“Rational” Suicide and the “Elderly”

An article in the May, 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society titled “Rational Suicide in Elderly Adults: A Clinician’s Perspective”  by Meera Balasubramaniam, MD, MPH  recently appeared in both medical and nursing news sources.

Dr. Balasubramaniam begins with a case study of  “Mr. A” who at age 72 is considered a “baby boomer”, along with a whole section on the “baby boomer” generation-those born between 1946 and 1964 (ages 54-72).

Mr. A was a retired widower who had recently undergone successful cancer surgery and used a walker. He had no terminal illness but  he told a nurse that he always entertained the idea of ending his life “while I’m still doing well” and that if his health showed signs of failing or became too arduous, he would consider suicide. He stated “I’ve lived a good life. I’ll see how it goes, but it’s better to die well in my early 70s than have a life in which I have to be anxious before every doctor’s visit or have repeated surgery or end up in a nursing home.” (Emphasis added) A psychiatric consult showed no mental health problem.

Dr. Balasubramaniam says she wrote this article to “explore whether ethical arguments in favor of physician–assisted suicide apply to elderly adults who are tired of living but are not terminally ill”. (Emphasis added)

While claiming to not take a view on “whether suicide in non–terminally ill elderly adults can be rational”,  Dr. Balasubramaniam states that “It is important to consider the possibility that the combination of negative perceptions toward aging and dependency, greater social isolation, increasing access to drugs, greater need for autonomy, and an overall generational familiarity with suicide may be accounting for a higher proportion of older adults like Mr. A expressing the wish to end their lives on their own terms”. (Emphasis added)

DEATH AND THE BABY BOOMERS

It may seem incredible to even consider “tired of life” and older age as a “rational” reason for medically assisted suicide. However, Holland and Switzerland already allow it and the article itself cites the UK group “My Death My Decision” (formerly SOARS, The Society for Old Age Rational Suicide) that supports the idea that mentally competent older adults should have the right to assisted suicide rather than face an uncertain life that may be “fraught with frailty and dependence”.

As a Baby Boomer myself, we baby boomers were among the first teenagers exposed to a growing societal acceptance of new concepts like divorce , “free love” with the help of the birth control pill and legalized abortion, the “population bomb” predicting global cataclysm if people didn’t stop reproducing, the use of illegal drugs like marijuana and LSD for recreation, the rejection of religious principles and the slogan “don’t trust anyone over 30”.

So perhaps it should not be puzzling that people over 55 comprised the majority of people dying by physician-assisted suicide in the latest Oregon report since we saw so many of the traditional civil and moral moorings in society pulling loose when we were at an especially vulnerable age.

CONCLUSION

As one sage said, “Old age ain’t for sissies!” But, of course, this is not a “rational” excuse for legalizing assisted suicide for anyone-of any age.

Still, our older citizens are an especially high risk group for elder abuse, household accidents, money scams, social isolation, age-related medical bias and poor or even dangerous nursing home care.

Having friends, family and a meaningful purpose in life becomes harder when older people see their loved ones die or move far away and physical or mental limitations develop in themselves. Many older people fear losing their independence as well as being a “burden” on others.

Medically assisted suicide is not the answer but what else can we do to help?

We can start with our own family members, friends and neighbors. Like all of us, older people need to feel loved and appreciated. Look for ways to assist an older person that he or she might not have considered or be too embarrassed to ask about.

When I was a young wife and mother, our church parish started a Good Samaritan program to identify and help people with special needs of any age. It was a great success and our parish became more inclusive and accessible to everyone, especially the elderly. That was a benefit to all of us.

Other programs such as visiting one person for one hour each week in a local nursing home have helped some parishes to combat the sad reality I have seen that few people in nursing get  visitors, especially people with dementia.

Many of us naturally feel uncomfortable about going to nursing homes, but such places are usually thrilled to have volunteers and most have training programs.

Personally, my first volunteer activity was as a young teenager in a nursing home and it changed my perception of “old people” and life itself. I was amazed by the wisdom and stories the residents told as well as how much they appreciated anything I did. It was a great experience for a shy, gawky teen like myself.

Many years later, I took my young children to visit their grandmother in a nursing home after telling them what to expect in terms of sights, smells and sounds. Afterwards, my youngest daughter asked why everyone wanted to touch her leg while I held her. When I explained that the residents rarely saw a 2 year old and were so glad to see her, she grinned and said “OK!”.  She understood even at that young age.

In a society that seems to constantly celebrate youth and health, we need to make sure that our elderly also feel valued and supported.

And we might just save a life!

 

 

 

 

Don’t Write Off The Elderly

Late last year, my 95 year old friend I will call “Melissa” fell and fractured her hip which is especially serious at her age. In one study of people over 65 who fractured a hip, up to 50% died in 6 months with the highest mortality rates found in people over 90 years old.

In Melissa’s case, she also had long-term chronic congestive heart failure when she fell in her bathroom at home. She underwent successful surgery and was sent to a rehab facility where she developed a blood clot that went to her lungs. After successful treatment of that complication, she later developed a life-threatening pneumonia after returning to the rehab facility. She had difficulty breathing even with 100% oxygen by mask and 911 was called. I was with her when the ambulance arrived and I followed it to the hospital.

In the Emergency Room, the doctor asked her son and I about how aggressive to be if her heart or breathing worsened. I said “Ask her!” and the doctor was stunned when she vehemently said “Yes!”, even after he explained the potential problems with cardiopulmonary resuscitation and ventilators. My friend has a durable power of attorney naming her daughter as her health decision maker but the doctor wrongly assumed my friend was not able to speak for herself and that Melissa’s son and I were her decision makers. Thanks to our smartphones, Melissa’s daughter and I were in constant phone contact during that time.

After a few weeks in the hospital, Melissa astonished the doctors by recovering with antibiotics and a temporary BiPap (a face mask machine to support her breathing) until the antibiotics took hold. Then, after another short stint in a facility, my friend was finally able to go home with outpatient rehab and help from family and friends.

Going home was Melissa’s first goal.

This week, she accomplished the second of her goals: returning to Friday Mass and breakfast at Chick-Fil-A for her weekly outing with friends again. Her last goal is to celebrate at her 96th birthday party in August and none of us would bet against her achieving that also.

Elder Bias

In a society that seems to almost venerate youth and material success, those of us who are older can be made to feel useless and even a burden.

That can be fatal.

For example and just this month, 104 year old Australian scientist David Goodall who had no terminal illness traveled to Switzerland for physician-assisted suicide and to actively promote it.

According to USA Today, he said that:

My abilities and eyesight are declining, and I no longer want to live this way...I hope something positive will come out of my story and that other countries will adopt a more liberal view of assisted suicide.”

Sadly, he also added that he “had no pressure from his family to change his mind.” (Emphasis added)

David Goodall was a renowned biologist who produced more than 100 research papers and earned three doctorates when:

“In 2016, at 102, the university ordered him to leave his office, calling him a safety risk to himself. Goodall challenged the decision, which was reversed after an outpouring of public support.

Earlier this year, however, Goodall fell while at home alone in his one-bedroom apartment and remained on the floor for two days until he was found by his cleaner, according to The New Daily.

Afterward, Goodall said he was considered incapable of looking after himself. Moreover, most of his friends were dead.”

Philip Nitschke, director of Exit International, a right-to-die organization in Australia called Goodall’s “story of elective, rational suicide by the elderly is an important one.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

What a sad, depressing story Mr. Goodall’s story is compared to Melissa’s!

This should be a wake-up call to the rest of us not only about the frightening expansion and promotion of physician-assisted suicide but also about how all of us need to recognize the value, wisdom and even inspiration of older people.

We must also recognize that we all need help at some point in our lives. We are totally dependent on others when we are born and many of us need at least some help near the end of our lives. But when we truly care for each other, both the helper and the person being helped are enriched to live their best lives.

 

 

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.

 

 

You Don’t Want to be a Burden, Do You?

An April 13, 2018 USA Today op-ed titled “Make an End-of-life plan or Lose your Money and Choices in your Dying Days” by Hattie Bryant begins with the statement “End-of-life care can bankrupt your family and rob you of choices. End the denial about dying. Make a plan in case you end up seriously ill and frail.” (Emphasis added)

Ms. Bryant is very upfront about using the economic argument about aging and the enormous toll it can take financially and personally on the family as well as medical costs. She states that “in 2011, Medicare spent $554 billion and 28%, or about $170 billion, on patients’ last six months of life. After $170 billion is spent, those patients are still dead.”

Her solution is a new kind of economic advance directive she developed (and is selling as a book titled “I’ll Have It My Way: Taking Control of End-of-Life Decisions“ ) “that deals with how you want your funds spent when you are seriously ill or frail.” (All emphasis added)

SHOULD WE HAVE A “DUTY TO DIE”?

Back in 1984, Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado found himself in the middle of a firestorm of outrage when, as the New York Times reported, “Governor Lamm Asserts Elderly, If Very Ill, Have a ‘Duty to Die”.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Elderly people who are terminally ill have a ”duty to die and get out of the way” instead of trying to prolong their lives by artificial means, Gov. Richard D. Lamm of Colorado said Tuesday.

People who die without having life artificially extended are similar to ”leaves falling off a tree and forming humus for the other plants to grow up,” the Governor told a meeting of the Colorado Health Lawyers Association at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

”You’ve got a duty to die and get out of the way,” said the 48-year-old Governor. ”Let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.”

This philosophy was echoed in 2014 by one of the architects of Obamacare, Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, when he wrote “Why I Hope to Die at 75-An argument that society and families—and you—will be better off if nature takes its course swiftly and promptly” for The Atlantic Magazine.

At age 57 at the time, Dr. Emanuel states that while death is a loss, there “is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss” that “renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” (Emphasis added)

He states that he will stop trying to prolong his own life by age 75.

CONCLUSION

Helping to care for many terminally ill or seriously disabled relatives, friends and patients of all ages for many decades both professionally and personally, I have a different perspective.

We are all born dependent on others for care and many of us need at least some help from others at the end of our lives. This can be hard at times-as even parents of newborns will attest-but the rewards are great both for the helper and the person being helped.

I remember when my mother with Alzheimer’s and terminal thyroid cancer was dying in 1988. It wasn’t the most convenient time for us, to say the least. I was a suddenly single parent with three young children and financially struggling.  My mother no longer recognized me but, as I told a friend, the most important issue was that I recognized her.  As a family, we did what was medically reasonable for my mother to help her without either prolonging or hastening her dying.

Taking care of my mother was a wonderful, if occasionally difficult, experience and I am grateful that we were able to keep her at home almost to the very end.

The final result was that my mother was kept  safe, comfortable and loved. Her funeral was truly a celebration of her life and my children learned an important lesson about the circle of life and taking care of each other. We still talk fondly about their time helping with grandma, even after 30 years.

When I made out my own advance directive, I made sure that it was as protective as possible against a hastened death. I don’t fear death. I do fear the bioethicists  and others who use economics and fear to push especially older people into prematurely signing away their rights to even basic care and what this does to our society.

The Opioid Crisis and Suicide

Statistics show that more than 115 Americans a day die after overdosing on opioids. Opioids  are a class of drugs that include both illegal drugs like heroin and legal prescription pain relievers such as codeine and morphine.

We are told that we have an opioid crisis that needs immediate solutions such as suing drug manufacturers, spending more on drug treatment centers, making drugs like Narcan more available to reverse the overdose if given in time, prescribing few-in any-opioids after surgery, adding more drug education in schools, etc.

Some of these ideas are worthy but are we missing a big existential part of the problem?

In a recent Kaiser Health News article asking  “How Many Opioid Overdoses are Suicides?”, reporter Martha Bebinger relates a heartbreaking interview with a young drug addict:

“She wanted to be dead, she said, glancing down, a wisp of straight brown hair slipping from behind an ear across her thin face.

At that point, said Ohlman, she’d been addicted to opioids — controlled by the drugs — for more than three years.

“And doing all these things you don’t want to do that are horrible — you know, selling my body, stealing from my mom, sleeping in my car,” Ohlman said. “How could I not be suicidal?…You realize getting clean would be a lot of work,” Ohlman said, her voice rising. “And you realize dying would be a lot less painful. You also feel like you’ll be doing everyone else a favor if you die.”” (Emphasis added)

Having had a daughter with drug addiction and relapses for 16 years who finally succumbed to suicide in 2009 using a horrific assisted suicide technique, I recognize the same pain this young woman expresses. I also know the frustration and fears of families and friends desperate to help.

The Kaiser article goes on to quote Dr. Maria Oquendo, immediate past president of the American Psychiatric Association, who said that “[Based on the literature that’s available], it looks like it’s anywhere between 25 and 45 percent of deaths by overdose that may be actual suicides,” *(Emphasis added).

The article also quotes a pair of distinguished economists who say that “opioid overdoses, suicides and diseases related to alcoholism are all often ‘deaths of despair’” caused by “underlying deep malaise”. (Emphasis added)

We have both a suicide and a drug crisis that often overlap due to an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

EXAMINING THE SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

As psychiatrist Dr. Oquendo notes in a related article, US suicide rates were declining until they “abruptly stopped in1999” and now have increased 25%, especially among adolescent girls.

Now, there are about 123 reported suicides per day in the US  but the real figure may be as high as 3 to 5 times that number because many suicides go unreported as suicide  because of reasons like the stigma of suicide and the difficulty in determining intent.

Additionally, nearly half of US adults have a close friend or family member with a current or past drug addiction.

We have more drug treatment centers and suicide prevention programs than ever (with unfortunately varying levels of quality and allowed family involvement) but the problems continue to persist and even worsen.

CONCLUSION

What has happened in the US since suicide rates started rising two decades ago and drug abuse has surged?

First, we must recognize that American culture, law and politics changed radically in the last two decades and this has drastically affected all of us, especially our young people. For example, the legalization and glamorization of assisted suicide and mind altering drugs like recreational marijuana have not helped anyone want to embrace personal responsibility and caring for others as worthy goals.

We also now have a culture where religious values are often derided as judgmental and even harmful to social progress. Obscene language and violent, hypersexualized entertainment is applauded as liberating rather than offensive. Having children is portrayed as more of a potential economic, professional and personal burden rather than a joyful manifestation of love, commitment and family.

We owe our society and especially our young people a more hopeful, less selfish view of life rather than just the pursuit of  money, fame and pleasure.

Without a strong foundation of love, strong ethics and ideals, the resilience required to weather both the ups and downs of life without drugs or succumbing to suicide can be lost.

As much as we need good, affordable suicide and drug treatment programs, we adults also need to be examples of a truly “good life” and step up to fight the dangerous influences  that are killing our young people.

And we must never give up!

They are Lying to Us!

In my last blog “Legal Safeguards, Burdensome Obstacles and Conscience Rights”, I wrote about influential lawyer Thaddeus Pope’s article “Medical Aid in Dying: When Legal Safeguards Become Burdensome Obstacles” that listed  four ways to address such  “burdensome safeguards” in medically assisted suicide laws: “Expanding From Adults to Mature Minors”, “Expanding From Contemporaneous Capacity to Advance Directives” to pre-choose assisted suicide before becoming incompetent, “Expanding From Terminal Illness to ‘Reasonably Predictable’” and “Expanding From Self-Ingestion to Physician Administration”. (Emphasis added)

Other “burdensome obstacles” Mr. Pope has also cited include the waiting time between requests for assisted suicide and the administration of the lethal overdose for some patients and the physician requirement because of problems finding willing doctors.

While groups like Compassion and Choices and a mostly sympathetic mainstream media continue to tout allegedly strong “safeguards” in assisted suicide laws that allegedly prevent abuse, these “burdensome obstacles”- which already have been mostly eliminated in countries like Canada and Holland- are now beginning to fall here in the US and other new countries. Few of us are aware of this.

HAWAII

A case in point is Hawaii, whose legislature rejected assisted suicide just last year.

This year, a new bill, HB 2739, called the “Our Care, Our Choices Act” was recently fast-tracked in the legislature with testimony scheduled for February 27, 2018. It would allow advanced practiced registered nurses as well as doctors to be the “attending provider” for assisted suicide.

Despite the ubiquitous at least six problems with US assisted suicide laws that I have written about before, the Hawaii legislators claimed “robust safeguards” such as, “if appropriate”, the doctor (or nurse) can refer the terminally ill patient for  “counseling” to be performed by “a state-licensed psychiatrist or psychologist” but just for “determining that the patient is capable of making medical decisions and not suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment”. This is not the same as the usual psychiatric/psychological evaluation required for other suicidal people. (Emphasis added)

(I submitted my testimony on this bill which is at the end of this blog.)

After “an emotional 5-hour hearing” February 27th, a joint House panel voted in favor of an amended version of HB 2739 that will now head to a vote of the full House in the near future.

The amended bill includes the welcome removal of advanced practice registered nurses as “attending providers” but added social workers to the psychiatrists or psychologists designated as the counselors to determining the patient’s “capability” and allows “counseling” by telehealth instead of in person. Finally, the new bill would also lengthen the time between oral requests for assisted suicide from 15 to 20 days.

Hopefully this terrible new assisted suicide bill will be defeated like last year’s.

But, as usual, Compassion and Choices continues to describe HB 2739 as just:

“Medical aid in dying is an end-of-life medical practice in which a terminally ill, mentally capable individual who has a prognosis of six months or less to live requests, obtains and—if his or her suffering becomes unbearable—self-ingests medication to die peacefully in their sleep.”

We all need to know that we are being lied to about assisted suicide and fight against such laws!


My Testimony on Hawaii’s HB 2739

February 26, 2018

Please Do Not Approve HB 2739, From a Mother and a Nurse

 As the mother of a physically healthy suicide victim who used an assisted suicide technique and as a registered nurse who has cared for suicidal people both personally and professionally for over 40 years, I implore you not to approve the dangerous HB 2739, the “Our Care, Our Choice Act”.

Despite the euphemism of “aid in dying” instead of medically (since advanced practice registered nurses can be “the attending physician”) assisted suicide and the demand for it as a fundamental right, this bill puts both desperate people and our health care system in danger. I want to address both issues.

My Daughter Marie Killed Herself Using an Assisted Suicide Technique

In 2009, I lost a beautiful, physically well 30-year-old daughter, Marie, to suicide after a 16-year battle with substance abuse and other issues. Her suicide was like an atom bomb dropped on our family, friends and even her therapists.

Despite all of our efforts to save her, my Marie told me that she learned how to kill herself from visiting suicide/assisted suicide websites and reading Derek Humphry’s book Final Exit. The medical examiner called Marie’s suicide technique “textbook final exit” but her death was neither dignified nor peaceful.

Marie was not mere collateral damage in the controversy over assisted suicide. She was a victim of the physician-assisted suicide movement, seduced by the rhetoric of a painless exit from what she believed was a hopeless life of suffering.

SUICIDE CONTAGION

Adding to our family’s pain, at least two people close to Marie became suicidal not long after her suicide. Luckily, these two young people received help and were saved, but suicide contagion, better known as “copycat suicide”, is a well-documented phenomenon.

After Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law took effect in 1997, the rate of suicide increased. In 2015, the state’s health department said “The rate of suicide among Oregonians has been increasing since 2000” and as of 2012 was “42% higher than the national average”; suicide had become “the second leading cause of death among Oregonians aged 15 to 34 years.” These figures are in addition to deaths under the Oregon assisted suicide law, which legally are not counted as suicides.

My Marie was one of the almost 37,000 reported US suicides in 2009. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans with more than 44,000 people dying by suicide in 2015, more than 1.4 million people reported making a suicide attempt in the past year and almost 10 million adults reported thinking about suicide in the past year. Suicide costs society over $56.9 billion a year in combined medical and work loss costs.

Our urgent health care crisis is the staggering and increasing number of suicides, not the lack of enough medically assisted suicides.

The Effect of Medically Assisted Suicide on Our Health Care System

 MY STORY

Several years after Oregon’s law was passed, I was threatened with termination from my job as an intensive care unit nurse after I refused to participate in a deliberate overdose of morphine that neither the patient nor his family requested after an older patient experienced a crisis after a routine surgery.

The patient had improved but did not wake up within 24 hours after sedatives used with a ventilator were stopped. It was assumed that severe brain damage had occurred and doctors recommended removing the ventilator and letting the patient die.

However when the ventilator was removed, the patient unexpectedly continued to breathe even without oxygen support. A morphine drip was started and rapidly increased but the patient continued to breathe.

When I refused to participate in this, I found no support in my hospitals “chain of command” and I could not pass off this patient to another nurse so I basically stopped the morphine drip myself, technically following the order to “titrate morphine for comfort, no limit.”

The patient eventually died after I left but ironically, a later autopsy requested by the family showed no lethal condition or brain injury as suspected.

The physician who authorized the morphine demanded that I be fired.

I’ve known other doctors, nurses and therapist who have similarly put their jobs on the line to protect their patients. Unfortunately, we are fast becoming pariahs in the face of medically assisted suicide legalization.

Society has long insisted that health care professionals adhere to the highest standards of ethics as a form of protection for society. The vulnerability of a sick person and the inability of society to monitor every health care decision or action are powerful motivators to enforce such standards. For thousands of years doctors (and nurses) have embraced the Hippocratic standard that “I will give no deadly medicine to any one, nor suggest any such counsel.” Should the bright line doctors and nurses themselves drew to separate killing from caring now be erased by legislation?

As a nurse, I am willing to do anything for my patients — except kill them. In my work with the terminally ill, I have been struck by how rarely these people say something like, “I want to end my life.” And the few who do express such thoughts are visibly relieved when their concerns and fears are addressed and dealt with instead of finding support for the suicide option. I have yet to see such a patient go on to commit suicide.

In 2015, the Canadian Supreme Court approved MAID (medical aid in dying aka medically assisted suicide) and lethal injection suicides began in Quebec, one of Canada’s largest provinces. Now, “only 5 of more than 2,000 Canadian patients who used medical aid in dying self- ingested the lethal medication.”

But a December, 2017 Canadian medical journal article “First Results from a Unique Study” done in Laval, Canada showed that although prior to the law, 48% of doctors said they would participate, 30% with conditions and only 28% said they would never participate, afterwards, 77% of the physicians getting MAID requests refused to actively participate, all of them using the conscientious objection clause, even though the study claimed the majority (72%) were in favor of MAID with only 13% of the doctors neutral or ambivalent. The most common reason given for refusal was “too much of an emotional burden to bear”.

Do assisted suicide supporters really expect us 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 our ethics or our 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 we helped other human beings kill themselves?

Conclusion

Medically assisted suicide is a dangerous proposition and HB 2739 goes beyond even Oregon’s law by approving advanced practice registered nurses as providers. Other countries have gone farther to include chronic psychiatric conditions, birth defects and even just old age.

We must not discriminate on the basis of health and choice when it comes to desperate people seeking suicide. We must treat all of our citizens with equal concern.

Just in Time for Christmas-Room at the Inn

In a wonderful, uplifting opinion article titled “Room at the Inn”  in the Wall Street Journal on December 19, William McGurn wrote about  the Good Counsel home in the Bronx , now part of a network of six such homes that offer help to homeless pregnant women.

It all started when Chris Bell, a husband and father himself, went to his parish priest in 1985 complaining that no one was doing anything for homeless pregnant women. The priest replied in effect “Hey, pal, what about you?

With the help of that priest, the first Good Counsel home started shortly thereafter. The home not only provides a safe, warm environment for the mother and baby (and even siblings) until birth but also “lets them stay a year afterward—to finish school, train for a job and learn how to care and provide for their babies.” Mr. Bell takes no government money.

The first Good Counsel home was started in a former convent in Hoboken, New Jersey that was part of the parish where singer Frank Sinatra was baptized. When a news article about the home and its financial struggles was published, Good Counsel home received a surprise check for $10,000 from Mr Sinatra himself.

William McGurn notes that this Christmas, Good Counsel’s women known that there will not be many presents under the tree:

But there will be joy. Because Good Counsel is about life, and hope, and respect. As well as the promise that, with love and hard work, happy endings are still within reach even for those who have made some bad decisions.

And especially at Christmastime, Good Counsel wants that troubled young pregnant woman who thinks she’s all alone to know: There’s always room at this inn

It is often said that the pro-life movement is just an anti-woman political movement to deny  women the “choice” of abortion. Personally, I have found the pro-life movement to be one of the greatest volunteer movements ever, committed to people and principles.

CONCLUSION

Here in St. Louis, we have Our Lady’s  Inn that has long offered the same kind of help as Good Counsel.

Is there a similar kind of place in your area? If so, consider supporting it or volunteering. If you don’t know, check with your church, local Birthright  or Heartbeat International’s Worldwide Directory of Pregnancy Help.

Even a small donation would be a wonderful way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas!

Why Talk About Abortion?

Many years ago when I worked in home health and hospice, I cared for a very cranky, elderly woman I will call “Rose” who had rejected all the other nurses in our agency. Even her own doctor had problems with her and told me that he could not understand why she was even still alive because her end stage congestive heart failure was so severe. Part of my assignment was to measure her abdomen and legs to adjust her diuretics (water pills).

As I got to know Rose over several visits, she softened towards me and began telling me about her life. But one day, while I was measuring her abdomen, she burst into tears and told me she hated looking 9 months pregnant because of the fluid retention in her abdomen. Rose said she knew it was God punishing her for the abortion she had 60 years before!

Rose had never told anyone, not even her late husband, about the abortion she had before marrying him. She felt that baby was the boy she never had but she didn’t feel worthy to even name him. She also told me that she knew she had committed the “unforgivable sin” and was afraid to die because she justly would be sent to hell. My heart went out to this woman who was suffering so much, more emotionally than even physically.

We talked for a long time and in a later visit about God’s love, confession and forgiveness. I told her about Project Rachel, a healing ministry for women (and even men) wounded by abortion. I gave her the phone number and offered to be with her to meet a counselor or priest but she insisted that my talking with her was enough to help. I felt it wasn’t but she seemed to achieve a level of peace and she even started smiling.

Rose died suddenly and apparently in her sleep about a week later. I only had a few visits with her but I feel she finally felt ready to meet her Lord.

I have told this true story to priests and clergy who tell me that they are reluctant to speak about abortion in homilies for fear of causing further pain to a church member who may have had an abortion. I tell them that they may tragically miss the chance to tell a hurting woman like my Rose about Project Rachel. Also, by speaking about the many resources available through individual churches, local and national organizations like Birthright and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, this may help another woman to choose life for her baby instead of abortion. And, of course, talking about pro-life resources may help church members get involved in volunteer work.

WHY NONE OF US SHOULD BE AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT ABORTION

There are great pro-life news outlets like Life News that email daily or weekly updates on news about all life issues. There are many positive and even amazing stories such as those about babies who defy the odds against them, grateful parents who choose life in difficult circumstances as well as important pro-life news, education and upcoming events.

I have shared many of those stories myself with friends, family and people on my email lists and this has led to many great discussions and crucial referrals.

But what I have found most effective is a  sincere interest and willingness to help when encountering people struggling with an abortion decision for themselves or someone close to them. For example, a new colleague of mine was considering abortion after her obstetrician recommended abortion and listed all the birth defects that could affect her child after being exposed to a virus early in pregnancy. Getting a second opinion and the support of her coworkers gave my colleague the confidence she needed to reject abortion. She ultimately gave birth to a healthy daughter.

Why talk about abortion? Because we never know who may need to hear the truth.

My Most Memorable Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day has always been special to me since my children were born although I always thought I should be thanking my children for making me a mom instead of them thanking me.

However, Mother’s Day 1998 was my most memorable for another reason.

My oldest daughter Marie had just started college and dating the first boy she said she loved when she found out she was pregnant. The young man offered to marry her but she thought about some serious problems they both had and felt she had to refuse.

Over the next several months, Marie was torn between keeping her baby and choosing adoption. When she considered the most important question of what would be best for the baby, she finally decided on open adoption. It was not an easy decision and we were both heartbroken by the realization that Marie would not be raising the baby herself.

Unfortunately, due to the unwed pregnancy, there was almost no support from extended family members. In addition, most of Marie’s friends supported her rejection of abortion but not her decision for adoption. However, I was proud and awed by Marie’s heroic determination to give her baby the best life possible.

It was a difficult time but then on Mother’s Day that year, a card came in the mail from a priest friend of mine that brought a big ray of sunshine and truth to the situation. 

It was a beautiful Mother’s Day card for Marie!

Marie and I both smiled and cried because it was such a wonderful acknowledgement of Marie’s eternal motherhood as well as the gift of life. I can never thank that priest enough for his timely encouragement.

Four months later, Marie’s daughter was born and released to a wonderful couple who sent pictures every month.

Later on, when Marie’s daughter grew older, she called Marie every Mother’s Day and because of the generosity of her parents, she saw Marie often until Marie’s untimely death in 2009.

This thoughtful priest’s kindness in 1998 should remind us all that Mother’s Day should always be special whatever the circumstances and whether or not our children are in our arms or just in our hearts.

 

Why Are Suicide Rates Climbing after Years of Decline?

After years of declines, the US suicide rate rose 24% over 15 years according to a new report from the national Centers for Disease on suicide rates in the US from 1999-2014.  The suicide rate rose for everyone between the ages of 10-74 between 1999-2014.

National media like the Wall Street Journal  and CNN   speculated that the economic downturn, drugs and lack of mental health resources could be factors in the 24% increase.

However, one huge factor was totally ignored: the legalization and promotion of physician-assisted suicide.

The Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide and Suicide Contagion

It must not be dismissed as mere coincidence that the new rise in suicides correlates to the implementation of the first physician-assisted suicide law in Oregon.

A 2012 report on suicide trends and risk factors for the Oregon Health Authority found the state’s overall suicide rate had risen 41 percent higher than the national rate . This is the “regular” suicide rate. Physician-assisted suicides are not included.

Since Oregon, four more states (California, Vermont, and Washington) have legalized physician-assisted suicide via legislation with a Montana supreme court ruling in favor of assisted suicide but without a regulatory framework. But it is only now that the media is noticing a suicide rate that has been increasing for 15 years.

There is a well-known and recognized suicide contagion effect after reported suicides. Both national media guidelines   and  World Health Organization guidelines   warn against media glamorization or normalization of suicide by the media that could lead to more suicides.

Yet, since the legalization in Oregon, the media has become increasingly positive in reporting on physician-assisted suicide. This reached a peak when People magazine devoted it cover story  and some subsequent issues to Brittany Maynard , her impending assisted suicide, and her Compassion and Choices led foundation to raise money to promote the legalization of physician-assisted suicide throughout the US.

That’s not just glamorizing or normalizing physician-assisted suicide. That’s advertising.

And it is having an enormous effect. Now the media is bowing to the pro-assisted suicide movement’s propaganda by changing even the terminology. Instead of physician-assisted suicide, news reports now use more soothing terms like “death with dignity”, “aid in dying” or “physician-assisted death”.

Make no mistake. This is a calculated tactic to increase support of physician-assisted suicide by denying reality.

Why Don’t  Physician-Assisted Suicide Laws Require Psychiatric or Psychological Evaluation?

As most of you may know,  I am the mother of a physically healthy 30 year old daughter who killed herself in 2009 using a technique the medical examiner called “textbook Final Exit”, the title of a book she read by assisted suicide supporter Derek Humphry. But I am also an RN with 46 years of experience who has cared for terminally or seriously ill people considering even physician-assisted suicide who changed their minds after suicide prevention and treatment interventions.

I am appalled that no physician-assisted suicide law actually requires a psychiatric or psychological evaluation before a person is given the lethal overdose prescription. For example in Oregon, the physician-assisted suicide law only states If in the opinion of the attending physician or the consulting physician a patient may be suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment, either physician shall refer the patient for counseling.”   (Emphasis added)  Not surprisingly, very few such evaluations are currently done, according to Oregon’s annual reports.

That stands in stark contrast to the standard evaluations given to other suicidal patients.

There must be no medical discrimination based on a predicted  prognosis when it comes to standard suicide prevention and treatment interventions. Suicide for any reason is always a tragedy to be prevented when possible.

The terrible despair that leads to suicide must not be ignored in favor of a cold piece of paper with a lethal prescription.