American Nurses Association Damages Good Nursing with Misleading “No Stance” on Assisted Suicide

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

Final Federal Conscience Protection Rule Delayed Because of Lawsuits

Last year, I wrote about the new 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”. The division specifically mentioned “issues such as abortion and assisted suicide in HHS (Health and Human Services)-funded or conducted programs and activities”. The division also included a link to file a conscience or religious freedom complaint “if you feel a health care provider or government agency coerced or discriminated against you (or someone else) unlawfully”.

The rule mandates that institutions receiving federal money be certified that they comply with more than two dozen laws protecting conscience and religious freedom rights.

Despite fierce opposition by groups like Compassion and Choices and Planned Parenthood, HHS announced  on May 2, 2019 that the Final Conscience Rule Protecting Health Care Entities and Individuals  would go into effect July 22, 2019.

However, lawsuits were quickly filed by groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Center for Reproductive Rights, delaying implementation of the Final Conscience Rule until at least late November. The first lawsuit was filed by San Francisco within hours of the announcement of the Rule.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH CONSCIENCE RIGHTS?

While Roger Severino, the head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights has said that the Final Rule did not add any new laws but rather strengthened the enforcement of rules already on the books, the San Francisco lawsuit alleged that if San Francisco does not comply with the rule “”it risks losing nearly $1 billion in federal funds that support critical health care services and other vital functions.”

In a press release, San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera stated the Final Conscience Rule:

“would have allowed health care professionals to refuse to provide service to patients based on the staffer’s personal beliefs, threatening medical access for women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and other medically or socially vulnerable populations.”

and that

“Hospitals are no place to put personal beliefs above patient care. Refusing treatment to vulnerable patients should not leave anyone with a clear conscience.”(All emphasis added)

Of course, ethical healthcare professionals respect all patients without bias. The problem is being forced to participate in actions that violate our consciences.

ARE CONSCIENCE AND RELIGIOUS RIGHTS NECESSARY?

Dr. Donna Harrison, director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) makes the crucial point that:

 “Those who oppose the HHS Conscience Rule demonstrate their clear intention to squeeze out of the medical profession any doctor who still abides by the Hippocratic Oath, and to squelch any opposition to forcing doctors to kill human beings at the beginning and end of life.”

Those of us who are nurses have been especially vulnerable.

As I have written before, I was threatened with termination when I refused to cause a patient’s death by increasing a morphine drip “until he stops breathing”. I know many other nurses who have had similar experiences.

And in 2013, 12 New Jersey nurses who had a long-standing, in-writing agreement exempting them from participating in abortions apart from a medical emergency were nevertheless threatened with termination when the hospital initiated a new mandatory policy to participate in all abortions. These nurses were finally vindicated in court but litigation is time-consuming and expensive.

And even the liberal NPR recently noted the rise in conscience complaints for health care workers since the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom was established.

Obviously, there is a great need for this conscience rights protection for all healthcare workers. Now there is a way to stand up  to bullying and discrimination so that we can properly care for our patients.

CONCLUSION

A few years ago, a worried student nurse asked if there was any area of nursing where her conscience rights would not be threatened. This was an important question because over the past several decades, new threats to conscience rights have widened from refusing to participate in abortions to other deliberate death decisions like withdrawal of feedings from people with serious brain injuries, VSED (voluntary stopping of eating and drinking), terminal sedation and physician-assisted suicide.

Most recently, the American Nurses Association wrote a draft position paper potentially changing its’ opposition to assisted suicide to neutrality and requiring that nurses must be nonjudgmental in discussing assisted suicide with a patient and even participate if no other willing nurse is available.

As assisted suicide and other such death decisions continue trying to expand, it is more necessary than ever to support ethical healthcare professionals both in law and in practice.

We all need the Conscience Rights Protection rule to ensure that ethical healthcare professionals can continue in their professions and help to restore trust in our healthcare system.

Press Release: The National Association of Pro-life Nurses comments on recent AMA decision

The National Association of Pro-life Nurses comments on recent AMA decision

This month, the AMA House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a strong report from AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs reaffirming current AMA policy on physician-assisted suicide stating that:

“permitting physicians to engage in assisted suicide would ultimately cause more harm than good. Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks. Instead of engaging in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life.”

This happened despite the enormous pressure from assisted suicide supporters and groups like Compassion and Choices as well as some other professional associations to change its’ long standing opposition to physician-assisted suicide to “neutrality”.

But this is not just about doctors.

Earlier this year the American Nurses Association (ANA) wrote a draft position paper about also dropping its longstanding opposition to assisted suicide. The ANA draft paper also proposed changing the term “assisted suicide” to ““aid in dying”, requiring that 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.”  (Emphasis added)

In other words, nurses must abandon their vital role in detecting and preventing suicide for some of their patients when the issue is assisted suicide. This kind of discrimination is not only lethal to the patient but also discourages dedicated, ethical people from entering or remaining in the healthcare professions.  The National Association of Pro-life Nurses strongly opposed the proposal due to conscience concerns raised by it.  The objections can be found on the NAPN website, www.nursesforlife.org.  No formal position has yet been taken.

Although most doctors and nurses are not members of the ANA or AMA, if such organizations capitulate to the pro-assisted suicide groups, legalized assisted suicide throughout the US may be inevitable.

Hopefully, the ANA will follow the AMA example of continued opposition to assisted suicide and begin to restore the public’s trust that we will never kill our patients or help them kill themselves.

Contact

Marianne Linane RN, MS, MA, National Association of Pro-Life Nurses Executive Director

📞  (202) 556-1240
✉  Director@nursesforlife.org

Great News: American Medical Association Votes to Continue Opposition to Physician-assisted Suicide. But Will the American Nurses Association Follow?

Over the last few years the American Medical Association (AMA) has been under enormous pressure from assisted suicide supporters and groups like Compassion and Choices as well as some other professional associations to change its’ long standing opposition to physician-assisted suicide to “neutrality”.

This month, the AMA House of Delegates decisively approved a strong report from AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs reaffirming current AMA policy on physician-assisted suicide stating that:

“permitting physicians to engage in assisted suicide would ultimately cause more harm than good. Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks. Instead of engaging in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life.”

Dr. Shane Macaulay, MD, of Kirkland, Wash., speaking for the Washington delegation supported the report, stating that:

“Oregon legalized assisted suicide in 1997 with repeated assurances that it would stay contained and would not become euthanasia” (but) “Just last month, the Oregon state House of Representatives approved a bill to allow patient death by lethal injection, showing the inevitable progression from assisted suicide to euthanasia once physicians have accepted the idea that taking a patient’s life is permissible.”

Dr. David Grube, the national medical director of the pro-assisted suicide organization Compassion and Choices, countered that physician-assisted suicide is:

“a rarely-used request from patients, and yet it’s a response we can give to them when they’re suffering. The enemy is not death, but the enemy is terminal suffering; responding to that in ways that provide comfort is what matters the most.”

Ironically, physician-assisted suicide laws themselves do not require that pain or other suffering be present but rather death expected within six months.

In the Compassion and Choices article titled “AMA contradicts itself by passing resolution saying medical aid in dying is unethical, but ethical doctors can practice it”, Dr. Grube further criticizes the decision, saying:

“The report by the AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) reinterpreted the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics (CEJA) by maintaining that ‘physician-assisted suicide’ (i.e., medical aid in dying) is ‘fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer,’ while paradoxically saying physicians can provide medical aid in dying ‘according to the dictates of their conscience without violating their professional obligations.’” (Emphasis added)

However, the report itself concluded that:

“Because Opinion E-5.7O   powerfully expresses the perspective of those who oppose physician-41 assisted suicide, and Opinion E-1.1.7   (on the exercise of conscience) articulates the thoughtful moral basis for those who support assisted suicide, the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs recommends that the Code of Medical Ethics not be amended, that Resolutions 15-A-16 and 14-A-17 (on neutrality) not be adopted, and that the remainder of the report be filed.”

As I wrote in my 2016 blog “Neutrality Kills”:

In 1997, Oregon became the first state to pass a physician-assisted suicide law. This came after the Oregon Medical Association changed its position from opposition to neutrality. 21 years later and after multiple failed attempts, the California state legislature approved the latest physician-assisted suicide law after the California Medical Association changed its opposition to neutrality.

The message sent-and received- was that if doctors themselves don’t strongly oppose physician-assisted suicide laws, why should the public?

BUT THIS IS NOT JUST ABOUT DOCTORS

Earlier this year the American Nurses Association (ANA) wrote a draft position paper  about dropping its longstanding opposition to assisted suicide. The ANA draft paper also proposed changing the term “assisted suicide” to ““aid in dying”, requiring that 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.” (Emphasis added)

In other words, nurses must abandon their vital role in detecting and preventing suicide for some of their patients when it comes to assisted suicide. This kind of discrimination is not only lethal to the patient but also discourages dedicated, ethical people from entering or remaining in the healthcare professions.

Although most doctors and nurses are NOT members of the ANA or AMA, if such organizations capitulate to the pro-assisted suicide groups, legalized assisted suicide throughout the US may be inevitable.

Hopefully, the ANA will follow the AMA example of continued opposition to assisted suicide and begin to restore the public’s trust that we will never kill our patients or help them kill themselves.

 

Abortionists and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)

In an ironically titled May 4, 2019 MedPage article Panel: Abortion Providers Are People, Too,  a panel of  “abortion providers” claim that “Doctors (are) a lost voice in abortion political battle, media coverage”.

The panel was held at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) annual meeting and maintained that “Abortion providers are fighting an uphill battle against a societal narrative that has attached so much stigma to the procedure, and trying to regain some of their humanity as people, not just abortion providers.” (Emphasis added)

These doctors cite the “incendiary” coverage of abortion and that the more than 300 pieces of abortion-related state legislation introduced in the first 3 months of 2019 has led to confusion about what they are and aren’t allowed to do.

One woman doctor who said she was once anti-abortion but now performs abortions claimed that she was “doxxed” (harassed when her personal information was revealed online) when she “came out” as an “abortion provider”. She complained that media stories about abortion rarely include references to “maternal care doctors, or physician specializing in maternal-fetal medicine-in other words, the doctors actually performing the procedures.”

Instead she says much of the media coverage is focused on the dangers to the doctors performing abortions and that as a result, “abortion is seen as inherently dangerous“.

Also cited was a recent online survey of 321 abortion providers showed that nearly all of the respondents were women and that 1/5 were not currently doing abortions. The respondents discussed a so-called “false dichotomy” between being pro-choice and pro-child that increases tension for the abortion provider since “59% of women who have an abortion already have children.”

One abortion provider claimed that becoming a parent “reinforced her commitment and passion for her profession” and helped her better bond with her patients, given the stigma of abortion.

“ACOG, PLANNED PARENTHOOD PROUD TO FIGHT FOR WOMEN’S HEALTHCARE”

A second article from the ACOG annual meeting titled “ACOG, Planned Parenthood Proud to Fight for Women’s Healthcare” had the subtitle “Organizations collaborated on Washington advocacy”. Cecile Richards, outgoing president of Planned Parenthood, gave a lecture on the History of Planned Parenthood.

Hal Lawrence, MD, ACOG executive vice president and chief executive officer, praised Planned Parenthood for providing, among other “services”, “300,000 mammograms per year”, even though Planned Parenthood does not do mammograms. Dr. Lawrence also spoke:

“about the hope for the future on a clinical level in the form of telemedicine for women’s healthcare, including medication abortion.

“It’s going to solve our access problem,” he said. “If we don’t use telemedicine, we’ll never solve the access problem because we don’t have enough providers.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

There are many reasons why there are not “enough” abortionists.

As a nurse, I left the American Nurses Association many years ago because of its’ support for even partial birth abortion, lack of support for real conscience rights and my ultimately futile attempts to change this. I am not alone. I also know many other doctors and nurses who left their national organizations over their support for legalized abortion. It’s an outrage that these national organizations claim to speak for nurses and doctors when just a fraction of us belong or agree with their positions.

Instead, many of us personally work to provide women and their babies the help and support they need regardless of their circumstances. Abortion is not the answer.

In addition, those doctors (and nurses) who perform abortions are also wounded by abortion and in need of our prayers, witness and compassionate outreach as Abby Johnson has shown in her book and movie “Unplanned”.

At the same time, all of us must also continue working tirelessly towards a world where every life is respected and abortion is unthinkable.

Is the American Nurses Association Ready to Drop Opposition to Assisted Suicide?

In 2013, the American Nurses Association (ANA) stated this : “The American Nurses Association (ANA) prohibits nurses’ participation in assisted suicide and euthanasia because these acts are in direct violation of Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (ANA, 2001).” (Emphasis added)

But now in 2019, the ANA is proposing a new position paper to change this. Not only is the ANA attempting to change its previously used term assisted suicide to “aid in dying” (the approved term of Compassion and Choices), but also the Code of Ethics itself.

The draft position paper is titled “The Nurse’s Role When a Patient Requests Aid in Dying” There is an online form for public comments which must be submitted before April 8, 2019. There is no requirement that you have to be a member of ANA or even a nurse to make a public comment. The ANA can also be contacted by email at customerservice@ana.org or by phone at 1-800-284-2378.

There is much in the draft position that I find shocking both as a nurse and a patient. For example, the draft position begins:

“It is the shared responsibility of professional nursing organizations to speak for nurses collectively in shaping health care and to promulgate change for the improvement of health and health care” and “(t)he nurse should remain non-judgmental when discussing end of life options with patients, who are exploring AID” (a.k.a. physician-assisted suicide). (Emphasis added)

This statement flies in the face of the way nurses have traditionally cared for patients considering suicide, whether they are terminally ill or not. Unfortunately, this follows the lead of several medical, nursing and hospice/palliative care organizations that have changed their positions on assisted suicide to “neutrality” or even support.

The ANA draft also states, “The nurse has the right to conscientiously object to being involved in the AID process” but “Nurses are obliged to provide for patient safety, to avoid patient abandonment, and to withdraw only when assured that nursing care is available to the patient.”  (Emphasis added)

The draft suggests that such nurses can “ensure the ongoing care of the patient considering AID by identifying nurse colleagues willing to provide care.”

This is forced cooperation and does nothing to protect nurses’ conscience rights. Such a position would impact not only current nurses but also potential future nurses who have strong ethical principles against helping patients kill themselves.  Many nurses already are worried about the impact of other ANA positions, such as the 2017 “Nutrition and Hydration at the End of Life”  which states, “People with decision-making capacity have the right to stop eating and drinking as a means of hastening death. (Emphasis added)

In a section titled Social Justice, the draft position states:

“Nurses must continually emphasize the values of respect, fairness, and caring,”(ANA, 2015a, p.35). Statutes that allow AID are not present in every state, which presents geographic inequity in terms of access. Additionally, AID medication is expensive, which presents an additional barrier to access for those who cannot afford it, even if they live in a jurisdiction or state where this option is legal. Nurses act to reduce or eliminate disparities. While this is most commonly associated with health promotion and disease prevention, the current AID landscape raises questions of fairness which require ethical reflection.” (Emphasis added)

I find it outrageous to encourage nurses to become social justice warriors  fighting for more access to assisted suicide and cheaper lethal overdoses. And one recommendation in the ANA draft position eliminates all doubt about a radical departure from the 2013 Code of Ethics prohibition of  “participation in assisted suicide”: “Nursing research is needed to provide an evidence base for AID.”

NON-JUDGMENTALISM: IS IT REALLY IN OUR PATIENTS’ BEST INTERESTS?

When I first met “Frank” (not his real name) many years ago, I was puzzled. Frank was a terminally ill man who had just been admitted to my oncology unit for control of his “unbearable pain”. However, Frank didn’t seem to be in any physical pain.

I talked privately to Frank’s wife, Joan, who tearfully confided that Frank was cleaning his gun collection when he asked her if she would still be able to live in their home if, in his words, “anything happened”.

Joan said she knew he was talking about shooting himself and even though she was horrified, she said she thought the right thing to say was: “I will support any decision you make”. However, she later panicked and called the doctor to say that Frank was having unbearable pain. The doctor agreed to admit him and ordered morphine to be given as soon as he arrived.

When I suggested to Joan that Frank’s real question might not be about their home but rather about whether his lingering dying might be too hard on them both, she was stunned. This had never occurred to her. She said she loved Frank and she wanted to care for him until the end. I told her that she and her husband needed to talk.

Frank and Joan then finally had a long overdue open discussion about their sorrow and fears. I told the doctor what I discovered and when I last saw Frank and Joan later that day, they were holding hands and smiling as they left the hospital.

I learned that Frank died peacefully — and naturally — a few weeks later with his wife at his side.

I believe that this situation shows how being “non-judgmental” can itself be lethal. Unfortunately, the public as well as we healthcare professionals are being given the message that a patient’s “right to self-determination” is the most important ethical principle.

What I did with Frank and his wife was a lot like a recent UCLA project started when California legalized physician-assisted suicide. The project showed that “most of what patients needed was to discuss their feelings about their approaching death and process their grief and sense of loss.” The project also found that “only” 25% of these patients seeking assisted suicide went on to use assisted suicide.

When someone is suicidal, it should not matter whether they are terminally ill. Instead, we should treat them with the same care and concern we would give a physically healthy suicidal person.

Anything less would be discrimination and I am telling this to the ANA.

 

 

 

 

American Academy of Family Physicians Urges the American Medical Association to Drop Opposition to Physician-assisted Suicide

Compassion and Choices, the former Hemlock Society and now well-funded promoter of assisted suicide and other death “choices”, is celebrating the new resolution by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) to oppose the American Medical Association’s (AMA) long-standing opposition to assisted suicide.

The AFFP, the second largest component society of the AMA with over 131,000 members, just approved a new resolution adopting a position of  “engaged neutrality toward medical-aid-in-dying (aka physician-assisted suicide) as a personal end-of-life decision in the context of the physician-patient relationship.” (Emphasis added)

But as Dr. Rebecca Thoman, campaign manager for Doctors for Dignity for Compassion and Choices explained when the Massachusetts Medical Society adopted the same policy in 2017:

A “‘neutral engagement’ position is even better than a simply neutral position. It means if Massachusetts enacts a medical aid-in-dying law, the medical society will offer education and guidance to physicians who want to incorporate medical aid in dying into their practices.” (Emphasis added)

Now, yet another physician-assisted suicide bill is expected to be introduced next year in the Massachusetts legislature.

The AAFP resolution also stated that:

“By supporting the AMA’s opposition to medical aid in dying, some members feel the AAFP is telling them that they are unethical

and that

“the American Academy of Family Physicians reject(s) the use of the phrase ‘assisted suicide’ or ‘physician-assisted suicide’ in formal statements or documents and direct(s) the AAFP’s American Medical Association (AMA) delegation to promote the same in the AMA House of Delegates.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

In 1994, Oregon became the first state to pass a physician-assisted suicide law. This came after the Oregon Medical Association changed its position from opposition to neutrality. 21 years later and after multiple failed attempts, the California state legislature approved a physician-assisted suicide law after the California Medical Association changed its opposition to neutrality.

The unfortunate message sent-and received- was that if doctors themselves don’t strongly oppose physician-assisted suicide laws, why should the public?

Still, it was a surprise that in June 2018, the American Medical Association House of Delegates rejected the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) strong report recommending that the AMA continue its long standing policy opposing physician assisted suicide. Instead the delegates “voted 314-243 to refer the matter back to the trustees for further deliberation”.

With the crucial help of a supportive media, Compassion and Choices started this momentum towards acceptance of physician-assisted suicide and other death choices like VSED (voluntary stopping of eating and drinking), terminal sedation and withdrawal of even spoon-feeding, affecting not just doctors but also nurses and other health care professionals and institutions.

In addition, Compassion and Choices also opposes conscience rights, even stating that  the new Federal Conscience and Religious Freedom Division:

“is not about freedom; it’s about denying patient autonomy. Under their proposed rules, providers are encouraged to impose their own religious beliefs on their patients and withhold vital information about treatment options from their patients — up to, and including, the option of medical aid in dying. And your federal tax dollars will be used to protect physicians who make the unconscionable decision to willfully withhold crucial information regarding their care from a patient and abandon them when they are most vulnerable.” (Emphasis added)

However, here are a few ways any of us can help turn around this dire situation:

When the most basic medical ethic of not killing patients or helping them to kill themselves can be discarded in favor of “choice” or “quality of life”,  none of us of us can afford to be neutral- or silent-on this life or death issue.

How the New “Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act” Could Threaten Conscience Rights.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the new Senate Bill 693 titled the “Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act” (now referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) and warned about the current and future involvement of Compassion and Choices (the former Hemlock Society now pushing for legalizing physician-assisted suicide throughout the US) in “end of life” education for healthcare professionals. But Compassion and Choices is not the only organization supporting practices that, until the last few decades, were universally condemned.  For example, last year the American Nurses Association took a position approving VSED (voluntary stopping of eating and drinking) to hasten death  and that those decisions “will be honored” by nurses.

In addition, this year the American Medical Association House of Delegates rejected the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) report recommending that the AMA continue its long standing policy opposing physician assisted suicide. Instead the delegates “voted 314-243 to refer the matter back to the trustees for further deliberation”.

Unfortunately, Senate Bill 693 does not contain any requirement of conscience rights protection in allocating grants to groups proposing to expand hospice and palliative care education programs for healthcare professionals.

BIOETHICS AND CONSCIENCE RIGHTS

According to Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, writing on the origin and evolution of ethics in 1999 for the Kennedy Institute of Ethics :

“In the 1960s and 1970s, building upon liberal theory and procedural justice, much of the discourse of medical ethics went through a dramatic shift and largely reconfigured itself into bioethics.”

Instead of the old Hippocratic Oath principles requiring high ethical and moral standards for doctors including prohibitions against actions such as assisting a suicide, bioethics has evolved into essentially four principles: Respect for autonomy (the patient’s right to choose or refuse treatment), Beneficence (acting in the best interest of the patient), Non-maleficence (not causing harm) and Justice (fairness, equality and distributive justice “so that the needs of the entire population are taken into account.” ) which often compete in actual medical situations.

Unfortunately, the principles of the new bioethics do not address the issue of conscience, which has now become a contentious issue in bioethics.

For example at the 2018 AMA meeting where the House of Delegates voted not to accept the Committee on Ethical and Judicial Affairs report’s recommendation to continue the AMA’s opposition to physician-assisted suicide, one doctor responded:

“We feel the AMA abandoned all physicians who, through conscience beliefs, want to support patients with this in states where it’s legal,” said Lynn Parry, MD, a Colorado delegate, on behalf of the PacWest group, which includes AMA delegates from six Western states that have legalized physician aid-in-dying. “I personally think we need to protect physicians in those states and would ask for referral back.” (Emphasis added)

Dr. Ezekiel J Emanuel, MD, PhD, an influential physician who was one of the architects of Obama care and a formerly strong opponent of assisted suicide, wrote in a 2017 New England Journal of Medicine article “Physicians, Not Conscripts — Conscientious Objection in Health Care” that:

“ Conscientious  objection  still  requires  conveying  accurate  information  and  providing  timely  referrals to ensure patients receive care.

……

“Health care professionals who are unwilling to accept these limits (on conscience rights) have two choices: select an area of medicine, such as radiology, that will not put them in situations that conflict with their personal morality or, if there is no such area, leave the profession.

……

“Laws may allow physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers to deny patients treatment or to refuse to care for particular populations, but professional medical associations should insist that doing so is unethical.” (All emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

When it comes to issues like withdrawing feeding tubes from so-called “vegetative”  patients, terminal sedation to hasten death and physician-assisted suicide, this last point from Dr. Emanuel leaves those of us physicians and nurses who refuse to kill our patients or help them kill themselves with few options to continue in our professions.

Years ago when I was threatened with firing for refusing to increase a morphine drip on a comatose man who was removed from a ventilator but still continued breathing, I was told that this was acceptable “end of life” care to “prevent pain”.  I know one nurse who was fired for refusing to give morphine every hour to a dying patient in no distress and barely breathing because the family demanded it. I’ve heard from families who were automatically offered hospice instead of rehab when their loved one was elderly and injured.

When such outrages occur even outside of formal hospice or palliative care programs and considered “normal” end of life care, ethical healthcare professionals find no recourse through their professional organizations or the law to protect their patients from premature death.

Thus when healthcare legislation like SB 693 promotes giving grants to organizations who support or might support VSED, assisted suicide, etc. to train healthcare professionals in hospice and palliative care without clear conscience rights protection, both healthcare professionals and the public are at risk of a normalized culture of premature death.

 

My Book Review on “Nurses and Midwives in Nazi Germany: The ‘Euthanasia Programs’”

“Nurses and Midwives in Nazi Germany-The ‘Euthanasia Programs’”
Edited by Susan Benedict and Linda Shields
Routledge Studies in Modern European History. London: Routledge 2014

My book review (abstract) was just published in the Linacre Quarterly journal. Here are some excerpts from my review with all emphasis added only for this blog.

In my nursing education during the 1960s, the Nazi euthanasia program was covered during a class but mainly as a ghastly aberration that was unthinkable today with our now strong ethical principles. As students, we were shocked and horrified by the revelation that nurses were integral to Nazi killing programs. We had little knowledge of the mechanisms that existed to encourage nurses to kill those patients whose lives were deemed “not worth living.”

Unfortunately, it is difficult these days to find information about nurses during the Nazi regime, even on the American Nurses Association website. Thus, the editors of this book do nurses and the public a great service by examining the little-known but crucial role of nurses in the Nazi euthanasia programs. Knowing this history is more important than ever as efforts to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia continue to grow.

The authors explain the history, education, propaganda, and pressures that led so many nurses to participate in the killing of hundreds of thousands of helpless men, women, and children in the 1930s and 1940s; they also propose a model for teaching nursing ethics using the Nazi euthanasia program to encourage nursing students to examine ethical principles and their own values as a nurse in today’s health-care system.

……

The authors start with the rise of the influential eugenics movement in the early twentieth century in countries like the United States where the American Eugenics Society even held conferences on eugenics, such as the 1937 one which included the topic “The Relation of Eugenics to the Field of Nursing.” Eventually, the US eugenics movement fell out of favor after the Nazi euthanasia programs were discovered in World War II.

Even prior to World War II, German professional nursing publications discussed eugenics as “providing a scientific basis for the positive eugenics promoting reproduction among the healthy (often of northern European descent) middle to upper classes and negative eugenics encouraging limited reproduction and forced sterilization of the ‘unfit’ (who were often poor, uneducated, and more recent immigrants) as reasonable”.  Eugenic language was most prevalent in public health and psychiatric nursing texts and in discussions of poverty, immigrants, cleanliness, and social problems.

The editors also point to the influence on Adolf Hitler of the 1920 book titled Approval of the Extermination of Worthless Human Lives by Germans Karl Binding, a jurist, and Alfred Hoche, a psychiatrist. Binding and Hoche noted that there were no legal arguments preventing legalizing the killing of those whose lives were considered not worth living. (Emphasis added)

There was extensive propaganda aimed at increasing the acceptance of euthanasia by the public and health-care providers. Only a few months after Hitler seized power, the first law, affecting people diagnosed with psychiatric conditions, was passed. It mandated sterilization for people with hereditary disorders including alcoholism and epilepsy. Propaganda emphasized wastefulness of providing health care to the chronically mentally ill and the hereditary nature of undesirable physical, mental, and social traits.

Hitler did not propose the systematic killing of psychiatric patients during peacetime because he anticipated the opposition of the churches and the German people. The beginning of World War II muted moral objections and distracted the populace with concerns of conserving resources for the war effort and was the start of state-sponsored euthanasia. The first documented killing occurred in 1939 when Hitler granted the euthanasia request of a father whose son was born blind, missing a leg and part of an arm and who “seemed to be an idiot” .

In 1939, the German Ministry of Justice proposed two new clauses:

1.“Whoever is suffering from an incurable or terminal illness which is a major burden to himself or others can request mercy killing by a doctor, provided it is his express wish and has the approval of a specially empowered doctor.”

2. “The life of a person who, because of incurable mental illness, requires permanent institutionalization and is not able to sustain an independent existence may be prematurely terminated by medical measures in a painless and covert manner” . (Emphasis added)

The program started targeting those in asylums and the disabled in nursing homes for death by lethal gas, starvation, drugs, and neglect. The Jewish population was especially targeted regardless of health.

………

 

In 1933, Adolf Bartels, the deputy leader of the Reich’s medical profession, provided a blueprint of the future of nursing under the Nazis. He emphasized that German nurses in social and medical service had to meet standards in the new Reich that were very different from before. The new Reich not only wanted to look after the sick and weak but also wanted to secure a healthy development of all Germans “if their inherited biological predisposition allows for it” (p. 38). Above all, the new state wanted to secure and promote a genetically sound, valuable race, and, in contrast to the past, “not to expend an exaggerated effort on the care of genetically or racially inferior people”. (Emphasis added)

As a Nazi politician stated, “a nurse is the one who should carry out the will of the State in the health education of the people”. It was not necessary for the majority of nurses to become ardent supporters of the Nazi regime for them to do the will of the Reich. One source noted that the majority of nurses who participated in a secret euthanasia program known as T4 tried to remain good nurses; an estimated 10 percent or fewer were enthusiastic supporters of Nazi practice. But, as in other areas of public life, the Reich absorbed professional nursing organizations, leaving the nursing profession with no means of expressing opposing or dissenting views as well as no organizational support for refusing to participate. (Emphasis added)

……

 

Using midwives, the Reich took various measures both to prevent those regarded as having a “hereditary disease” or who were “racially inferior” from reproducing while increasing the birth rate of those considered valuable and healthy. Thus, the traditional midwife focus on the mother and child was changed to focus on the nation as a whole.

Midwives could initiate proceedings for forced sterilization, and it was now a duty for midwives to report to public health officers “deformed” births and small children with disabilities before their third birthday. Reports received from doctors and midwives were reviewed by medical examiners, and based solely on the reports, the examiners decided whether the child was to be killed or spared.

Parents with such children were told about institutions for children who needed special care that were being established through the country. They were persuaded to admit these children and were assured that the children would receive the best possible care. Parents could refuse but had to sign forms stating their responsibility to supervise and care for their children. The identified children in these institutions were killed by starvation or lethal injection. Parents were told that their children had died from natural causes.

……..

The world was riveted by the 1945 Hadamar trial, the first mass atrocity trial after the Nazi regime was defeated in World War II. This trial came before the infamous Nuremburg trials that included doctors. Hadamar was covered extensively by American media but ignored by the American Journal of Nursing even though nurses were charged.

The trial involved one of the largest and most important killing centers, Hadamar Psychiatric Hospital, one of the six institutions in Germany designated for killing the mentally ill. In 1943, a ward (called an “educational home”) was set up for mixed-race children with Jewish heritage within Hadamar. Completely healthy children were killed with lethal injections. The actual numbers are not known because employees were required to take an oath of secrecy. It is estimated that more than 13,000 patients were killed in 1941 and 1942, even before the ward was set up.

 

In the first Hadamar trial, Head Nurse Irmgard Huber was tried with six others for killing over 400 men, women, and children. Nurse Huber was charged with “obtaining the lethal drugs, being present when some of the fatal injections were given, and being present when the false death certificates were made out”. Two male nurses were charged with administering the lethal injections. All pleaded not guilty. Their defense was that they were powerless and had inadequate knowledge to judge the morality of their actions. All denied accountability. (Emphasis added)

Trial testimony confirmed that the nurses prepared patients for their deaths, directed the entire nursing staff of the institution, and were present at the daily conferences where the falsified death certificates were completed. Duties to patients were limited to so-called kindnesses that consisted of bringing small gifts to pediatric patients and taking care to prevent patients from knowing that they would soon be killed. Head Nurse Huber insisted that she wished to render a last service to these patients and did not want to do them any harm and that she had a clear conscience.

…….

The second Hadamar trial in 1947 did not receive the same attention as the first. Twenty-five members of the Hadamar staff were charged. At this trial, Head Nurse Huber was charged with killing 15,000 German mental patients. All but one of the defendants were found guilty and served sentences ranging from two and a half to five years. The one nurse found not guilty claimed she had feigned pregnancy in order to achieve release from the killing center. (Emphasis added)

In the end, Head Nurse Huber was released from prison in 1952; the others by 1954.

………

The book presents a model used for two innovative teaching programs about this subject, one in Israel and one in Australia, perhaps the most important contribution of this book. The editors believe that the Nazi era should be taught to students, “highlighting the danger of failing to see each individual as a valuable member of human society. And while the heart of nursing and midwifery continues to be care and caring practices, it is fundamental for students to confront this history to develop insights into the causes and social constructs that enabled nurses and midwives to distort the goal of nursing practice and theory to harm and murder patients.”

The results of these programs and the responses by students appear encouraging. The editors hope that by raising these issues, students will be forced to confront their own values and beliefs, sometimes an intensely uncomfortable experience. They also believe students who are exposed to this “dark element of nursing and midwifery history” will be better prepared to face pressure or to report and oppose violations of the trust that is central to any relationship between nurses and patients

 

CONCLUSION

Decades after the Nazi atrocities, we are seeing a resurgence of the same “life unworthy of life” justification that drove Nazi eugenics. We see how this perspective increasingly approves the deliberate termination of some lives as “merciful” and “humane.” There is an emerging, shocking consensus that we can—or perhaps even should—choose to have our own lives terminated when our lives are considered not worth living either by ourselves or by others if we cannot speak for ourselves.

The authors of this book make it clear: we all need to know and understand the past in order not to repeat it. Hopefully, it is not too late to turn the tide of history back toward respect for all life.

 

 

Assassins, Not Doctors

Last year, both Hawaii and New Zealand physician-assisted suicide bills were defeated but, much like zombies, both bills were changed and resurrected for 2018.

As I wrote in a  previous blog about Hawaii’s bill, there are concerted efforts not only to pass but also expand assisted suicide laws. This bill is currently awaiting either passage or defeat in the Hawaii legislature’s Senate.

Recently, I submitted testimony on the “End of Life Choice Bill” to legalize physician-assisted suicide in New Zealand. Currently, the bill is being considered in the Select Committee.

The New Zealand bill is different from Hawaii’s in significant ways. Here are some of the differences, with emphasis added:

-It adds “grievous and irremediable medical condition in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability”  to the usual condition of terminal illness.

-It give patients the option of 4 ways to kill themselves or be killed, including lethal injections:

(i) ingestion, triggered by the person:
(ii) intravenous delivery, triggered by the person:
(iii) ingestion through a tube:
(iv) injection

-“The attending medical practitioner must be available to the person until the person dies; or arrange for another medical practitioner to be available to the person until the person dies” by being “in the same room”  or “in close proximity to the person”.

-Conscience rights: If doctors refuse to provide the lethal overdose, they must refer to a SCENZ group established by the Director General to “make and maintain a list of medical practitioners who are willing to act for the purposes of this Act as—replacement medical practitioners: independent medical practitioners”,  list of pharmacists, and “to prepare standards of care; and to advise on the required medical and legal procedures; and to provide practical assistance, if assistance is requested.”

-The assisted suicide death (whose official cause is listed “as if assisted dying had not been provided”) must be reported within 14 days and sent to registrar who must send the report to a Review committee consisting of a medical ethicist and a medical practitioner who practices in area of end of life care and another medical practitioner. The Review committee has these functions: “to consider reports sent to it”, “to report about its satisfaction or otherwise with the cases reported” and “to recommend actions that the registrar may take to follow up with which the review committee was not satisfied.”

-Regular reports will be issued every five years after the first to be done 3 years after the law is implemented. These reports go to the minister and Parliament.

WHY DOES NEW ZEALAND “NEED” PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE?

While citing “strong public support” and “compassion” as motivating this physician-assisted suicide law in the explanatory note at the beginning of the New Zealand bill, the authors also cite cases in New Zealand where “the courts are treating the family members who have assisted their loved ones to die at their request with increasing leniency and compassion.” (Emphasis added)

This, they say “demonstrates further issues with the current state of our law, under which it is becoming permissible, in effect, for family members to assist loved ones to take their own lives. This is clearly less ideal, less clear, and considerably more risky than a regulated process in which medical practitioners can, in limited circumstances, assist those who are suffering.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

This last statement shows how lethally corrupting assisted suicide is: New Zealand must legalize physician-assisted suicide to spare family members while requiring participating doctors to even administer lethal injections at the sick person’s request and stay until he or she dies?

This turn participating doctors into assassins, not medical professionals.

Very few people enter the health care professions ready to kill some patients or help them kill themselves and dispassionately watch them die. But if physician-assisted suicide becomes law in New Zealand, health care professionals and even society itself will be forced to adjust to the new reality.

As I wrote in my testimony on New Zealand’s bill:

“Do assisted suicide supporters really expect doctors and nurses to be able to assist the suicide of one patient, then go on to care for a similar patient who wants to live, without this having an effect on their ethics or empathy? Do they realize that this can reduce the second patient’s will-to-live request to a mere personal whim – perhaps, ultimately, one that society will see as selfish and too costly? How does this serve optimal health care, let alone the integrity of doctors and nurses who have to face the fact that they personally helped other human beings kill themselves? (Emphasis added)

Conclusion

Medically assisted suicide is a dangerous proposition that has proven to be impossible to strictly limit, corrupts the essential element of trust in the health care system and makes suicide more attractive to vulnerable people as a way to solve life’s problems.”