Right now, there is a Senate Bill 693 titled “The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act” to authorize more and better training in palliative and hospice care. Although a provision (SEC. 6. Clarification) was recently added to explicitly forbid federal funding for any health care furnished for the purpose of causing or assisting the death of any individual by assisted suicide, euthanasia or mercy killing, many of us have serious concerns. (The similar House Bill 1676 has already passed and sent to the Senate.)
As an RN with decades of nursing experience in hospice, oncology (cancer) and critical care, I have been involved with many end-of-life situations. I am an enthusiastic supporter of ethical palliative and hospice care which is indeed wonderful for patients of any age and their families.
Unfortunately, there is a growing trend towards calling unethical practices “palliative” or “hospice” care.
For example and just a few years ago in a Catholic hospital, I saw a nurse/friend’s life deliberately ended due to so-called palliative and hospice care labeled “comfort care.” She had recently suffered a serious brain injury and was declared hopeless after a couple of weeks. The family was strongly pushed to switch to “comfort care”. She was taken off a ventilator, had her feeding tube removed (against her adult son’s wishes), and continued to receive the sedation medications used when she was on the ventilator, even receiving an increase in those medications when she continued to breathe on her own. Despite my friend’s son insisting that he wanted the feeding tube replaced and that he wanted to eventually care for his mother at home whatever her level of functioning was, he was told to wait until a doctor could order the feeding tube replaced. The hospital waited until he went home to sleep, transferred her to the hospice unit without his permission and she was dead by morning.
Unfortunately, similar stories have become increasingly more common since the 1970s when the Euthanasia Society of America changed its name to the Society for the Right to Die and promoted the new “living wills”. Now we have well-funded groups like Compassion and Choices (the former Hemlock Society) not only promoting physician-assisted suicide but also trying to change medical ethics from never deliberately causing or hastening death to merely a “choice” about when and how to die.
Two years ago in my blog “Is Compassion and Choices aiming to become the “Planned Parenthood” of Euthanasia?, I warned about the current and future involvement of Compassion and Choices in “end of life” education.
Here are some excerpts:
With over $22 million in 2015 net assets, a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator, enthusiastic media coverage and a new “Federal Policy Agenda for 2016 and Beyond” , Compassion and Choices increasingly appears to be following in the 4 star, politically and media supported, $1.3 billion dollar revenue ($528 million in government taxpayer funding) steps of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
While Compassion and Choices claims that it just “works to improve care and expand choice at the end of life”, it also admits that “We employ educational training programs, media outreach and online and print publications to change healthcare practice, inform policy-makers, influence public opinion and empower individuals.” (Emphasis added)
THE PALLIATIVE AND HOSPICE CONNECTION
Compassion and Choices has worked for decades not only to legalize physician-assisted suicide in every state but also to normalize and integrate physician-assisted suicide into medical practice and reaches out to established medical groups like the American Academy of Palliative and Hospice Medicine (AAPHM.
Now, Compassion & Choices’ website has a video presentation based on this article titled “Understand the Clinical Practice of Aid in Dying” for doctors and other clinicians. The presentation even offers continuing medical education credits.
This would not be possible if the AAPHM had not changed its position on assisted suicide from opposition to “studied neutrality”, a position that the American Medical Association itself is now considering.
Compassion and Choices also supports two other “legal” options for assisted suicide in states that haven’t passed physician-assisted suicide laws. One is “voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (VSED)” and the other is “palliative sedation-Sometimes called terminal sedation”. Significantly, the recommendations include the admission that “VSED includes pain and symptom management” and “Palliative sedation must be medically managed by a healthcare provider”. Thus the need to influence and train hospice and palliative care providers.
WHERE THE MONEY AND POWER IS
The priorities on its agenda include:
“Establish federal payment for palliative care consultations provided by trained palliative care professionals who will advocate for and support the values and choices of the patient….” (Emphasis added)
Also included are
“Professional Education and Development” training programs for doctors and other providers “in discussing terminal prognoses and death” and “Policies and Payment Systems” to change medical policies and payments to a “a value-based healthcare payment system” that will “(e)ncourage Congress to direct CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and other federal agencies” to withhold “appropriations or other funds” for treatment that was “provided but (deemed) unwanted”.
This last provision reinforces the fear many healthcare providers already have that, if in doubt, it is safer not to treat a person rather than treat him or her in hope of a good result because of potential lawsuits or reimbursement problems.
In the meantime, if the Compassion and Choices federal policy agenda is successful, they stand to benefit from a potential windfall of government taxpayer funding to provide their currently “free consultation, planning resources, referrals and guidance”.
I have already contacted my state senator to express my concerns and urged him to vote “no” on SB 693.
As Nancy Elliot, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Council USA, ended in a great letter to Senators opposing the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act :
“instead of creating a rival form of palliative care…Wouldn’t it be better to educate/update all physicians and nurses about pain and symptom management?”