17 years, Bernie did well with her new kidney, went to college and became an occupational therapist.

In September 2012, Bernie was set to marry my son Steve when her transplanted kidney failed the night before their wedding. Bernie told my son that, under the circumstances, they could cancel the wedding. Instead my son said his only regret was not marrying her sooner! No one knew before the wedding except family members. Nevertheless, Steve and Bernie’s wedding was a joyous occasion, although their honeymoon had to be postponed indefinitely.

Three days later, Bernie became very ill and was hospitalized. Dialysis was finally started but difficulties arose. Despite this, Bernie kept working as much as possible. Currently, she has dialysis 3 days a week and works three days a week. As a former dialysis nurse myself, I know that most dialysis patients are unable to work. However, Bernie is a trooper and even volunteers at their St. Louis, Mo. parish.

Bernie desperately needs a transplant. She needs a donor with an O+ blood type for a living donor transplant because such kidneys last almost twice as long and avoid the ethical concerns with other transplants.

Becoming a living kidney donor is not a decision to be made lightly. Information on becoming a living kidney donor is online at http://www.barnesjewish.org/become-a-kidney-transplant-living-donor . Bernie is now at the top of the Barnes Jewish Hospital waiting list.

In the meantime, Bernie and Steve also started a Facebook page “Find a Kidney for Bernie” with pictures and contact information if you or someone you know with an O+ blood type would like to be tested for a living kidney donation to Bernie.

Mass Shootings and Mental Illness

The rash of recent mass shootings is alarming, especially the most recent mass shooting in San Bernardino following so quickly after the Colorado Planned Parenthood one. Now, people are not only talking about mental illness as in the Planned Parenthood shooting but also the existence of evil as in the apparent terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

Can mental illness and evil be totally separate issues? I confess I don’t know the answer to this.

But I do know that our mental health system needs vast improvement from my own personal experiences.

My first husband and the father of my children was a brilliant, caring psychiatrist whose articles were published in medical journals. When I left bedside nursing to start our family, we had a plan for me to eventually join his private practice to specifically support the families of his patients. We both believed that families were ideally the best support system for people with mental illness and we hoped that such a plan would lead to better outcomes and help keep families together. Communication was key.

However, while our children were still small, my husband started slowly succumbing to severe mental illness himself despite treatment. I was frantic to help but at that time in the 1980s and even without the current HIPPA privacy rules, I was unable to get much information about his condition or how to help him from his psychiatrist even when there were multiple hospitalizations.

As his condition deteriorated, I was told by his psychiatrist that there was nothing I could do or not do to help the situation and that he was handling the situation. Then he told me that I should consider divorce for the sake of our children.

Since I believe in the sanctity of the marriage vows, especially the part about “in sickness and in health”, I soldiered on and got second and even third opinions for my husband. Nothing helped very much and I was still shut out from comprehensive discussion of treatment plans.

My husband finally abandoned our family and I reluctantly had to file for divorce. However, I still wanted to help him.

My now ex-husband eventually went on total disability for mental illness but since mental institutions were closed decades before for “less restrictive” measures, he became homeless and eventually shuffled from one assisted living facility to another until his death in 2014.

When our oldest daughter started using drugs at 14, I ran into many of the same problems with the mental health community. Even though she was a minor, she had the right to  “confidential health services”. This came about because it is thought that minors will be more likely to seek help from a doctor if confidentiality-even from parents- is assured in matters like sex and drugs. Unfortunately, as in my case, that meant that I could be mostly kept in the dark when it came to helping my child. I could pay for rehab but I couldn’t get much information or direction about helping my daughter. I contacted mental health organizations and tried to research support groups on my own with mixed results. My daughter died by suicide using an assisted suicide technique in 2009 when she was 30 years old.

We now have “mental health parity” under Obamacare which was intended to make mental health care better by increasing coverage. However, a recent Washington Post op-ed titled “The problem with Obamacare’s mental-health ‘parity’ measure”  shows how difficult it can still be for family or friends to get help for someone with a mental illness.

Mass shootings get our attention about gun control and terrorism issues but the mental health care crisis goes on. We need to do a better job and I still believe that mental health care must try to include and help the whole family for better long-term outcomes.

New Study: Suicide Contagion and Legalized Physician-Assisted Suicide

 

Even before my 30 year old daughter Marie died by suicide in 2009 using an assisted suicide technique, I was writing and giving talks on physician-assisted suicide (PAS) for years. Even then, I worried about effect of the mainstream media portraying PAS as a civil right and even “courageous”, especially since the existence of suicide contagion aka “copycat suicides” was well known. I was not surprised when after Marie’s death, at least two people close to her became suicidal. Thankfully, they were saved by treatment.

Now we have even more information about this from a Southern Medical Journal a medical journal article that was published at the same time Governor Brown signed the California’s PAS law. In the study “How Does Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide Affect Rates of Suicide?” , researchers meticulously examined suicide rates in Washington and Oregon after those states passed PAS laws.

The results are shocking. In those states, the researchers found a 6.3% increase in total suicide with a larger increase (14.5%) among individuals 65 or older. Moreover, there was no decrease in nonassisted suicides (people taking their own lives), despite the claims of PAS advocates that legalizing PAS would reduce the overall number of nonassisted suicides. Instead, the researchers found that “Rather, the introduction of PAS seemingly induces more self-inflicted deaths than it inhibits.”

On November 20, 2015, the Washington Post newspaper published an excellent op-ed article titled “The Dangerously Contagious Effect of Assisted-Suicide Laws “ by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, an associate professor of psychiatry and head of the medical ethics program at the University of California at Irvine. Citing the medical journal study, Dr. Kheriaty concludes that:

“Debates about physician-assisted suicide raise broad questions about our societal attitudes toward suicide. Recent research findings on suicide rates press the question: What sort of society do we want to become? Suicide is already a public health crisis. Do we want to legalize a practice that will worsen this crisis?”

Is Suicide Really a Public Health Crisis?

The national Centers for Disease Control website reports the following statistics in a section titled “Suicide and Suicide Attempts Take an Enormous Toll on Society”. Here are some excerpts:

• Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans
• More than 40,000 people died by suicide in 2012
• More than 1 million people reported making a suicide attempt in the past year.
• More than 2 million adults reported thinking about suicide in the past year.
• Most people who engage in suicidal behavior never seek mental health services.

Costs to Society
The following estimates are based on 2010 CDC data and refer to people age 10 and over.
• Suicide costs society over $44.6 billion a year in combined medical and work loss costs.
• The average suicide costs $1,164,499. (Emphasis in original)

The toll on survivors, family member or friends of a person who died by suicide is also enormous, as I can personally attest:

• Surviving the loss of loved one to suicide is a risk factor for suicide.
• Surviving family members and close friends are deeply impacted by each suicide and experience a range of complex grief reactions including, guilt, anger, abandonment, denial, helplessness, and shock

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Fighting Suicide Contagion

It is tragic that suicide prevention organizations ignore the PAS issue and the mainstream media is almost uniformly sympathetic to the PAS movement despite World Health Organization and national media guidelines for suicide reporting. This has allowed PAS groups like Compassion and Choices not only to press harder for universal PAS laws but also to even change the names of such laws to euphemisms such as “End of Life Options” or “Death with Dignity” to disguise the fact that physician- assisted suicide is obviously suicide.

However, Dr. Kheriaty in his Washington Post article also talks about a related phenomenon called the Papageno effect that:

“suggests that coverage of people with suicidal ideation who do not attempt suicide but instead find strategies that help them to cope with adversity is associated with decreased suicide rates.”

I have always maintained that our stories as suicide survivors, people with disabilities or terminal illnesses, etc. offer hope and inspiration while those about PAS promote despair and hopelessness. We need to tell our stories publicly.

All of us and especially people in states that are currently targeted by groups like Compassion and Choices for legalization of PAS, need to know and share the real facts about PAS as well as suicide prevention and treatment, including the national suicide hotline number (1 (800) 273-8255) and website (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org).  Suicide prevention and treatment can work whether people are considering PAS or killing themselves.

Addendum: Ironically, just as I was finishing this blog, I was interrupted by a call from a man living in another state with an incurable, disabling condition. He was referred to me last month when he saw a segment on a celebrity’s suicide involving the same condition and decided that he wanted to go to California to use the newly passed PAS law. I talked to this man for quite some time.

I was elated when this gentleman now told me that the resources I recommended, the people he talked to and even just the fact that someone cared did change his mind and he no longer wants to end his life. He said he now wants to start actually living again.

This man’s story shows why we must not discriminate between suicide and physician-assisted suicide when it comes to suicide prevention and treatment.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I give thanks  to God for all my family, friends and blessings.

We have had so many blessings this year, most especially the health of our grandson Liam who had a bone marrow transplant in 2013, almost a year after we lost his 6 year old brother Noah who also had the rare autoimmune disease called HLH. Liam’s regular checkups have just decreased to every 2 months and he is now predicted to have a normal lifespan!

I also give thanks for my wonderful husband Kevin and our wonderful now-grown children, one of whom is hosting Thanksgiving for the first time instead of me. Yea!

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

 

LIVING WITH “LIVING WILLS”

In the early 1970s when I was a young ICU nurse, none of us medical professionals had even heard of a “living will”. There was a universal presumption for life and “quality of life” was something to be improved, not judged.

Nevertheless, sick people could and did refuse treatment and even check themselves out of the hospital against medical advice. When patients appeared to be dying, they or their families could agree to a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order. Overly aggressive or useless treatments could be discouraged when such measures were considered medically futile or excessively burdensome for the patient. But one thing we didn’t do was offer to withhold or withdraw medical care like tube feedings to cause or hasten a patient’s death.

Unknown to us, all this began to change after Louis Kutner, a Chicago lawyer, wrote an article in the Indiana Law Journal titled Due Process of Euthanasia: The Living Will, A Proposal” in 1969. (emphasis added). By 1970, The Euthanasia Society of America (later renamed the Society for the Right to Die) distributed 60,000 living wills. In 1976, California passed the nation’s first “living will” law. Now, there are proposals to eventually include even physician-assisted suicide in “living wills”.

I use the common term “living will” to represent the wide variety of end of life documents that have evolved since the original “living will”, including the newest but problematic one called POLST (physician orders for life-sustaining treatment).

I wrote a 2001 article “Of Living Wills and Butterfly Ballots”   because I was concerned that many people were signing such documents with little knowledge of the history and problems with such documents that I witnessed as a nurse and ethics committee member. However, with the crucial help of a sympathetic media, court cases involving seriously brain-injured people like Terri Schiavo and government mandates such as the 1990 Patient Self-Determination Act have resulted in the heavy promotion of “living wills” as simple, worry-free documents. Now the federal government is set to begin paying healthcare providers for talking to all Medicare beneficiaries about such documents.

CAN “LIVING WILLS” BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH?

Recently, I talked to lawyers who expressed confusion and concern over the “living wills” they were asked to draw up. In addition, Medscape, a subscription website for medical professionals, and the American Medical News have published recent articles such as “Advance Directives May Be Hazardous to Your Health”  and “Clearing Up Confusion on Advance Directives”. The last article even warns

“misinterpretations of end-of-life documents too often result in lost lives or unwanted care” such as when “physicians incorrectly assume that DNR means not to treat a patient who is critically ill”.

When even doctors and lawyers are confused, there is a big problem. In the real world of medicine, I even heard some doctors say that if in doubt, it might be legally safer not to treat than to treat someone with a “living will” in an emergency because of lawsuits where a patient with a “living will” survived or had serious impairments.

SHOULD I EVEN HAVE A “LIVING WILL”?

When “living wills” first came out, I felt I was safer not to have one to make sure I received treatment. Later, I changed my mind. I felt it was safer to designate someone I trusted with the legal authority to make decisions if I was unable to speak for myself rather than just leave it to my family members, some of whom vigorously disagreed with my stance for feeding brain-injured people like Terri Schiavo.

I never tell people that they must or must not have a “living will” but everyone should be fully informed. I do encourage people to check out information sites like the Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance’s “Informed-A Guide to Critical Medical Decisions”  which has sections explaining ventilators, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), feeding tubes, misuse of opioids and sedatives as well as end of life considerations.

There are also several informative and protective “living will” documents from organizations like the Patients Rights Council and the American Life League. The National Right to Life Committee even has such documents online and specific to state laws.

SOME POINTS TO CONSIDER BEFORE SIGNING A “LIVING WILL” STYLE DOCUMENT

Here are some of my personal recommendations as a nurse before signing a standard “living will” or even a protective one.

1. Make sure the document is as short as possible, simple to understand and that the presumption for life is expressly stated so that if doctors are in doubt about your wishes, they should treat you.

What most people do not know is that “living will” style documents often go unread by doctors and nurses until a critical situation develops and time is of the essence. Even worse, some doctors and nurses still assume or misinterpret “living wills” as meaning the patient does not want treatment, especially if the patient is older or disabled.

2. Avoid vague terms like “significant recovery” and “terminal event” that have no objective medical standard and can easily be misinterpreted.

I’ve seen patients who have just had a stroke or head injury incorrectly judged “terminal” or “incurable by doctors. Such patients often get better with time and treatment. And, of course, any treatment that is medically futile or excessively burdensome to the patient can be ethically withdrawn later. I add the emphasis because now futility and burden are too often assumed to mean an inadequate “quality of life” or economic burden to the family or society.

3. Designate one person you trust to make your medical decisions with a backup person or persons.

Sometimes when only one person is the designated decision maker, he or she may be unavailable or incapacitated so a backup is important especially in a critical situation.

4. Consider not checking off particular treatments or conditions to be automatically refused.

Personally, I wanted a positive “living will” that only designates my decision maker and his/her right to make decisions about my care rather than signing a “living will” to refuse future treatment or set possible future conditions where I would want treatment stopped or withheld. Instead, I want all current options, risks and benefits of treatment fully explained to my decision maker based on my current condition.

5. Many “living wills” contain a section on pain with such sentences such as “I want my doctor to give me enough pain medicine to relieve my pain”. You might consider adding a phrase like “without hastening my death.”

I have seen unnecessarily high doses of pain medicine deliberately given to make a patient unconscious while food and water were stopped. Often, this was called “comfort care” instead of terminal/palliative sedation  but the result was hastening or causing death by dehydration and/or suppression of breathing.

Everyone wants and deserves adequate pain control at the end of life. Carefully increasing doses of pain medication and other measures work in virtually any situation and family members should advocate this for their loved ones.

CONCLUSION

There may be no perfect “living will” but as a former hospice nurse and family caregiver myself, I believe that dying people have a right to a good death with as few medical interventions as possible for comfort without deliberately hastening or causing death. The time before death may be short or long but I believe that people have the right to die at their own natural pace.

Death is not something to get over with as soon as possible. As some people with terminal illness have told me, they hated being treated as if they were already dead when they were still alive. They wanted to hear jokes, be with family and friends, go to church, etc. And since hearing is thought to be the last sense to go, I interacted with my dying patients in comas just as I did with my conscious patients.

The process of coming to terms with  death can be difficult at times but it also can be a meaningful time to review a life with all its joys and sorrows as well as a time for family and friends to show love, support and even healing.

Terror in Paris

My first inkling that Paris had been hit by terrorists in Paris was an alarm on my smartphone that signaled the breaking news. All throughout this weekend, my husband and I monitored the news on TV with growing horror.

The pictures of the carnage were devastating. Years ago, I worked in an ICU with trauma victims. That made me extremely sensitive to the bloody reality of violence and its’ effect on victims, families and society. I could never accept the idea of extreme violence as mere entertainment in movies, video games, etc.

My family’s thoughts and prayers today are especially with the people of France. We also pray that our leaders and society will totally commit to stopping terrorism everywhere.

Germany Legalizes Assisted Suicide-As Long As It Is “Free”

While the UK Parliament overwhelmingly defeated a physician-assisted suicide bill in September 2015, less than two months later the German parliament has passed a law legalizing some assisted suicides. As Reuters News reported:

“The bill, which was upheld with 360 out of 602 votes, criminalizes organizations that assist patients in terminating their own lives for profit. It is meant to prevent the commercialization of the procedure as a “suicide business.”

However, single instances of suicide assistance – by a doctor or relative – do not contradict the new law. A husband who helps his terminally ill wife to die would not be prosecuted.

“Commercial” assisted suicide would be punished by up to three years imprisonment, even if doctors allegedly perform the procedure to relieve suffering.

Why Germany?

The law is a surprise to many, especially since Germany has long been sensitive to the issue of euthanasia following its’ history in World War II when the Nazis used the practice to kill over 200,000 people with mental and physical disabilities as well as millions of Holocaust victims.

Actually, the 1945 Hadamar Trial involving euthanasia by healthcare professionals at the Hadamar psychiatric clinic was the first mass atrocity trial in the US zone of Germany following World War II. As a nurse, I was particularly horrified when I first read about the famous study of the willing participation of nurses titled “Killing while caring: the nurses of Hadamar”

What can we expect?

Former Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said the new German assisted suicide law “will open an era of great legal uncertainty” and will certainly be appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court.

But If efforts to stop the German law fail, the law will doubtless be expanded in the future as other countries in Europe have done.

Although ignored or dismissed in the US, the expansion and problems of euthanasia/assisted suicide in European countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland show the danger of first accepting a supposedly “limited” assisted suicide law.

For example, the Netherlands now uses lethal injections to dispatch infants with disabilities and adults of any age even without physical illness or consent. Belgium has done planned organ donation after euthanasia by lethal injection with the Ethics Committee of Eurotransplant even formulating recommendations for organ donation after euthanasia.  And Switzerland has a booming business with assisted suicide organizations like Exit and Dignitas even though a study showed that 16% of assisted suicide deaths in Switzerland are of people who have no underlying illness.

Conclusion

As the late Richard John Neuhaus wisely said ” I believe in the slippery slope the same way I believe in the Hudson River. It’s there.”

But until we are ready to recognize the potent logic about the disastrous and unintended consequences when we legalize “just a little bit” of legalized medical killing, we may find that the slippery slope has no bottom.