Accidental Oversight or Deliberate Omission in new Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act?

With the enthusiastic support of Compassion and Choices (which promotes legalizing assisted suicide throughout the US), the first Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) was introduced in Congress in 2016  to allow millions of dollars in federal grants to, in the bill’s words, “increase the number of permanent faculty in palliative care at accredited allopathic and osteopathic medical schools, nursing schools, social work schools, and other programs, including physician assistant education programs, to promote education and research in palliative care and hospice, and to support the development of faculty careers in academic palliative medicine.”

While palliative care has been traditionally defined as “compassionate comfort care that provides relief from the symptoms and physical and mental stress of a serious or life-limiting illness” and hospice care as “compassionate comfort care (as opposed to curative care) for people facing a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less, based on their physician’s estimate”, the PCHETA bill may radically change such care.

I started writing  about the potential dangers with the PCHETA bill in Congress in 2018 when it was passed by the US House of Representatives and sent to a Senate Committee for approval. The PCHETA stalled there, thought to be at least partially due to concerns by some U.S. senators about the bill’s potential problems with hastening of death and legalized assisted suicide  despite a “clarification” in the bill that that “None of the funds made available under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) may be used to provide, promote, or provide training with regard to any item or service for which Federal funding is unavailable under section 3 of Public Law 105–12 (42 U.S.C. 14402)” such as assisted suicide, euthanasia or mercy killing.

So after the bill stalled, a second “clarification” was added to the Senate bill (now S. 2080) in July, 2019 that states “Sec. 5(b) ADDITIONAL CLARIFICATION.—As used in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act), palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason.” (Emphasis added)

This second clarification is critical because, as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops representative Greg Schleppenbach, has written:

“This provision is important because for the first time anywhere in federal law or regulations it explicitly states that palliative and hospice care cannot be furnished for the purpose of causing or assisting in causing death.  These protective provisions were added as a condition of our support for this bill.” (Emphasis added)

But on October 28, 2019, the House PCHETA (HR 647) bill that does NOT contain the second clarification was reintroduced and quickly passed by the US House of Representatives on a voice vote  and sent to the Senate for approval. That bill is now in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. (Senators can now be contacted by even email.)

OPPOSITION TO THE PCHETA BILL CONTINUES

Even with the second clarification, many groups continue to voice concern about the PCHETA bill because many of us nurses and doctors are seeing unethical practices such as assisted suicide, terminal sedation, voluntary stopping of eating, drinking (VSED) and even spoon feeding, etc. being used to cause or hasten death but often called palliative or “comfort care” for such patients.

We worry that the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (2019) can allow federal funding to teach and even institutionalize such unethical practices without sufficient oversight, safeguards or penalties.

Julie Grimstad of the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization (HALO) also voices concerns about funding new palliative care and hospice programs, citing the 2019 Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General report titled Vulnerabilities in Hospice” that documented serious problems.

She also cites Dr. Farr A. Curlin, a palliative medicine specialist at Duke University, who warns that:

“When the goal of HPM (Hospice and Palliative Medicine) shifts from helping patients who are dying to helping patients die, practices that render patients unconscious or hasten their death no longer seem to be last-resort options,” [emphasis added]

HALO is joined by other groups who officially oppose PCHETA S.2080 such as the National Association of Pro-life Nurses  and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA

CONCLUSION

Whether or not the omission of the second clarification in the bill sent to the Senate was intentional, the omission validates the genuine concern many of us have that the traditional end of life care ethic to neither hasten nor postpone dying is rapidly being replaced by “quality of life” judgments, economic concerns and patient “choice” to die.

Northern Ireland Forced into Legalizing Abortion on Demand

My husband and I just returned from a long-anticipated and wonderful trip to Ireland with our friends, one of whom was born in Ireland to an unwed mother at the infamous Magdelene Laundries and adopted by a St. Louis family when she was 2 1/2 years old.

We traveled all around Ireland and Northern Ireland, enjoying the friendly people, beautiful old churches, stately castles, charming villages and great food.

We were able to see or read some news there but the topics were mainly about the Brexit deal for Ireland to leave the European Union.

Returning home, I was flabbergasted to read about the sudden legalization of abortion on demand in Northern Ireland forced by the UK that occurred October 22 when we were on our trip.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ABORTION IN IRELAND

The United Kingdom legalized abortion with the Abortion Act in 1967, years before the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion in the US. But the Abortion Act was never extended to include Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, which then only allowed abortion for “a severe and long-term physical or mental risk to the woman’s health”.

In 2016, the United Nations tried to pressure Ireland into legalizing abortion on demand and overturn Ireland’s Eighth Amendment that protected both unborn babies and their mothers equally as deserving a right to life. This made Ireland one of the safest places in the world for pregnant mothers and their unborn babies and with one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world.

But tragically in May 2018, a voter referendum to legalize abortion in Ireland passed. On January 1, 2019, the law took effect even though 95% of Irish doctors refuse to perform abortions.

And after the Irish voter referendum on abortion passed in May 2018, a poll by Amárach taken in October found that 60% of Irish residents oppose taxpayer-funded abortions, 80% say health care workers should not be forced to carry out abortions against their conscience, 79% favor a woman seeking an abortion being offered the choice of seeing an ultrasound before going through with the abortion and 69% of those surveyed believe doctors should be obliged to give babies that survive the abortion procedure proper medical care rather than leaving the babies to die alone.

But in Northern Ireland, recent rulings in the High Court in Belfast and the Supreme Court in London stated that the abortion situation in Northern Ireland was “incompatible with human rights legislation”. So now, Northern Ireland is being forced to accept abortion up to 24 weeks or beyond if “the mother’s health is threatened or if there is a substantial risk the baby will have serious disabilities”. But, as happened in Ireland, hundreds of medical professionals-including doctors, nurses and midwives-say they will not participate.

Andrew Cupples, a Northern Irish GP, said that some medical professionals have even said they will walk away from the healthcare service itself if they are forced to participate in abortion services.

Nurses&Midwives4Life Ireland  and Doctors For Life Ireland have been especially vocal and active in opposing abortion and those of us in the National Association of Pro-life Nurses have been enthusiastically supporting their efforts and encouraging others to do so as well.

CONCLUSION

My husband and I, as well as our friends, are very proud of our strong Irish heritage and firmly pro-life so this news about Northern Ireland was a blow.

But like the good doctors and nurses of Ireland, we will never give up.

As the abortion movement grows ever more hardened and radical, none of us must give up exposing the terrible truth about abortion as well as showing the life-affirming dedication to caring for both mother and unborn child that truly defines the pro-life movement.