NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR SIGNS LATEST US LAW TO LEGALIZE ASSISTED SUICIDE AS ARKANSAS GOVENOR SIGNS THE “MEDICAL ETHICS AND DIVERSITY ACT”

On April 8, 2021, New Mexico became the latest and ninth state (along with Washington D.C.) to legalize “medically assisted suicide”.

Note the new terminology used is no longer called “physician-assisted suicide”. This is no accident but rather reflects the persistent expansion of assisted suicide law to allow even non-physicians like physician assistants and nurse practitioners to determine that a requesting patient has six months or less to live and provide them with the suicide drugs.

Ironically, Medicare benefit rules for certifying a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months or less to be eligible for hospice states that “No one other than a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy can certify or re-certify a terminal illness”. (Emphasis added) And having worked as a home hospice, ICU and oncology nurse, I know how difficult it is to predict when a patient is expected to die.

And, like other assisted suicide laws, New Mexico’s law also has unenforceable and easily circumvented “safeguards’ like mental health evaluations that are required for any other suicidal patient.

The law also requires that terminally ill patients has “a right to know” about all legal options including assisted suicide and that healthcare providers who refuse to participate in medically assisted suicide must refer that patient to another willing provider.

Nevertheless, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham said she signed the law HB0047 to secure the “peace of mind and humanity this legislation provides.”

THE MEDICAL ETHICS AND DIVERSITY ACT

In a striking contrast to New Mexico’s assisted suicide law, Governor Asa Hutchison signed the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act” just days earlier on Friday, March 26, 2021 which expanded conscience rights in the state.

As the statute eloquently states:

“The right of conscience is a fundamental and unalienable right.

“The right of conscience was central to the founding of the United States, has been deeply rooted in the history and tradition of the United States for centuries, and has been central to the practice of medicine through the Hippocratic oath for millennia … The swift pace of scientific advancement and the expansion, of medical capabilities, along with the notion that medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers are mere public utilities, promise only to exacerbate the current crisis unless something is done to restore the importance of the right of conscience.

It is the public policy of this state to protect the right of conscience of medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers. It is the purpose of this subchapter to protect all medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers from discrimination, punishment, or retaliation as a result of any instance of conscientious medical objection.”

However, opponents of the law like the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that it would allow doctors to refuse to offer a host of services for LGBTQ patients.

In response to this criticism, Governor Hutchinson stated:

“I have signed into law SB289, the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act. I weighed this bill very carefully, and it should be noted that I opposed the bill in the 2017 legislative session. The bill was changed to ensure that the exercise of the right of conscience is limited to ‘conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.’ I support this right of conscience so long as emergency care is exempted and conscience objection cannot be used to deny general health service to any class of people. Most importantly, the federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, and national origin continue to apply to the delivery of health care services.”

CONCLUSION

As a nurse myself, I would not and never have refused to care for any patient. Discrimination has no place in healthcare.

However, I have been threatened with termination when I have refused to follow an order that would cause a patient’s death. It wasn’t the patient I objected to but rather the action ordered.

Conversely, I would not want a healthcare provider caring for me who supports assisted suicide, abortion, etc. This is why I ask my doctors about their stands on such issues before I become their patient.

Our country and our healthcare systems need laws, healthcare providers and institutions that we can trust to protect us. Conscience rights protections are a critical necessity for that to happen.

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NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR SIGNS LATEST US LAW TO LEGALIZE ASSISTED SUICIDE AS ARKANSAS GOVENOR SIGNS THE “MEDICAL ETHICS AND DIVERSITY ACT”

On April 8, 2021, New Mexico became the latest and ninth state (along with Washington D.C.) to legalize “medically assisted suicide”.

Note the new terminology used is no longer called “physician-assisted suicide”. This is no accident but rather reflects the persistent expansion of assisted suicide law to allow even non-physicians like physician assistants and nurse practitioners to determine that a requesting patient has six months or less to live and provide them with the suicide drugs.

Ironically, Medicare benefit rules for certifying a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months or less to be eligible for hospice states that “No one other than a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy can certify or re-certify a terminal illness”. (Emphasis added) And having worked as a home hospice, ICU and oncology nurse, I know how difficult it is to predict when a patient is expected to die.

And, like other assisted suicide laws, New Mexico’s law also has unenforceable and easily circumvented “safeguards’ like mental health evaluations that are required for any other suicidal patient.

The law also requires that terminally ill patients has “a right to know” about all legal options including assisted suicide and that healthcare providers who refuse to participate in medically assisted suicide must refer that patient to another willing provider.

Nevertheless, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham said she signed the law HB0047 to secure the “peace of mind and humanity this legislation provides.”

THE MEDICAL ETHICS AND DIVERSITY ACT

In a striking contrast to New Mexico’s assisted suicide law, Governor Asa Hutchison signed the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act” just days earlier on Friday, March 26, 2021 which expanded conscience rights in the state.

As the statute eloquently states:

“The right of conscience is a fundamental and unalienable right.

“The right of conscience was central to the founding of the United States, has been deeply rooted in the history and tradition of the United States for centuries, and has been central to the practice of medicine through the Hippocratic oath for millennia … The swift pace of scientific advancement and the expansion, of medical capabilities, along with the notion that medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers are mere public utilities, promise only to exacerbate the current crisis unless something is done to restore the importance of the right of conscience.

It is the public policy of this state to protect the right of conscience of medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers. It is the purpose of this subchapter to protect all medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers from discrimination, punishment, or retaliation as a result of any instance of conscientious medical objection.”

However, opponents of the law like the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that it would allow doctors to refuse to offer a host of services for LGBTQ patients.

In response to this criticism, Governor Hutchinson stated:

“I have signed into law SB289, the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act. I weighed this bill very carefully, and it should be noted that I opposed the bill in the 2017 legislative session. The bill was changed to ensure that the exercise of the right of conscience is limited to ‘conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.’ I support this right of conscience so long as emergency care is exempted and conscience objection cannot be used to deny general health service to any class of people. Most importantly, the federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, and national origin continue to apply to the delivery of health care services.”

CONCLUSION

As a nurse myself, I would not and never have refused to care for any patient. Discrimination has no place in healthcare.

However, I have been threatened with termination when I have refused to follow an order that would cause a patient’s death. It wasn’t the patient I objected to but rather the action ordered.

Conversely, I would not want a healthcare provider caring for me who supports assisted suicide, abortion, etc. This is why I ask my doctors about their stands on such issues before I become their patient.

Our country and our healthcare systems need laws, healthcare providers and institutions that we can trust to protect us. Conscience rights protections are a critical necessity for that to happen.

The Assisted Suicide Juggernaut Continues in the U.S.

Since Oregon passed the first physician-assisted suicide law in 1997, 8 more states and the District of Washington, D.C. passed assisted suicide laws by 2020. They are:

  • California (End of Life Option Act; approved in 2015, in effect from 2016)
  • Colorado (End of Life Options Act; 2016)
  • District of Columbia (D.C. Death with Dignity Act; 2016/2017)
  • Hawaii (Our Care, Our Choice Act; 2018/2019)
  • Maine (Death with Dignity Act; 2019)
  • New Jersey (Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act; 2019)
  • Oregon (Death with Dignity Act; 1994/1997)
  • Vermont (Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life Act; 2013)
  • Washington (Death with Dignity Act; 2008)

So far in 2021, 13 more states have new proposed assisted suicide bills and 4 states with assisted suicide laws are facing bills to expand their assisted suicide laws.

These 13 states are  Arizona , Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota and Rhode Island. Most of these states have been repeatedly hounded for years to pass an assisted suicide law.  

The 4 states with bills expanding their assisted suicide laws are California , Hawaii , Vermont, and the state of Washington.

The expansions range from expanding “qualified medical providers” from doctors to a range of non-doctors including nurses to eliminating so-called “safeguards” such as 15 day waiting periods, in person requests and even to allow electronic prescribing and shipping of lethal overdoses. Compassion and Choices (the former Hemlock Society) and other assisted suicide supporters have long portrayed assisted suicide “safeguards” as “burdensome obstacles”.

CONSCIENCE RIGHTS AND CENSORSHIP

Conscience rights for health care providers has been a very real problem since the 1974 Roe V. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized abortion in the U.S. The legalization of assisted suicide in several states has made this even worse for nurses, doctors, pharmacists and other healthcare workers. Even healthcare institutions have faced discrimination problems.

The Christian Medical and Dental Association even compiled a long list in 2019 of “Real-life examples of discrimination in healthcare” .

Now, we are seeing censorship. A March 28, 2021 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Big Tech Censors Religion, Too stated that:

“In January, Bishop Kevin Doran, an Irish Catholic, tweeted: “There is dignity in dying. As a priest, I am privileged to witness it often. Assisted suicide, where it is practiced, is not an expression of freedom or dignity.” Twitter removed this message and banned Bishop Doran from posting further. While the company reversed its decision after public opposition, others haven’t been so lucky.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog “Should a Pro-Life person Become a Nurse” about a worried pro-life student nurse who wrote me asking “what area of nursing can I move into that does not demand that I do things that I absolutely will not do?”

I wrote her back and told her that I had that challenge in several areas I worked in over 45 years but was able to live up to my ethics despite some difficult situations and that I never regretted becoming a nurse.

However, conscience rights are a not a luxury but rather a necessity.

That is why some of us nurses in Missouri worked so hard to get a conscience rights law passed in 1992 after the Nancy Cruzan starvation and dehydration death that, although not as strong as we wanted, is still in effect today. And I was thrilled when the Trump administration announced a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division  in 2018 to enforce “federal laws that protect conscience and the free exercise of religion and prohibit coercion and discrimination in health and human services”.

Society has long insisted that health care professionals adhere to the highest standards of ethics as a form of 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 that bright line to separate killing from caring now be erased by legislators or judges?

Without a strong resistance movement, the assisted suicide movement will only keep expanding. So far, much of the public has been shielded from the real truth by euphemisms and false reassurances from assisted suicide supporters, a mostly sympathetic mainstream media and often spineless professional and health care organizations.

We all must educate ourselves to speak out before it is too late.

When Can We End Lockdowns for Covid 19?

When the Covid 19 pandemic hit the U.S. early last year, little was known about this new infection.

But as the highly contagious Covid 19 virus was spreading around the world, President Trump issued a proclamation on March 13, 2020 declaring a national emergency with “preventive and proactive measures to slow the spread of the virus and treat those affected” and state lockdowns began.

Regular healthcare became virtually suspended as states went to lockdown with rules to shelter in place except for essential errands or work. Schools and many businesses were closed. 

On March 18, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommended that hospitals cancel all elective surgeries and nonessential medical, surgical and dental procedures to prepare for the expected deluge of patients with Covid 19 and the health system complied.

Then, although it received little media notice, a May 19, 2020 letter to President Trump signed by over 600 doctors detailed the physical and mental impact of the lockdown in the US due to Covid 19, calling it a “mass casualty incident” with “exponentially growing negative health consequences” to millions of non-COVID patients. 

The doctors’ letter stated that:

“Suicide hotline phone calls have increased 600%,” the letter said. Other silent casualties: “150,000 Americans per month who would have had new cancer detected through routine screening.”

“Patients fearful of visiting hospitals and doctors’ offices are dying because COVID-phobia is keeping them from seeking care. One patient died at home of a heart attack rather than go to an emergency room. The number of severe heart attacks being treated in nine U.S hospitals surveyed dropped by nearly 40% since March. Cardiologists are worried “a second wave of deaths” indirectly caused by the virus is likely.

“The millions of casualties of a continued shutdown will be hiding in plain sight, but they will be called alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. In youths it will be called financial instability, unemployment, despair, drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, and abuse.

“It is impossible to overstate the short, medium, and long-term harm to people’s health with a continued shutdown,” the letter says. “Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful events, and the effect on a person’s health is not lessened because it also has happened to 30 million [now 38 million] other people. Keeping schools and universities closed is incalculably detrimental for children, teenagers, and young adults for decades to come.” (All emphasis added)

Then on October 4, 2020, the Great Barrington Declaration was written and released by three public health experts from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford. The Declaration was eventually signed by thousands of doctors and experts from around the world. The Declaration encouraged governments to lift lockdown restrictions on young and healthy people while focusing protection measures on the elderly.

These experts surmised that this would allow COVID-19 to spread in a population where it is less likely to be deadly, encouraging widespread immunity that is not dependent on a vaccine.

The Declaration stated:

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. “

The Declaration was swiftly met with intense criticism from other medical experts who called the plan “practically impossible and highly unethical”.

As the numbers of people with Covid 19 and who died from Covid 19 went up and down over the months, various U.S. states and counties ordered different degrees of lockdown and now many states seem to be guided more by politics than science when it comes to lockdowns.

HOPE ON THE HORIZON

We now have more people with Covid 19 surviving and leaving the hospital sooner due to a better understanding of what treatments work best in comparison to what was known when the pandemic started in the US.

And although seemingly impossible at first, new vaccines have been developed for Covid 19 and began being distributed in December 2021 due to Operation Warp Speed. Despite the controversy about some Covid 19 vaccines, it is hoped that the widespread use of vaccines may help the U.S. end the lockdowns.

In addition, the FDA (food and Drug Administration) approved the use of several rapid Covid 19 tests, some that can even be done at home. This can be a gamechanger with some experts saying that the massive distribution of rapid self-tests for use in homes, schools, offices, and other public places could replace harmful sweeping lockdowns with knowledge.

CONCLUSION

Lockdowns have caused enormous economic, physical, social and mental upheaval in the US.

When lockdowns are intermittent in intensity and duration in some states without clear scientific evidence that the lockdowns are working, it seems we need a reevaluation of their usefulness as we evaluate other measures to help end the Covid 19 pandemic.

Should a Covid 19 Vaccine be Mandatory?

As the first Americans are receiving a Covid 19 vaccine, a December 5 2020 Gallup poll reports that 63% of Americans say they are willing to take the vaccine. 37% are less willing, including some groups like non-white people and Americans age 45-64. But the percentage of Americans currently willing to get vaccinated may still be below where public health experts want it.

Now, there is a proposed bill in New York to make getting the vaccine mandatory to get sufficient immunity if not enough people are voluntarily getting them.

Why are some people unwilling to get the vaccine?

As I wrote in my last blog “Ethics and the Production of Covid 19 Vaccines”, many people are concerned about the use of aborted fetal cells in some vaccines. I also included two lists of vaccines and whether or not such fetal cells were involved in their production. One list is from the Charlotte Lozier Institute and one is from the Children of God for Life organization. (The Charlotte Lozier Institute does disagree with the Children of God for Life organization on the Moderna vaccine.)

Other potential concerns are about the safety, side effects and the effectiveness of the vaccines.

EFFECTIVENESS AND SAFETY

A December 3, 2020 MedPage investigative article “Want to Know More About mRNA Before Your COVID Jab? states that “While an mRNA vaccine has never been on the market anywhere in the world, mRNA vaccines have been tested in humans before, for at least four infectious diseases: rabies, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and Zika.”

The Covid 19 vaccines use a synthetic mRNA, which is genetic information used to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. When injected, the body produces a strong response to that protein to produce an immune response.

How long that response lasts is still unknown.

But, especially for certain groups of people, there are also concerns about safety.

According to the CDC (the U.S. Center for Disease Control) regarding immunocompromised patients such as those with HIV or who take immunosuppressive medications or therapies may take the vaccine but should be counseled about:

“– Unknown vaccine safety and efficacy profiles in immunocompromised persons
– Potential for reduced immune responses
– Need to continue to follow all current guidance to protect themselves against COVID-19″

Also according to the CDC, “There are no data on the safety of Covid 19 vaccines in pregnant women” but “Animal developmental and reproductive toxicity (DART) studies are ongoing” and more studies are planned.

Regarding breastfeeding, the CDC states that “There are no data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in lactating women or the effects of mRNA vaccines on the breastfed infant or milk production/excretion”

SIDE EFFECTS

In a Nov. 23, 2020 CNBC article “Doctors say CDC should warn people the side effects from Covid vaccine shots won’t be ‘a walk in the park, a group of doctors told the CDC to warn people that the Covid 19 vaccine shots now being rolled out may have “some rough side effects so they know what to expect and aren’t scared away from getting the second dose.”

And a December 9, 2020 article in the Wall Street Journal “Covid-19 Vaccines Pose Potential Side Effects, Doctors Say” reported that “U.K. authorities warn people with severe allergies against receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech shots, after two Britons experience allergic reactions.”

But a STAT news article a few days later on December 13, 2020, now reports that the CDC has changed its position from Persons who have had a severe allergic reaction to any vaccine or injectable therapy (intramuscular, intravenous, or subcutaneous) should not receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at this time(emphasis added) to that people who had “severe reactions to prior vaccines or injectable drugs can still get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19, but should discuss the risks with their doctors and be monitored for 30 minutes afterward”.

Another concern is that although states rely on the percentage of positive Covid 19 tests for lockdown and other orders, there are many kinds of tests and both false positive and false negative results have been reported.

No wonder many people are confused and anxious!

SHOULD COVID 19 VACCINES BE MANDATORY?

Now we are seeing Covid 19 vaccines being rapidly distributed and more Covid 19 vaccines are coming, including a Johnson and Johnson single dose Covid 19 vaccine that is in testing and the results may be known by January.

Currently, the health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities have first priority for a Covid 19 vaccine.

Although states have the authority to regulate public health and they have in the past mandated vaccines for diseases like smallpox and some mandatory vaccines are required by states before children can attend school, it seems unlikely that there will be a federal mandate for the Covid 19 vaccine.

It is more likely that only certain groups of people may be required to take the vaccine like healthcare workers, universities and some employers. Even then, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may help people who have a religious objection to a vaccine as well as anti-discrimination laws and exemptions for medical reasons. An employer would have to make a reasonable accommodation as long as it’s not too costly for the business.

It is also possible that airlines, stores, stadiums could also make vaccination a condition of doing business with a person.

CONCLUSION

The Covid 19 pandemic has taken a serious toll on everyone and we will not get back to “normal life” anytime soon, even with the Covid 19 vaccine.

But we still must make sure that any Covid 19 vaccines we take are ethical, effective and safe.

Ethics and the Production of Covid 19 Vaccines

I am hopeful that the new Covid 19 vaccines that are being approved soon will help stop Covid 19 but, like many people, I only want to take a vaccine that does not use cell lines from aborted babies.

But that information can be hard to find, confusing and the facts are sometimes disputed.

For example, a November 18, 2020 article from the Associated Press titled “Lung tissue from aborted fetus not used in AstraZeneca vaccine development” disputes an online video that claims tissue from an aborted baby was used. I discovered later that this AP headline was inaccurate.

And there are disputes even in Catholic and other religious circles.

For example, some Catholic bishops and priests questioned the use of some vaccines before Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Rhoades from the USCCB (the US Catholic bishops conference) wrote a memo citing three Vatican documents and stating that:

“Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from the body of an aborted baby at any level of design, development or production. They are not completely free from any connection to abortion, however, as both Pfizer and Moderna use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products.”

“There is thus a connection, but it is relatively remote,” they continued. “Some are asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines, then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching.”

and

“Most importantly, they all make it clear that, at the level of the recipient, it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there are no alternatives and there is a serious risk to health.”

However, other articles like the National Catholic Register’s Nov. 25, 2020 Measuring Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine: Now’s the Time to Press Hard for Ethical Options” by Stacy Trasancos, PhD, MA and Children of God for Life’s Nov. 16, 2020 article “Moderna Covid-19 Vaccine – Facts – Not Fiction say that kidney cells from aborted babies were used in the development of the Moderna Vaccine but also adds that there are plenty of other ethical vaccines being developed.

CONCLUSION

After weeks of investigation, I found the simplest explanation of the vaccine production process and its’ potential problems at The Charlotte Lozier Institute website.

I also found the most expansive list of current potential vaccines at the Institute’s Update: COVID-19A Vaccine Candidates and Abortion-Derived Cell Lines. (The Institute does disagree with Dr. Trasancos and the Children of God for Life organization on the Moderna vaccine.)

For myself, I do want the Covid 19 vaccine when it is available but I will make sure that I am given one of the ethically uncontroversial vaccines. I will also insist on adequate information on the safety of such vaccines before I take the vaccine.

ADDENDUM:

I am adding this addendum to my latest blog after I discovering some new information from both a medical and a pro-life website (LifeSiteNews December 4, 2020 article “Pfizer COVID jab warning: “No breastfeeding, avoid pregnancy for 2 months, unknown fertility impacts” about the possible effects of the Pfizer Covid 19 vaccine on pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

This disturbing news and another link from a blog reader made me realize that we must have confidence that any Covid 19 vaccine will be safe as well as ethically produced.

Therefore, I have added a final line to my blog:  “I will also insist on adequate information on the safety of such vaccines before I take the vaccine.”

Nancy Valko, RN ALNC

Caring for an Elderly Relative who Wants to Die

I was disturbed but not really surprised when I read the October 21, 2020 New England Journal of Medicine article by Scott D. Halpern, M.D, Ph.D., titled “Learning about End-of-Life Care from Grandpa”.

Dr. Halpern, a palliative care doctor and ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote about his elderly grandfather who had been widowed for the third time and wrote “My life was over too, only existence remained,” in a memoir for his family.

As Dr. Halpern writes, “It was downhill from there” as his grandfather coped with challenges like blindness, deafness and arthritis.

Family members offered to care for him but the grandfather chose to go into an assisted living facility where family members could visit him frequently. But then, Covid 19 visitations cut him off entirely from the outside world.

Eventually, the grandfather was allowed to see relatives one at a time outdoors at the facility.

Nearing his 103rd birthday, the grandfather started asking Dr. Halpern about “any plausible option to hasten death”.

New Jersey had recently approved physician-assisted suicide, but Dr. Halpern was “ambivalent” about that option. In addition, his grandfather did not have a terminal illness but rather was “dying of old age, frailty, and more than anything else, isolation and meaninglessness”.

Alarmingly, Dr. Halpern found that the medical code for this diagnosis called “adult failure to thrive” was being used not only used to access hospice but also to access physician-assisted suicide in some states.

Unable to find a New Jersey doctor willing to use physician-assisted suicide on his grandfather anyway, Dr. Halpern offered his grandfather the option of VSED (voluntarily stopping of eating and drinking) to hasten or cause death that the pro-assisted suicide group Compassion and Choices touts as “natural” and legal in all states.

THE TRUTH ABOUT VSED

Dr. Halpern wrote that his grandfather had trouble refusing food and water on his own. He started and stopped the process a few times.

Dr. Halpern was not surprised, writing that:

“ For people with a consistent desire to end their life, unencumbered by mental illness or immediate threats to their survival, the only alternative — to stop eating and drinking — is just too challenging. Hospice experts around the country had warned me that less than 20% of people who try to do so “succeed,” with most reversing course because of vicious thirst.” (Emphasis added)

Finally, Dr. Halpern’ write that his grandfather said “I just want it over with. Scott, do whatever you need to do.”

Dr. Halpern writes that he consulted his hospice team and began treating his grandfather’s thirst “as I treat other forms of discomfort — with morphine and lorazepam” (Emphasis added)

Even then, it took 12 long days for his grandfather to finally die.

The lessons that Dr. Halpern says he finally learned were that:

“despite many problems with physician-assisted dying, it may provide the most holistic relief possible for people who are not immediately dying, but rather are done living.”

And

stopping eating and drinking is largely impossible without knowledgeable family members and dedicated hospice care.” (All emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

Dr. Halpern obviously loved his grandfather and tried to meet his grandfather’s emotional and physical needs before telling him about the VSED option and eventually adding terminal sedation. And it seems that the imposed isolation because of potential Covid 19 infection was especially devastating for his grandfather.

But his justification for physician-assisted suicide as “the most holistic relief possible for people who are not immediately dying, but rather are done living” is chilling.

Unfortunately, that is an attitude seen all to often in medical professionals that has led to the expansion of some assisted suicide laws from terminal illness to non-terminal conditions like “completed life” and disabilities.

Both personally and professionally as a nurse, I know how difficult it can be on families when caring for a family member-especially an older relative-who says he or she wants to die.

But I also know that while we all can have sympathy for someone who says they want to die, the word “no” can be a powerful and loving response. The real answer is to help make living as good and meaningful as possible until death.

For example, I became the only caregiver when my elderly aunt developed diabetes and late-stage pancreatic cancer in 2000.

I went to doctor visits with her and went over the options with her. My aunt rejected chemo and radiation that had only a small chance of even slowing the cancer. She also refused hospice.

I offered to care for her in my home with my 15 year old daughter who also wanted to help. However my aunt felt it would cramp my daughter’s lifestyle so she decided to stay in her own home until she died.

So I helped her at home and purchased my first cell phone so that she could contact me at anytime. At that time, I was a single parent and worked full time nights in an ICU.

However, one day my aunt asked me about stopping her insulin to die faster. I told her how that could put her at risk for a heart attack or stroke from high blood sugar with no one there to help.

So she changed her mind and then even began opening up about her condition with others. She was stunned when people told her how inspiring she was and offered to help her in any way.

My aunt became happier than I had ever seen her.

Eventually, my aunt did accept hospice care at a facility she knew. I visited and called often. My aunt was physically comfortable and alert.

One day when my daughter and I went to visit her, we found that she had just died quietly in her sleep. The nurses had just stepped out to call me.

My daughter later wrote a beautiful essay about her first experience with death for her high school and received an A+. Her essay was later published on a nursing website.

In the end, causing or hastening death does not really solve anything but rather can be seen as an abandonment of the suffering person and a destroyer of the necessary trust we all must have in the ethics of our healthcare system.

We must never discriminate when it comes to helping anyone contemplating suicide.

.

Protecting Premature Babies and Abortion Survivors

On September 25, 2020, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on Protecting Vulnerable Newborn and Infant Children” that states:

“Every infant born alive, no matter the circumstances of his or her birth, has the same dignity and the same rights as every other individual and is entitled to the same protections under Federal law. “

This executive order came after Speaker NancyPelosi and House Democrats refused to allow a vote on the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” over 80 times.

ELLIOT AND EMERY

The new executive order protects not only babies who survive abortions but also those babies born prematurely like twins Emery and Elliot who were denied medical treatment after being born at 22 weeks and 5 days, despite a doctor’s prior assurances and despite the parents’ desperate pleas for treatment after the boys were born.

In an interview, the twins’ mother Amanda told me that the doctors predicted the babies would be stillborn or die shortly after birth because of their prematurity. However, the doctors were wrong: one of the boys lived for 45 minutes and the other for 2.5 hours.

Amanda and Shaun Finnefrock, the twins’ parents, have been active ever since their boys’ deaths in 2017 , advocating for “equal protection, equal treatment, the equal opportunity for survival — whether they survived an abortion or their mothers wanted them to live, like I did mine.”

They have been working on an Elliot and Emery’s Law for their home state of Ohio to protect other prematurely born babies.

Unfortunately, a 2015 University of Iowa study found that infants born at 22 weeks received potential lifesaving treatment at fewer than one in four hospitals. Almost all hospitals, the researchers found, will treat infants born at 25 weeks, but there is substantial variation among hospitals on whether they actively treat infants born at 23 or 24 weeks.

One obstacle is the fear that premature babies will be at an increased risk of disability as a result of the prematurity. But it is impossible to know at birth if the newborn will have disabilities because of prematurity. 

The good news is that studies are now finding that the majority of premature babies born at 22 weeks survive if given care.

CONCLUSION

When I started my nursing career over 50 years ago, babies more than 3 months premature routinely died because of breathing problems. But when ventilators and especially surfactant to protect the babies’ lungs were developed, “preemies” started to be saved at earlier and earlier stages with good results.

But most importantly, this progress was made because of the willingness of both parents and doctors to try to save these babies that made all the difference.

Think the Political and Cultural Divisions in Our Country are Bad? The Divisions in Medical Ethics Could Cost Your or a Loved One’s Life!

I wanted to be a nurse since I was 5. I was drawn to nursing not only because I wanted to help people but also because medical ethics standards were so high, especially in contrast to some of the corrupt business practices that I saw.

I graduated from a Catholic nursing school in 1969 and spent the next 50 years working mostly in intensive care but also in home health and hospice, oncology (cancer), kidney dialysis, volunteer work and on ethics committees.

I first noticed the change in medical ethics when the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 legalized abortion for the first three months of pregnancy. I was working in intensive care at the time and found that my fellow medical professionals who supported the abortion decision angrily rebuked those of us who were shocked that the first rule of medical ethics we were taught-First, Do No Harm-was eroding.

Then in 1982, my doctor husband and I were shocked by the Baby Doe case where the parents received a judge’s approval to let their newborn son with Down Syndrome die instead of repairing an easily correctable hole between the tube that leads from the throat to the stomach and the  tube that leads from the throat to the windpipe and lungs.  While lawyers were appealing his case and many parents (including my husband and me) wanted to adopt Baby Doe, the newborn starved and dehydrated to death without the desperately needed surgical repair.

My husband asked “What has happened to medical ethics??” but we both knew the answer: babies with Down Syndrome are often unwanted and aborted.

Five months after Baby Doe died, our third child Karen was born with Down Syndrome and a reparable heart defect but the heart doctor gave us a choice to “let” our baby die without surgery. We refused but my former trust in the medical system was shattered.

After I suddenly became a single parent in 1988, I had to return to a paid nursing job to support my three children but found a drastically different medical ethics system.

I found that during the 1970s, medical ethics began to evolve into the newer “bioethics”, even in Catholic hospitals.

This new bioethics has essentially four principles:

1. Respect for autonomy (the patient’s right to choose or refuse treatment)

2. Beneficence (the intent of doing good for the patient)

3. Non-maleficence (not causing harm)

4. Justice (“fair distribution of scarce resources, competing needs, rights and obligations, and potential conflicts with established legislation”) Emphasis added.

Unfortunately, those principles are malleable and then used to justify actions and laws that would have been unthinkable when I graduated from nursing school. That bioethics mindset changed not only medical and nursing education but also the principles that informed our work.

Even the Hippocratic Oath, the oldest and most widely known treatise on medical ethics that forbade actions such as abortion and euthanasia that medical students routinely took upon graduation, has now been revised or dropped at many medical schools.

SOME MEDICAL ETHICS DIVISIONS THAT CAN COST YOU OR A LOVED ONE’S LIFE

Abortion

The American Medical Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Nurses Association and other healthcare organization that used to condemn abortion are now supporting “abortion rights”.

Abortion on demand and taxpayer-funded has now been deemed a “civil right” by Planned Parenthood and many Democratic politicians throughout pregnancy to birth and even beyond. Alternatives to abortion such as free pregnancy tests, counseling, ultrasounds, maternity and baby clothes, diapers, car seats, bassinets, etc. are not options at Planned Parenthood but rather at non-profit crisis pregnancy centers.

As a parent of an unwed teenage daughter, I support these services and give thanks for my now 22 year old granddaughter.

Assisted suicide/euthanasia

In the early 1970s when I was a young ICU nurse, none of us medical professionals had even heard of a “living will”. There was a universal presumption for life and “quality of life” was something to be improved, not judged.

Nevertheless, sick people could and did refuse treatment and even check themselves out of the hospital against medical advice. When patients appeared to be dying, they or their families could agree to a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order. Treatments could be ethically refused when such measures were considered medically futile or excessively burdensome for the patient. But one thing we didn’t do was offer to withhold or withdraw medical care like tube or even spoon feedings to cause or hasten a patient’s death. And it was unthinkable that medical professionals could assist even a dying patient’s suicide.

Unknown to us, all this began to change after Louis Kutner, a Chicago lawyer, wrote a 1969 article in the Indiana Law Journal titled Due Process of Euthanasia: The Living Will, A Proposal” in 1969. (emphasis added).

By 1970, The Euthanasia Society of America (later renamed the Society for the Right to Die) distributed 60,000 living wills. In 1976, California passed the nation’s first “living will” law and in 1990, The US Congress passed the Patient Self-Determination Act that requires information to be given to patients about their rights under state laws governing advance directives (commonly called “living wills), including the right to accept or refuse medical or surgical treatments.

Now, 8 states and the District of Columbia have assisted suicide laws and Compassion and Choices, the largest advocacy group for medically assisted suicide, is using the Covid 19 pandemic to push for telehealth (the provision of healthcare remotely by means of telecommunications) for medically assisted suicide.

Infanticide

In my nursing school 50 years ago, we were taught medical ethics and one example used was the case of a newborn with Down Syndrome who needed life-saving surgery but whose parents refused, choosing to let him die. We were told that the law would protect such children from medical discrimination-even by the parents.

Now we have cases like Charlie Gard and Simon Crosier and others whose parents chose life for their babies with disabilities but were thwarted by doctors and courts.

Organ donation

When I started working in an ICU in 1971, I had questions about the brain death diagnosis for organ harvesting but was told not to worry because there were strict rules.

However and over subsequent years, I discovered that the rules for organ donation have been changing from brain death to other criteria including severe brain injury. There have even been proposals for “presumed consent” state laws where people would have to register an “opt-out” or be automatically presumed to consent to organ donation.

I do not have an organ donor card nor encourage others to sign one. Instead, I once offered to give a friend one of my kidneys as a living donor. Although I was not able to donate then, my family knows that I am willing to donate tissues like corneas, bone, etc. that can be ethically donated after natural death and will only agree to that donation

Conscience rights

Doctors and nurses used to be protected when asserting their conscience rights when refusing to deliberately hastening or causing a patient’s death.

Now, even that protection-which protects both patients and medical professionals-is under attack.

I discovered this personally several years ago when I was almost fired for refusing to increase a morphine drip “until he stops breathing” on a patient who didn’t stop breathing after his ventilator was removed.

CONCLUSION

The bottom line is that everyone must remain vigilant when they or a loved one becomes seriously ill, regardless of the hospital or institution. It is also important not to be afraid to ask questions.

There are also non-denominational, non-profit groups like the National Association of Pro-life Nurses, the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization and state and national pro-life organizations that have much useful information and resources for patients, families and the public.

The bottom line is that what we don’t know-or allowed to know-can indeed hurt us. We need to demand transparency and the highest ethical standards from our doctors and healthcare system before they can earn our trust.

And without a change in laws, policies and attitudes promoting deliberate death as an answer to human suffering, those of us medical professionals who believe we should never cause or hasten anyone’s death may become an endangered species-as well as our medically vulnerable patients.

Surprising New Test for Predicting Recovery after Coma

An April 29, 2020 Nature Journal article titled “Olfactory sniffing signals consciousness in unresponsive patients with brain injuries” found that nasal response to odors (sniffing) by 43 severely brain-injured patients predicted the likelihood of recovery and long-term survival.

According to Noam Sobel, PhD, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, one of the authors of the article and speaking to MedpageToday:

“If you sniff at an odorant, then it’s 100% you will regain consciousness to at least a minimal level, and you will likely live for years,” he told MedPage Today. “If you don’t sniff at an odorant, that is a bad sign, but not all hope is lost.” (Emphasis added)

Amazingly, he said that 37.5% of the unresponsive patients who didn’t sniff did eventually regain consciousness.

Dr. Giacino, PhD of Harvard Medical School who helped write the 2018 American Academy of Neurology guidance on disorders of consciousness told Medpage that this study is “a cleverly and carefully designed study that adds another much-needed tool to the consciousness-detection toolbox” even though “Between 30% and 60% of patients who sustain severe TBI (traumatic brain injury) have diminished or complete loss of smell due to the mechanics of the injury.”)

He also noted that, based on available evidence, about four in 10 patients who are deemed unconscious on bedside examination actually retain conscious awareness and that “A significant portion of these patients have covert consciousness — preserved cognitive function that cannot be expressed through speech or movement.” (Emphasis added)

WHY IS THIS STUDY SO IMPORTANT?

As Dr. Giacino said in the Medpage article:

“Published evidence from Canada in a large cohort of ICU patients with traumatic brain injury [TBI] found that approximately 70% of the deaths were due to withdrawal of treatment and in about 60% of cases, the decision to stop treatment was made within 72 hours,” he said. “It’s possible that a positive sniff test might delay this decision, which is important since we know that about 20% of TBI patients who survive what appears to be catastrophic injury recover to a functionally-independent level by 5 years post-injury.” (Emphasis added)

As we have seen over the past decades, whether or not a severely brain-injured person is or can become conscious has become a life and death matter. We have seen this in the cases of Nancy Cruzan, Terri Schiavo and Zach Dunlap even though, as I wrote in my August 18, 2018 blog, “Medical Experts Now Agree that Severely Brain-injured Patients are Often Misdiagnosed and May Recover”.

THIS ISSUE HAS BEEN CLOSE TO MY HEART FOR DECADES.

Just before Drs. Jennet and Plum invented the term “persistent vegetative state” in 1972,  I started working with many comatose patients as a young ICU nurse. Despite the skepticism of my colleagues, I talked to these patients as if they were awake because I believed it was worth doing, especially if it is true that hearing is the last sense to go. And why not do it to respect the patient as a person?

Then one day a 17 year old young man I will call “Mike” was admitted to our ICU in a coma and on a ventilator after a horrific car accident. The neurosurgeon who examined him predicted he would be dead by morning or become a “vegetable.” The doctor recommended that he not be resuscitated if his heart stopped.

But “Mike” didn’t die and almost 2 years later returned to our ICU fully recovered and told us that he would only respond to me at first and refused to respond to the doctor because he was angry when heard the doctor call him a “vegetable” when the doctor assumed ‘Mike” was comatose!

After that, every nurse was told to treat all our coma patients as if they were fully awake. We were rewarded when several other coma patients later woke up.

Over the years, I’ve written about several other patients like “Jack”“Katieand “Chris in comas or “persistent vegetative states” who regained full or some consciousness with verbal and physical stimulation. I have also recommended Jane Hoyt’s wonderful 1994 pamphlet “A Gentle Approach-Interacting with a Person who is Semi-Conscious  or Presumed in Coma” to help families and others stimulate consciousness. Personally, I have only seen one person who did not improve from the so-called “vegetative” state during the approximately two years I saw him.

CONCLUSION

But I never even thought to give any of my patients a sniff test. What a simple test for medical professionals to do!

And even though this study is small and needs to be replicated and validated, I believe it is further evidence that we need to reevaluate our current medical ethics and laws that allow life-sustaining treatment to be withdrawn from people with severe brain injuries on the premise that such brain-injured people have no “quality of life” and that such injuries are routinely hopeless.

And I hope that the sniff test can become a standard part of all medical evaluations of people with severe brain injuries.