Despite the US Supreme Court’s unanimous rejection of a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide in the 1997 Vacco v. Quill decision , the well-funded pro-assisted suicide organizations like the Hemlock Society (now called Compassion and Choices) remained undeterred in their efforts to legalize assisted suicide throughout the US.
Along with its efforts to pass physician-assisted suicide laws, Compassion and Choices also focused on changing the health care system itself by influencing health care professionals and especially their organizations.
Thus, Oregon became the first state to pass a physician-assisted suicide law (by voter referendum), but only after the Oregon Medical Association changed its position from opposition to neutrality and despite the American Medical Association’s long-standing opposition to physician-assisted suicide.
However, only a few other states eventually did legalize assisted suicide over the next 20 years either by legislation or voter referendum while most states rejected physician-assisted suicide, even after almost yearly efforts in legislatures and overwhelmingly supportive mainstream media coverage.
But now Compassion and Choices is touting that “(a) growing number of national and state medical organizations have endorsed or adopted a neutral position regarding medical aid in dying (physician-assisted suicide) as an end-of-life option for mentally capable, terminally ill adults.” (Emphasis added)
For now at least, the American Medical Association (AMA) itself continues to oppose physician-assisted suicide despite strong pressure from groups like American Association of Family Physicians to take a neutral stance. If the AMA does change its stance to neutrality, it won’t take long until groups like Compassion and Choices finally realize their goal of “integrating and normalizing medical aid in dying (aka physician-assisted suicide) suicide as an additional end-of-life option“.
Nurses are also not immune to the efforts to convince health care professionals to accept or be neutral on physician-assisted suicide. For example, a “policy dialogue” at the American Academy of Nursing’s annual conference in Washington, DC. was covered in a May 2018 article in the American Journal of Nursing titled “Assisted Suicide/Aid in Dying: What is the Nurse’s Role?” (reprinted in full by Death with Dignity). The article included this disturbing news
“In 2018, the American Nurses Association (ANA) will be updating its current position statement “Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and Aid in Dying”. (Emphasis added)
Ominously and just last year the ANA approved VSED (voluntary stopping of eating and drinking) stating that “people with decision making capacity have the right to stop eating and drinking as a means of hastening death.” (Emphasis added)
Not surprisingly, our government is also not immune to the aspirations of Compassion and Choices. In its “Federal Policy Agenda / 2016 & Beyond” , Compassion and Choices set the following priority:
“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….”
Compassion and Choices lists as one of its accomplishments that it:
Pioneered the medical model of aid in dying that helps ensure that doctors can ethically practice aid in dying in an open, legitimate and accessible way, and integrates the option into patients’ end-of-life care. The culmination of that work was the publication of clinical criteria in the Journal of Palliative Medicine in December 2015. (Emphasis added)
Now, a Compassion & Choices’ website even 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.
We may now be seeing the potential results of this agenda in the current “The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act” that is endorsed by Compassion and Choices . The bill was passed in the US House of Representative and is currently in the Senate health committee as SB693. If passed, the bill would authorize grants and contracts to promote education, research and the development of faculty careers in hospice and palliative care. (I have already contacted my home state senator about the potential problems with this legislation.)
Several years after Oregon voted to legalize physician-assisted suicide, I began to notice a stark difference between my fellow health care colleagues who supported legalizing physician-assisted suicide and those who didn’t. Doctors and nurses who supported such laws often spoke about patients who “needed to die” even though those patients never even mentioned wanting to die. They often tried to get out of caring for or even talking to difficult patients. In contrast, those doctors and nurses who were appalled by physician-assisted suicide were the ones who patiently listened to patients and addressed their fears and hopes, treated relatives as part of the care team and actively advocated for the best care for their patients.
But with Compassion and Choices’ leaders like Barbara Coombs Lee, one of the architects of Oregon’s assisted suicide law, even arguing against strong conscience rights protections for those of us who refuse to participate, it may become impossible in the future to even find a health care professional committed to protecting the life of every patient.
All of us, both medical and lay people, must speak out against physician-assisted suicide before our health care system becomes irreparably corrupted.