Are Near-Death Experiences Real?

In a November 4, 2022 Medscape article titled “‘Lucid Dying’: EEG Backs Near-Death Experience During CPR”, researchers found brain wave recordings taken during in hospital cardiac arrest resuscitation (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) lends support to near-death experiences reported by some people who survived cardiac arrest.

In the Medscape article and according to lead investigator Sam Parnia, MD, PhD:

“These recalled experiences and brain wave changes may be the first signs of the so-called ‘near-death’ experience, and we have captured them for the first time in a large study,” lead investigator Sam Parnia, MD, PhD, with NYU Langone Health, says in a news release.

Identifying measurable electrical signs of lucid and heightened brain activity during CPR, coupled with stories of recalled near-death experiences, suggests that the human sense of self and consciousness, much like other biological body functions, may not stop completely around the time of death, Parnia adds.” (Emphasis added)”

According to the article, the researchers used “audiovisual testing of awareness with continuous real-time EEG and cerebral oxygenation monitoring” during the resuscitation.

While only 53 of the 567 patients survived (9.3%), 28 survivors completed interviews with 11 reporting “unique, lucid experiences during resuscitation.”

According to Dr. Parnia:

“Our understanding of death has gone through a seismic shift in the last few years,” and

“The biological discoveries around death and the postmortem period are completely different to the social conventions that we have about death. That is, we perceive of death as being the end, but actually what we’re finding is that brain cells don’t die immediately. They die very slowly over many hours of time,” Parnia noted. (Emphasis added)

Dr. Parnia presented the findings November 6 at a resuscitation science symposium at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2022 in Chicago.

The Medscape article also noted that not everyone agrees:

“Ajmal Zemmar, MD, PhD, with University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, noted that several studies, including this one, “challenge the traditional way that we think of death — that when the heart stops beating that’s when we die.”

The observation that during cardiac arrest and CPR, the brain waves are still normal for up to an hour is “fairly remarkable,” Zemmar told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.

“However, whether there is conscious perception or not is very hard to answer,” Zemmar cautioned. 

“This type of research tries to bridge the objective EEG recordings with the subjective description you get from the patient, but it’s hard to know when conscious perception stops,” he said.”

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

Over the decades, there have been many studies of near-death experiences and an October 31,2022 Medscape article by a nurse practitioner who describes how both negative and positive near-death experiences can impact an individual.

There is even a 2020 Frontiers in Neurology article The Neurology of Death and the Dying Brain: A Pictorial Essay” that explores some of the potential effects of issues like near-death experiences on the clinical determinations of death and organ donation.

But whether or not you believe in near-death experiences, there is one crucial lesson here: We must always treat any ill person-awake or presumed unconscious-with the respect due any person when we talk to and care for them.

I have often told the story of “Mike”, a young man catastrophically injured in a car crash whose doctor said the if he survived, he would be a “vegetable”. We nurses talked to Mike and eventually he started to respond to us but not the doctor.

Mike was shipped off to a nursing home but almost two year later, he returned to thank us and told us he was getting married. When we laughed and told him how he started to respond to us but not the doctor, Mike became very serious and said he would not respond to the doctor because he heard the doctor call him a “vegetable”!

CONCLUSION

But my favorite story is about working on a medical floor caring for an elderly gentleman who was dying and showed no awareness of his 4 adult sons sitting at his bedside.

I encouraged his sons to talk to him, but they said they didn’t know what to say and didn’t think he could hear anyway.

I took the man’s hand and noticed that it was strong and callused like a man who worked with his hands.

I asked the sons was their dad did and they all started relating stories about his love of farming and then told funny stories about how their dad reacted to their antics growing up.

Pretty soon, all the sons were laughing and telling their dad how much they appreciated him as I quietly left at the end of my shift.

When I returned the next day for my next shift, I was not surprised to learn that the dad had peacefully died during the night with his sons at his side. But I was surprised to find that one of the sons stayed until I came back and wanted to talk to me.

“Lady, you were right! He did hear us!” he told me.

It turned out that the sons had continued talking to their dad after I left and when they said they were ready to leave, their dad opened his eyes, looked at them, smiled and then closed his eyes and peacefully died.

What a wonderful memory for his sons-and me!

New Study Shows Stem Cells and Prenatal Surgery Can Help Babies with Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord do not develop completely in an unborn baby. The resulting opening in the spine leaves  the spinal cord and nerves exposed.

That exposure can cause damage leading to paralysis or mobility problems, a buildup of excess fluid on the brain, and infection.

Spina Bifida can sometimes be diagnosed during pregnancy by a blood test, ultrasound or amniocentesis. Sometimes the diagnosis is not made until after birth.

Before the 1990s, treatment for severe spina bifida involved surgery on the baby after birth to close the defect but the procedure could not repair already damaged nerves.

In 1997, the first prenatal surgery was done and in 2011 and 2020, major studies showed that prenatal repair resulted in better outcomes.

But now, in an October 10, 2022 Medscape article Stem Cell Treatment Helps Babies with Spina Bifida”,  a clinical trial at UC Davis Health is showing that a new stem cell treatment-given while the unborn baby is still in the womb-appears to be effective at reversing paralysis and other problems caused by spina bifida in newborns.” (Emphasis added)

But, as the article rightly states,:

“The researchers have expressed caution about drawing full conclusions so far, but the treatment appears promising. They plan to release information about how the babies are doing at developmental milestones throughout the study process.” (Emphasis added)

The clinical trial started in 2021 and involves myelomeningocele, “a severe form of spina bifida where the spinal canal doesn’t fully close before birth, leading to spinal cord damage.”

According to the article, “So far, three babies have received the unique treatment, which is delivered while a fetus is still in the womb.”

DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

Today, prenatal testing is routinely offered to pregnant women, but abortion is too often offered or recommended when prenatal testing shows a possible adverse diagnosis like spina bifida.

According to the Spina Bifida Association, the condition can often be diagnosed before birth:

“There are 3 tests, but, it is important to remember that no medical test is perfect and the results are not always 100 percent accurate. Spina Bifida can be detected in utero by one of the following tests: 

  1. A blood test during the 16th to 18th weeks of pregnancy. This is called the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP screening test). This test is higher in about 75–80 % of women who have a fetus with Spina Bifida.
  2. An ultrasound of the fetus. This is also called a sonogram and can show signs of Spina Bifida such as the open spine.
  3. A test where a small amount of the fluid from the womb is taken through a thin needle. This is called maternal amniocentesis and can be used to look at protein levels.”

Ironically, one of the big health institutions in my city that provides “Pregnancy termination for women choosing to terminate a pregnancy due to fetal abnormalities or maternal health conditions” also has a Fetal Care Center that uses prenatal surgery not only for spina bifida but also for other conditions such as amniotic band syndrome, twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, airway/trachea obstruction and blocked urinary tract, etc.!

CONCLUSION

When I had my last child in 1985, I was offered but refused amniocentesis. In my case, it was offered because I had previously had Karen, my daughter with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect.

I knew that both procedures carry a risk of miscarriage and that I would never abort a child because of a disability. I also knew that such procedures can only test for some of the thousands of known “birth defects” and I personally met families who were erroneously told that their child had a defect but were born healthy. I also knew how to find help if any of my children-born or unborn-had a possible health a problem.

Some people asked if I was brave or stupid. I told them that I was just well-informed after researching both amniocentesis and CVS (Chorionic villus sampling)

(Today, we have routine non-invasive prenatal screening blood tests called NIPTs but the Federal Food and Drug Administration issued an alert on April 19, 2022 “Genetic Non-Invasive Prenatal Screening Tests May Have False Results: FDA Safety Communication:

“While health care providers widely use NIPS tests, none have yet been authorized, cleared, or approved by the FDA. The accuracy and performance of NIPS tests have not been evaluated by the FDA and these tests can give false results, such as reporting a genetic abnormality when the fetus does not actually have one.” (Emphasis added))

But most importantly, I told them that my daughter Karen was a blessing who helped change many lives for the better during her tragically short life-especially mine.

After Karen died, I became a volunteer babysitter for many children with a range of disabilities and their parents also told me how they became better people because of their child with a disability.

Life must be our highest priority!

PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU AGREE TO BE AN ORGAN DONOR

Whether we are renewing our driver’s licenses, watching the TV news or just picking up a newspaper, it’s impossible to miss the campaign to persuade us to sign an organ donation card such as this one. We see story after story about how grieving relatives have been comforted by donating a loved one’s organs after a tragic death, and how grateful the people are whose lives have been changed by the “gift of life”.

But are ethical lines being crossed in the zeal to obtain organs to transplant?

While most people presume that organs can be removed and transplanted only after “all efforts to save your life have been exhausted” and brain death has been determined, that presumption is no longer necessarily true.

Now, organ donation can occur with a person who is in a coma and considered close to death but who does not meet the criteria for brain death. In those cases, a organ donor card or relatives who have agreed to withdraw a ventilator (a machine that supports or maintains breathing) and have the person’s organs removed for transplant if or when when the heartbeat stops. This was called DCD or donation after cardiac death until some doctors found that the stopped heart could be successfully restarted it in the patient receiving the transplant!

Now, that ethically questionable procedure is called donation after circulatory death (also DCD) since circulation stops when the heart stops.

If circulation does not stop within 60 minutes, the organs are deemed to be too damaged for transplant and the patient dies without donating organs.

IT GETS WORSE

Last month a September 29, 2022 article in Medpage titled “No Brain Death? No Problem. New Organ Transplant Protocol Stirs Debate-Is it ethical to pull the plug in patients who aren’t brain dead, then restart their hearts?” reported on a new procedure to get more organs:

“With little attention or debate, transplant surgeons across the country are experimenting with a kind of partial resurrection: They’re allowing terminal patients to die, then restarting their hearts while clamping off blood flow to their brains. The procedure allows the surgeons to inspect and remove organs from warm bodies with heartbeats.” (Emphasis added)

The article also said that this new procedure is being criticized by doctors like Dr. Wes Ely and the American College of Physicians that warned the procedure raises “profound ethical questions regarding determination of death, respect for patients, and the ethical obligation to do what is best.”

MY JOURNEY TO DISCOVER THE FACTS ABOUT BRAIN DEATH

Back in the early 1970s when I was a young intensive care unit nurse, no one questioned the innovation of brain death organ transplantation. We trusted the experts and the prevailing medical ethic of the utmost respect for every human life.

However, as the doctors diagnosed brain death in our unit and I cared for these patients until their organs were harvested, I started to ask questions. For example, doctors assured us that these patients would die anyway within two weeks even if the ventilator to support breathing was continued, but no studies were cited. I also asked if we were making a brain-injured patient worse by removing the ventilator for up to 10 minutes for the apnea test to see if he or she would breathe since we knew that brain cells start to die when breathing stops for more than a few minutes.

I was told that greater minds than mine had it all figured out so I shouldn’t worry.

It was awhile before I realized that these doctors did not have the answers themselves and that my questions were valid.

I also discovered that some mothers declared “brain dead” were able to gestate their babies for weeks or months to a successful delivery before their ventilators were removed and that there were cases of “brain dead” people like Jahi McMath living and maturing for years after a diagnosis of brain death or even recovering like Zack Dunlap

If the legal definition of brain death is truly “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem”, these cases would seem to be impossible.

PRESUMED CONSENT AND LAW

Another problem is “presumed consent” which is the assumption that everyone is willing to donate his/her organs unless there is evidence that they would not want to donate. Illinois narrowly avoided a “presumed consent” statute a few years ago where people who didn’t want to donate had to file an opt out document with the Secretary of State.

Some countries already have “presumed consent” laws, most recently in England that states:

“it will be considered that you agree to become an organ donor when you die, if:

  • you are over 18;
  • you have not opted out;
  • you are not in an excluded group

Even more horrifying, there have also been proposals to even link organ donation and assisted suicide as “a potential solution to the organ scarcity problem”. Countries like Belgium and the Netherlands already allow this.

CONCLUSION

Organ donation can truly be “the gift of life”, and innovations such as adult stem cells and the donation of a kidney or part of a liver by a living person generally pose no ethical problems and hold much promise to increasingly meet the needs of people with failing organs. I have a grandson whose life was saved by a stem cell transplant and another relative who has had 2 kidney transplants.

Personally, I have offered to be a living donor for friends and my family knows that I am willing to donate tissues like bone, corneas, skin, etc. that can be donated after natural death.

Everyone can make his or her own decision about organ donation but it is crucial that we all have the necessary information to make an informed decision..

What Will It Take? Part Two -Does Abortion Really Help Women?

In August 2019, I wrote a blog titled “Pro-abortion Desperation in Missouri” about the last Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Missouri losing its license because of numerous health and safety violations but continued to operate only because of several temporary injunctions by a judge.

The clinic finally closed only after the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision returned abortion law to the states.

Unfortunately, the pro-abortion choice response to that decision has resulted in terrible turmoil and animosity.

Now the attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches with few arrests and prosecution of peaceful pro-life demonstrators are continuing unabated.

To try to portray abortion as a positive empowerment for women, Planned Parenthood has tried the “Share Your Story” and “Shout Your Abortion— Normalizing abortion and elevating safe paths to access, regardless of legality” campaigns to increase abortion support and activism. (The National Association of Pro-life Nurses countered with “Shout out Your Adoption!“, pointing out that “Adoption is a wonderful act of love and one of the best alternatives to abortion.”)

Now Planned Parenthood has another strategy for increasing abortion support and activism originally published in MS Magazine on 4/12/2022 and titled “A Firsthand View of the Crisis Ahead for Abortion Rights—and What We Should Do About It”

The article states:

“Since it seems we can no longer rely on the courts to protect these rights, our only solution is to pass a new federal law that will protect abortion rights in all 50 states. The Senate’s recent failure to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act makes it clear that we will need a greater pro-choice majority than we have today to pass this new legislation.

This will not happen in one election cycle, and it will take a commitment of time, energy and resources beyond that which we have been expending to date. We have to get all the voters who support reproductive rights registered and encourage them to vote. We have to elect representatives at all levels of government who will protect our reproductive rights that are currently under attack. (Emphasis in original)

THE TRAUMA OF ABORTION

And as a nurse, I have seen the mental and/or physical trauma after abortion in both friends and patients.

For example, one friend felt she had to have an abortion because the doctor said her unborn baby had little or no brain, which may not have even been true according to the doctor I knew who read the ultrasound. That doctor was devastated to learn that an abortion was done.

Knowing that I was pro-life, my friend said she didn’t want to talk about the traumatic 28 hour induced abortion but, after 5 years, she called me and said she needed to know how the hospital disposed of the body. She also revealed that she secretly hung an ornament for that baby on the Christmas tree every year.

And I wrote a November 2016 blog “Why Talk About Abortion” about one of my elderly hospice patients who told me that she was afraid to die because of a secret abortion she had 60 years ago because she believed that abortion was an “unforgivable sin” and she would go to hell. She also felt her now swollen belly due to her terminal condition was God punishing her for the abortion.

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 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 comfortably and apparently in her sleep about a week later.

SOME RESOURCES TO HELP WOMEN WHO ARE CONSIDERING ABORTION OR OTHERS WHO ARE HURTING AFTER AN ABORTION

  1. Support After Abortion “aspires to shift the conversation to compassion and support for those impacted by abortion” (including men)
  2. Project Rachel for women and even including how to talk to a friend who has had an abortion
  3. Birthright An organization with many resources and help
  4.  American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists states it “Promotes Dignity for BOTH our Patients!”
  5. There are also organizations like Prenatal Partners for Life and Be Not Afraid that provide support, information, resources and encouragement for carrying to term with an adverse prenatal diagnosis.

6. CareNet helps find a crisis pregnancy center in your area

CONCLUSION

Serrin M. Foster of Feminists for Life in her 2018 National Review article Women Deserve Better than Abortion: The Ultimate Exploitation of Women” perhaps said it best:

 “The reality is that there is no such thing as a safe abortion. Few unborn human beings escape a violent death, but what is underreported is the mortality of healthy pregnant women killed during or as a result of abortion.

When we know how much a woman grieves from reproductive loss through miscarriage or stillbirth, who would choose abortion? According to the Guttmacher Institute, those who have abortions come primarily from the poorest among us (75 percent), women of color (61 percent), women pursuing post-secondary degrees that would lift them out of poverty (66 percent), and mothers who already have dependents (59 percent). Half of all abortions are performed on a woman who has already had one or more abortions, proving that abortion solves nothing. Abortion isn’t empowering, and it’s not something to celebrate. Abortion is a symptom of, not a solution to, the problems faced overwhelmingly by women who don’t have what they need and deserve. Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women deserve better.”

And ALL of us deserve a better and more peaceful society!

What Will It Take?

I recently wrote a blog titled “The War Against Crisis Pregnancy Centers Escalates” about the attacks on crisis pregnancy centers after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision returning abortion law to the individual states was outrageously leaked.

 Now that the final Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision  is public, the violence against crisis pregnancy centers and churches has continued with few if any arrests.

However, now even pro-life individuals have been targeted.

For example, an 84-year-old pro-life volunteer was shot on Sept. 20 while going door-to-door in her community to talk about a ballot measure concerning abortion in Michigan. Thankfully, she is expected to recover.

Even more disturbing and over the last weekend, was the news that the FBI raided the home of a pro-life advocate Mark Houck and arrested him in front of his 7 crying children for the alleged crime of “Assaulting a Reproductive Health Care Provider”.

According to the National Review, Mrs. Houck “described an incident in which her husband ‘shoved’ a pro-abortion man away from his 12-year-old son after the man entered ‘the son’s personal space’ and refused to stop hurling ‘crude… inappropriate and disgusting’ comments at the Houcks.” The man did not sustain any injuries but did try to sue Houck. The charges were later dismissed.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO RESOLVE THE NATIONAL TURMOIL SURROUNDING ABORTION?

I was a young intensive care unit nurse when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision came down in 1973. Like most people I knew, I was surprised and shocked when abortion was legalized. However, I quickly found that my medical colleagues were split on the issue, and I was vehemently attacked for being against abortion. I was even asked what I would do if I was raped and pregnant. When I replied that I would not have an abortion and would probably release the baby for adoption, I was ridiculed. Our formerly cohesive unit began to fray.

But I was professionally offended by the pro-life argument that legalizing abortion would lead to the legalization of infanticide and euthanasia.  

It was one thing to deny the truth with an early and unobserved unborn baby, but it was quite another to imagine any doctor or nurse looking at a born human being and killing him or her.

But I was wrong.

As I wrote in my 2019 blog “Roe v. Wade’s Disastrous Impact on Medical Ethics”, personal and professional experiences opened my eyes to the truth.

I have seen the push for “choice” to expand to abortion for any reason up to birth, infanticide and medical discrimination against people with disabilities, including my own daughter who had Down Syndrome.

I wasn’t long until “choice” also became the heart of the “right to die” movement to include to include legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia, withdrawal of feedings from people with serious brain injuries whose “choice” was exercised by family members or doctors and even the voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (called VSED by the pro-death-choice group Compassion and Choices).

With VSED, Compassion & Choices maintains that:

“Many people struggle with the unrelieved suffering of a chronic or incurable and progressive disorder. Others may decide that they are simply “done” after eight or nine decades of a fully lived life. Free will and the ability to choose are cornerstones of maintaining one’s quality of life and dignity in their final days”.  (All emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

I have long preferred the term “respect life” to “anti-abortion” because obviously we should respect the lives of all people at any age or stage of development.

But this doesn’t mean anger or vilification of others.

Over the years I have written, spoken, debated, etc. people who do not agree with the respect life philosophy, but I never became angry.

I also found that listening to and not judging others-especially people in crisis-was crucially important.

For example and many years ago, I ran into an acquaintance I will call Diane and I congratulated her on her obvious pregnancy.

I was stunned when she replied, “Don’t congratulate me yet. I might not be pregnant.”

Diane, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, went on to explain that she was awaiting the results of an amniocentesis and said, “I know what you went through with your daughter but I can’t give up my life like that. If this (the baby) is Downs, it’s gone.”

I reassured her that the test would almost surely show that her baby was ok, but I added that if the results were not what she expected I would like her to call me. I promised that I would give her any help she needed throughout the pregnancy and that my husband and I or even another couple would be willing to adopt her baby. She was surprised, as I later found out, both by my reaction and the information about adoption.

Diane gave birth to a healthy baby girl a few months later and ran up to me to apologize for her comments, saying that she probably would not have had an abortion anyway. But I understood her terrible anxiety. Society itself seems to have a rather schizophrenic attitude towards children with disabilities. Special Olympics is considered inspirational but Down’s Syndrome is too often seen as a tragedy.

Whether it is abortion or legalized assisted suicide, we must be prepared to help desperate people either personally and/or referring them to a crisis pregnancy center or suicide hotline.

Every life deserves to be respected.

Pain, Choice, and Canada’s now “most permissive euthanasia legislation in the world”

In his excellent July 10, 2022 blog, Alex Schadenberg, chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, reveals that now “Canada’s medical assistance in dying (Maid) law is the most permissive euthanasia legislation in the world”.

He says “Canada’s MAiD law currently allows suicide facilitation for persons with disabilities and is on track to expand in March 2023 to those living with mental illness. “ (Emphasis added)

How did assisted suicide/euthanasia laws get so far and so fast down the proverbial “slippery slope”?

In my December, 2016 blog “Pain and ‘Choice’”,  I wrote about how I saw the warning signs when I was a new nurse in 1969.

Here is my blog:

PAIN AND “CHOICE”

December 15, 2016 nancyvalko 

It was 1969 and I was fresh out of nursing school when I was assigned to a patient I will call “Jenny” who was thirty-two years old and imminently dying of cancer. She was curled up in her bed, sobbing in pain and even moaned “just kill me.” The small dose of Demerol I injected into her almost non-existent buttocks every four hours “as needed” was not helping. I reassured Jenny that I was immediately calling the doctor and we would get her more comfortable.

However, I was shocked when the doctor said no to increasing or changing her medication. He said that he didn’t want her to get addicted! I told him exactly what Jenny said and also that she was obviously very close to death so addiction would not be a problem. The doctor repeated his no and hung up on me.

I went to my head nurse and told her what happened, but she told me I had to follow the doctor’s order. Eventually, I went up the chain of command to the assistant director of nursing and finally the Chief of the Medical Staff. The verdict came down and I was threatened with immediate termination if I gave the next dose of Demerol even a few minutes early.

I refused to abandon Jenny so for the next two days before she died, I spent my time after my shift sitting with her for hours until she fell asleep. I gave her whatever food or drink she wanted. I stroked her back, held her hand and told stories and jokes. I asked her about her life. I did everything I could think of to distract her from her pain and make her feel better. It seemed to help, although not enough for me. I cried for Jenny all the way home.

And I was angry. I resolved that I would never watch a patient needlessly suffer like that again.

So, I educated myself by reading everything I could about pain medicine and side effects. I also pestered doctors who were great at pain control to teach me about the management, precautions, and rationale of effective pain management. I used that knowledge to advocate and help manage my patients’ pain as well as educating others.

I was delighted to see pain management become a major priority in healthcare and even called “the fifth vital sign” to be evaluated on every patient. I saw new developments like nerve blocks, new drugs, and regimens to control pain and other techniques evolve as well as other measures to control symptoms like nausea, breathlessness, and anxiety. Now we also have nutritional, psychological, and other support for people with terminal illnesses and their families.

Best of all was that I never again saw another patient suffer like Jenny despite my working in areas such as ICU, oncology (cancer) and hospice.

TWENTY-FOUR YEARS LATER

When my oldest daughter was 14, she attended a public high school where the science teacher unexpectedly started praising the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his public campaign for legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Kevorkian’s first reported victim was Janet Adkins, a 54 year old woman with Alzheimer’s in no reported physical pain who was hooked up to a  “death machine” in the back of a rusty van. Mrs. Adkins was just the first of as many as 130 Kevorkian victims, many if not most of whom were later found to have no terminal illness. Kevorkian escaped prosecution-even after he harvested a victim’s organs and offered them for transplant-until the TV show 60 Minutes aired Kevorkian’s videotape showing him giving a lethal injection to a man with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Shockingly, Kevorkian served only 8 years in prison before he was paroled and eventually became a media celebrity peddling assisted suicide and euthanasia.

My daughter, who never before showed any interest in my speaking and writing on the topic of assisted suicide, now stood up and peppered her teacher with facts about Kevorkian. The teacher asked her where she learned her information and she answered, “From my mom who is a cancer nurse”.

Sarcastically, he responded “So your mother wants to watch people suffer?” My daughter responded “No, my mother just refuses to kill her patients!” End of discussion.

CONCLUSION

But not the end of the story. Tragically, we now have legalized assisted suicide in several states and serious efforts  to expand it to include people without physical pain but with conditions like Alzheimer’smental illness or other psychological distress as well as even children.

As Wesley Smith recently and astutely observed:

 “Moreover, the statistics from Oregon and elsewhere show that very few people commit assisted suicide due to physical suffering. Rather, the issues are predominately existential, such as fears of being a burden or losing dignity

The public is being duped by groups like Compassion and Choices that campaign for legalized assisted suicide on the alleged basis of strict criteria for mentally competent, terminally ill adults in unbearable physical pain to freely choose physician-assisted suicide with (unenforceable) “safeguards”.

The emerging situation throughout the world is more like Kevorkian’s dream of unfettered and universal access to medical termination of the lives of “expendable” people. How much easier is that when people with expensive mental health problems, serious illnesses or disabilities can be encouraged to “choose” to be killed?

WHILE PRO-ABORTION VIOLENCE AGAINST PRO-LIFE CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTERS INCREASES, THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION SAYS CONSCIENCE RIGHTS REGARDING ABORTION MAY BECOME “INDEFENSIBLE”

We have been witnessing the rage and misinformation dividing Americans after the outrageous leak of Supreme Court Justice Alito’s draft decision on the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization returning abortion laws back to the states since it was reported on May 2, 2022.

Many pro-life crisis pregnancy centers are now being attacked with paint, firebombs, etc. by pro-abortion groups like “Jane’s Revenge”. But as Nicole Ault of the Wall Street Journal points out:

“No woman is forced to go to one of these clinics, where more than 10,000 licensed medical professionals worked or volunteered as of 2019, according to the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute. In addition to providing ultrasounds and pregnancy tests, the centers help women get supplies and counseling.”

But then, on June 8, 2022 and during the night, U.S. Marshals protecting the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh from illegally picketing protesters apprehended an individual with a gun and a knife who readily admitted that he was there to kill Justice Kavanaugh in response to the leaked draft opinion that indicated the Court might be preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Now, Jane’s Revenge has issued a call to ‘riot’ against the Supreme Court if it does overturn Roe v. Wade.

Their flyer “DC CALL TO ACTION NIGHT OF RAGE” declares “THE NIGHT SCOTUS OVERTURNS ROE V. WADE HIT THE STREETS YOU SAID YOU’D RIOT. TO OUR OPPRESSORS: IF ABORTIONS AREN’T SAFE, YOU’RE NOT EITHER.’ JANE’S REVENGE.” (Emphasis added)

THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION ON ABORTION

On March 8, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO), the international body responsible for public health and part of the United Nations involved in many aspects of health policy and planning, issued its’ “Abortion Care Guideline.

In the Guideline, WHO recommends “the full decriminalization of abortion” and calls conscientious objection to abortion a major obstacle to making abortion freely available.

According to the WHO recommendations:

“If it proves impossible to regulate conscientious objection in a way that respects, protects and fulfils abortion seekers’ rights, conscientious objection in abortion provision may become indefensible.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

Personally, when my daughter Karen, born with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect, died at 5 1/2 months in 1983, my grief was substantially lessened by donating Karen’s clothes, formula, etc. to our local Birthright organization, one of the many pro-life organizations providing help to pregnant women.

Since Karen and as a nurse and mother, I have been able to help advocate for distressed mothers and their families, children and adults with disabilities and, best of all, my own daughter who found she was pregnant in her first year of college and gave birth to my first grandchild.

And I know that the WHO is absolutely wrong in calling conscientious objections to abortion “indefensible”. Conscience rights are critically important for all of us, whether or not we are healthcare providers.

As I wrote in my December 13, 2019 blog “Are We Witnessing the Coming Extinction of Conscience Rights?”:

“With the current support of a predominantly sympathetic mainstream media, well-funded and politically active groups like Planned Parenthood and Compassion&Choices are also putting pro-life health care providers and their supportive institutions in grave danger of becoming an endangered species in law, politics and health care.

If this happens, our health care system will radically change-especially for the unborn, the elderly and people with disabilities.

When dedicated and compassionate people are denied entry into the health care professions because they refuse to deliberately end lives, harassed and/or fired when they refuse to participate in a deliberate death decision and efforts to make religiously based healthcare institutions to allow lives to be ended by “choice”, will any of us ever be able to trust our healthcare system when we need it the most?” (Emphasis added)

THE TRAGIC DIVIDE ON THE ROE V. WADE ABORTION DECISION

It has been almost physically painful to watch the tidal wave of rage and misinformation dividing Americans after the outrageous leak of Supreme Court Justice Alito’s draft decision on the Dobbs V Jackson Women’s Health Organization returning abortion laws back to the states.

But this is not the first time I saw such division about abortion.

I was a young intensive care unit nurse when the Roe v. Wade decision came down in 1973. Like most people I knew, I was surprised and shocked when abortion was legalized.

However, I quickly found that my medical colleagues were split on the issue, and I was vehemently attacked for being against abortion. I was even asked what I would do if I was raped and pregnant. When I replied that I would not have an abortion and would probably release the baby for adoption, I was ridiculed. Our formerly cohesive unit began to fray.

But I was professionally offended by the pro-life argument that legalizing abortion would lead to the legalization of infanticide and euthanasia.  

It was one thing to deny the truth with an early and unobserved unborn baby, but it was quite another to imagine any doctor or nurse looking at a born human being and killing him or her.

How wrong I was!

As I wrote in my 2019 blog “Roe v. Wade’s Disastrous Impact on Medical Ethics” , it wasn’t until the 1982 Baby Doe case and my daughter Karen’s birth and death opened my eyes and changed my life.

HARD TRUTHS ABOUT ABORTION

Because I am a nurse and mother, I have personally learned some hard truths about abortion and the abortion industry. Here are some of my experiences.

A young relative came to me after visiting a Planned Parenthood clinic for a suspected sexually transmitted disease. She said the clinic told her that she didn’t have an infection but the girl continued to get worse-and scared.

I arranged for her to see my own pro-life ob-gyn who discovered that the infection had damaged her cervix so much that part of it had to be removed and, even worse, she would probably have to have her cervix sewn shut until delivery if she became pregnant in the future.

Learning that Planned Parenthood had apparently missed the diagnosis, my doctor never charged for his services.

KNOWLEDGE IS ESSENTIAL

I will never forget the Christmas day my 18-year-old daughter told me she was pregnant.

We talked for hours, and I told her that I would support any decision she would make-except abortion.

She laughed and told me that abortion was not an option because she “knew too much”, especially from the prenatal pamphlets I showed my children with each pregnancy. They all were excited about how their brother or sister was developing and asked almost daily what their unborn sibling was now able to do.

My first grandchild is now 23 years old and has a loving family who allows us to be part of her life.

And we know even more now about pregnancy, as I wrote in my 2019 blog “An Amazing Video of a Living, First Trimester Unborn Baby” . The video shows an approximately 8 week old unborn baby moving its’ tiny head and limbs remarkably like a newborn baby. Unfortunately, the video was both heartbreaking and beautiful since this little one was developing outside the mother’s womb (ectopic pregnancy) and had to be removed surgically. He or she could not survive for long but this recognizable baby was obviously not a “clump of cells”!

POST-ABORTION TRAUMA IS REAL

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 a few 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 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 forgiveness and God’s love. 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.

I wasn’t surprised when Rose died quietly and comfortably in her sleep about a week later.

OFFERING HELPFUL INFORMATION IS CRUCIAL

In 1989, I had just started working as an RN on an oncology (cancer) unit when we discovered that one of our patients had CMV (Cytomegalovirus).

One of our nurses was pregnant and tested positive for the virus. Her doctor told her how her baby could die or have terrible birth defects from the virus and he recommended an abortion.

“Sue” (not her real name) was frantic. She had two little girls and worked full time. She said she didn’t know how she could manage a child with serious birth defects.

I told her that it was usually impossible to know if or how much a baby might be impaired before birth. I also told her about my Karen who was born with Down Syndrome and a critical heart defect and died at 5 months. I told her that I treasured the time I had with her and later babysat children with a range of physical and mental disabilities.

Most importantly, I also told her that I would be there to help her and her baby.

“Sue” decided against abortion and told the other nurses what I said.

The other nurses were furious with me and said if the baby was born with so much as an extra toe, they would never talk to me again.

But slowly, the other nurses came around and also offered to help Sue and her baby.

In the end, we all celebrated when Sue had her first son who was perfectly healthy!

CONCLUSION

Many people don’t understand is that being pro-life isn’t just being against abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. What being pro-life really means is truly caring about all lives, born or unborn.

What I have found most helpful is a  sincere interest and willingness to help when encountering people struggling with an abortion decision for themselves or someone close to them.

Why talk about abortion? Because we never know who may need to hear the truth and we need to help heal the tragic divide in our nation by our example.

Baby Tinslee Lewis Finally Goes Home after Beating the Texas 10 Day Rule

In 2019, Baby Tinslee Lewis was born prematurely with a rare heart condition called Ebstein’s anomaly and underdeveloped lungs at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Texas. She needed life support, including a ventilator to help her breathe.

The medical team began talking to her family soon after her birth about possible end-of-life care. Eventually, the medical team met with the hospital’s ethics committee and the committee agreed that it would be inappropriate to continue to treat Tinslee.

As HALO (Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization) explains, this met the Texas 10-day rule for removing Tinslee’s life-sustaining treatment:

TEXAS 10-DAY RULE
  The 10-Day Rule is a part of the Texas Advance Directives Act (§166.046). Basically, this “rule” allows a hospital ethics committee to decide to remove life-sustaining treatment from a patient against the patient’s or family’s wishes. The patient or patient’s decision maker (usually family)    most likely, not professionals and are generally ill-equipped to defend their position. The committee follows with a written notice of its decision that life-sustaining treatment is “inappropriate.” Receipt of this notice marks the start of a ten-day countdown. “The physician and the health care facility,” states the law, “are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment after the 10th day after the written decision.” Finding another facility that will honor the patient’s/family’s treatment wishes and transferring the patient—at the expense of the patient and/or family—are monumental tasks which often prove impossible within the ten-day window.

The family was told they had until Nov. 22 to find a new hospital willing to take Baby Tinslee.

However, Tinslee’s family fought for her and they won a last-minute reprieve from a judge to stop the Texas hospital from taking the now 9 month old off life support against their wishes.

The hospital spokesperson stood by the hospital’s decision to end life support, saying:

“In the last several months, it’s become apparent her health will never improve,” and

“Despite our best efforts, her condition is irreversible, meaning it will never be cured or eliminated.” and

“Without life-sustaining treatment, her condition is fatal. But more importantly, her physicians believe she is suffering.

In July 2020, the hospital again wanted to take Tinslee off life support while Tinslee’s mother asked for another specialist to see her. The specialist recommended a tracheostomy to help her.

With help from individuals, lawyers and groups like Texas Right to Life and HALO (Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization), Tinslee’s case was eventually taken all the way up to the Texas Supreme Court. Finally, this court ruled to keep Tinslee on life support. The US Supreme Court upheld the Texas courts decision.

Now, Tinslee has so steadily improved (see the pictures) that the hospital released her to go home to her family. She is now on a portable ventilator with a tracheostomy and home health care.

Texas Right to Life states:

“Tinslee’s success story shows that in the absence of an anti-Life countdown, families and hospitals can work together for the benefit of the patient. Tinslee has received excellent care from Cook Children’s Medical Center. It is with their efforts that Tinslee will now transition to home health care. Meanwhile, Texas Right to Life is committed to doubling our efforts in the Capitol and with our full-time patient advocacy team to combat and stop the deadly 10-Day Rule from destroying the lives of more vulnerable patients like Tinslee. “

CONCLUSION  

I have been writing about medical futility problems for decades, especially about Simon’s Law to protect medically vulnerable children and their parents from medical discrimination, including my own daughter.

We need to send a strong message that medical discrimination against medically vulnerable or disabled people of any age based on subjective judgements of “medical futility” and/or predicted “poor quality of life” is wrong.

A DISTURBING BUT IMPORTANT LOOK INTO THE TRAINING OF DOCTORS FOR MEDICALLY ASSISTED SUICIDE

Most people seem to assume that medically assisted suicide is a simple matter of getting a doctor to prescribe a lethal overdose, taking a pill or two and then go to sleep and die. Many seem unaware that a second consulting doctor (or other healthcare provider in some states) must agree.

This view, abetted by polls, well-funded groups like Compassion and Choices as well as a mostly sympathetic mainstream media, is disastrously wrong.

A stunning February 2022 article in Medscape for healthcare providers titled  “Medical Aid in Dying: Your Clinical Guide and Practice Points” exposes some very real problems with medically assisted suicide that are largely hidden from the general public.

But while citing a Gallup poll showing that 74% of the American public support legalizing “medical aid in dying” (their preferred term for medically assisted suicide) as well as 58% of doctors, the article admits that:

“Study data, however, have revealed a discrepancy between attitudes about legalization and willingness to practice. Only 15% to 22% of physicians in favor of legal access to medical aid in dying would be willing or likely to provide such assistance” (Emphasis added)

And citing Oregon, the first state to legalize assisted suicide, the article claims that:

“Pain management and hospice use have improved in Oregon since passage of the Death with Dignity Act” but also that “Opponents of medical aid in dying express concern that in Oregon, more than 70% of patients who elect medical aid in dying are elderly and have cancer–both being commonly associated with depression–but fewer than 5% are referred for psychiatric evaluation”. (Emphasis added)

Tellingly, the article recognizes the toll assisted suicide can take on the medical professionals involved:

“A Mental Note for the Healthcare Provider: Discussion of end-of-life options represents a profound event for both the patient and the healthcare provider. Do not neglect your own self-care while guiding your patient through the emotionality that can be brought on by end-of-life decision-making.” (Emphasis added)

THE MEDICALLY ASSISTED SUICIDE PROTOCOL IS COMPLICATED

It is recommended that the patient does not eat or drink for 6 hours before ingesting the lethal dose called D-DMAPh.

Anti-nausea medication and a gastric motility medication is to be taken 1 hour before ingesting the life-ending medication.

A large dose of Digoxin to slow the heart is taken 30 minutes later and then a compound of anxiolytic, opioid and tricyclic medications are to be swallowed in less than 90 seconds.

Recommendations include:

– adding a favorite liquor may counter the bitterness of the mixture

– a small amount of sorbet can be ingested to avoid potential post-ingestion esophageal burning or distress

-Prepare for the possibility that the medication may not work if not quickly and fully ingested; it is crucial that the patient who self-administers not fall asleep before consuming the full dose-Patients should not take the medicine when alone or in a public place

-kept carefully out of the reach of children and vulnerable adults

-and must be disposed of properly. (Emphasis added)

For special circumstances:

“It is legal in all jurisdictions for physicians, other HCPs, or family members to assist in medical aid in dying but not to administer medical aid-in-dying medications.[1-9] The law requires that the patient self-administer the medication through ingestible means, which may include:

•         Drinking the medication mixture

•         Ingesting through a nasogastric tube

•         Ingesting the medication through a feeding tube, or

•         Insertion through a rectal catheter

Patients are permitted to receive help in preparing or mixing the medication for self-administration, but the patient must take a voluntary, affirmative act (i.e., swallowing or pushing a syringe) and administer the medication him- or herself. Medical aid-in-dying laws do not allow physicians, family members, or anyone else, including the dying person, to administer medical aid-in-dying medication by intravenous (IV) injection, parenteral injection, or infusion.” (Emphasis added)

The article states that decision-making capacity is the basis of informed consent and that:

“Guidance begins with assessment of the patient’s decision-making capacity and understanding of palliative measures as alternatives to or concurrent with medical aid in dying. No matter the practice specialty, HCPs (health care providers) are trained on the art of assessing a patient’s medical decision-making capacity and their ability to understand the situation, appreciate the consequences, reason rationally, and express a choice.” (Emphasis added)

If there is a concern, the patient:

 “must be referred for additional evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or clinical social worker. The request for aid-in-dying medication does not proceed unless the mental health professional affirms that the patient is free of mental illness, acute psychological distress, or demoralization.” (Emphasis added)

COMPLICATIONS

The article admits that complications such as regurgitation and seizures can occur but says they are infrequent.

Prolonged dying can also occur so the “families should make contingency plans for how to manage such circumstances” and “remain calm and engage with hospice or other support services as needed. Families should understand that to help avoid unnecessary deployment of police and emergency medical personnel, they should not call 911.” (Emphasis added)

The article also warns that:

“Those present at the death may witness the following changes, which frequently occur during the natural dying process: snoring; gurgling noises; changes in rate of breathing; and fluctuations in body temperature that may leave their skin cool, warm, moist, or pale. Physical movements or other external signs of distress are sometimes exhibited, but the internal peace of the person is not disturbed.” (Emphasis added)

Sadly, the article reports that 4% of patients in Oregon “chose not to inform their families of their decision” even though support groups “strongly recommend that at least 1 other person be present” but not the doctor.

LEGAL REQUIREMENTS DIFFER WIDELY BETWEEN STATES

The article illustrates how dramatic the differences are in state laws such as the eligible medical providers in New Mexico to include APRNs (advance practice registered nurses) and physician assistants and no consulting provider is required if the patient is in hospice.

and

“In Hawaii, a mental health evaluation is mandatory for all patients requesting medications under the law. In New Mexico, a mental health evaluation is also required if the patient has a recent history of a mental health condition or intellectual disability.” (Emphasis added)

Required waiting periods to make the second request varies from as little as none in Oregon and New Mexico if the patient is unlikely to survive the waiting period to at least 20 days in Hawaii.

The article also recommends that health care providers familiarize themselves with the assisted suicide group Compassion and Choice’s Doc2Doc helpline that “offers free, confidential telephone consultation with clinicians who are experienced in providing end-of-life medical care”.

Right now, 9 U.S, states (California, Colorado, HawaiiMaine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, VermontWashington)  and the District of Columbia have medically assisted suicide laws and 12 states (Massachusetts, Delaware, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Virginian, Arizona and Utah) have bills in their legislatures.

And there are more states seeking to expand their existing assisted suicide laws such as Vermont S 74  that threatens conscience rights by defining assisted suicide as a “healthcare service” and allows assisted suicide by telemedicine and Washington state HB 1141 that expands the prescriber to PAs (physician assistants), advanced registered nurse practitioners and allows the lethal dose to be sent by mail or courier.

CONCLUSION

Our neighbor Canada is a cautionary tale about the inability to limit medically assisted suicide.

In a June, 2021 article in the Psychiatric Times titled “First, Do No Harm: New Canadian Law Allows for Assisted Suicide for Patients with Psychiatric Disorders , Dr. Mark Komrad chronicles the expansion of the 2016 MAID (medical aid in dying) law allowing medical euthanasia (the doctor directly administers a substance that causes death, such as an injection of a drug) and physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill to expand to those “with nonterminal chronic illnesses and permitted euthanasia for those whose psychological or physical suffering is deemed intolerable and untreatable”.

Now, those Canadians “whose only medical condition is a mental illness, and who otherwise meet all eligibility criteria, will not be eligible for MAID until March 17, 2023″. (Emphasis added).

As a nurse with over 50 years of personal and professional experience in hospice, critical care, oncology, etc., I am willing to do anything for sick people– except kill them or help them kill themselves. These people deserve better!

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