Why is the US Supreme Court Ducking the Issue of States Defunding Planned Parenthood?

As a nurse, I have always known that medical ethics and the law are very much entwined. But when the US Supreme Court unexpectedly legalized abortion in the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, I started really studying the legal system and how it impacts medical practice beyond just the medical malpractice cases that I knew about.

When I studied the actual Roe v Wade decision itself, the dissenting opinions, commentaries, amicus briefs, etc., I was appalled to find that the decision was basically political and not based on established science and facts.

That sad knowledge has insulated me from hopelessness with many subsequent US Supreme Court decisions involving abortion and other life issues. I have always felt that the truth about human lives-born and unborn-will eventually win.

But I have to admit that I was surprised that the majority of the current Supreme Court justices ruled against even hearing the Gee v Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast case involving conflicting federal court cases decisions about states defunding Planned Parenthood in their Medicaid programs.

The Gee v Planned Parenthood case involved the issue of whether patients may sue states in federal court for restricting or removing providers from their Medicaid programs. The case does not directly involve abortion since the federal Hyde amendment prohibits Medicaid funding for abortion, a prohibition that Planned Parenthood itself insists “hurts women on Medicaid” and wants eliminated. Planned Parenthood also admits that:

Most of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding is from Medicaid reimbursements for preventive care, and some is from Title X. At least 60% of Planned Parenthood patients rely on public health programs like Medicaid and Title X for preventive and primary care.” (Emphasis added)

According to a Lozier Institute Report, in its latest report 2016-2017, Planned Parenthood received “$543.7 million in funds from all levels of government in that fiscal year…primarily from the Medicaid program”.

Several state laws have already excluded Planned Parenthood as Medicaid providers, especially after the reports of illegal harvesting of organs from aborted unborn babies and fraudulent billing. Federal law does give states substantial leeway to administer their Medicaid programs but does not define the term “qualified” for providers and states can exclude providers “for any reason…authorized by state law”. The law does allow for an appeal and judicial review for excluded providers.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

“But Planned Parenthood has leapfrogged state adjudication by recruiting plaintiffs to sue in federal court to vindicate their putative right to their preferred provider. Five appellate courts including the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Circuits have recognized a private right of action while the Eighth has not.” (Emphasis added)

This split in court decisions needed to be resolved by the Supreme Court because it involves basic questions about the state-federal relationship.

Only four Supreme Court judges were necessary to vote to hear the case but 6 judges voted not to hear the case, surprisingly two of whom were considered conservative.

Justice Thomas who voted to hear the case was scathing in his rebuke of the 6 judges who voted not to even hear the case saying:

“So what explains the Court’s refusal to do its job here? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named ‘Planned Parenthood.’ That makes the Court’s decision particularly troubling, as the question presented has nothing to do with abortion.

Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty. If anything, neutrally applying the law is all the more important when political issues are in the background…The Framers gave us lifetime tenure to promote ‘that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance’ of the courts’ role as ‘bulwarks of a limited Constitution,’ unaffected by fleeting ‘mischiefs.’” (Emphasis added)

The Supreme Court’s refusal to even hear the case is more than disappointing. Continuing the legal confusion about states’ rights will almost certainly lead to more litigation against states that pass laws excluding Planned Parenthood from Medicaid programs. As the Wall Street editorial states, “If the Justices duck every case remotely implicating gender politics, substantive constitutional issues will go unresolved and individual rights may be impaired.”

CONCLUSION

Ironically, although the brief by Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast  to the Supreme Court insisted that their clinics “..provide essential medical care to thousands of low-income Louisiana residents through Medicaid” and “offer a range of services, including annual physical exams, screenings for breast cancer and cervical cancer, contraception, pregnancy testing and counseling, and other preventative health services”, the reality is that there are many more places, such as federally qualified community health centers (which do not provide abortions) that provide more comprehensive health care services than those offered by Planned Parenthood.

On a personal note, several years ago my late daughter Marie secretly went to a Planned Parenthood clinic for a possible sexually transmitted disease. She finally admitted this to me when her symptoms grew worse. I immediately took her to my own gynecologist who had to perform surgery to remove part of her cervix to deal with the damage.

Planned Parenthood had missed the diagnosis.

Support the Fighting Irish Doctors and Nurses

I have always been proud of my Irish heritage so I was especially shocked when a voter referendum in Ireland in May, 2018 overwhelmingly approved removing Ireland’s long-standing, constitutional protections for unborn babies and left the details up to the Irish government.

Before this, Ireland’s Eighth Amendment protected both unborn babies and their mothers equally as deserving a right to life. This made Ireland one of the safest places in the world for pregnant mothers and their unborn babies and with one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world.

However, much of the campaign to legalize abortion focused on the “high numbers of women ordering abortion pills online or forced to travel to Britain for a termination.” As one supporter said, that “showed that abortion was already here, we are just trying to make it safe and regulated.”

Now the lower house of the Irish parliament has just passed a bill that, if subsequently passed by the upper house, would legalize abortion for any reason for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to six months for a wide variety of circumstances. The bill would also force taxpayers to pay for abortion and force even Catholic hospitals to provide them. It also strictly limits conscience protections for medical professionals and forces them to refer for abortion. The lower house also rejected amendments to ban sex-selection abortions, require parental consent for girls under 16 and require basic medical care for infants born alive after abortion.

Note that these radical developments occurred after the national vote in May. A poll by Amárach taken in October found that 60% of Irish residents oppose taxpayer-funded abortions, 80% say health care workers should not be forced to carry out abortions against their conscience and 69% of those surveyed believe doctors should be obliged to give babies that survive the abortion procedure proper medical care rather than leaving the babies to die alone.

Perhaps critically, Facebook also banned outside ads as Ireland was voting on abortion, saying that “We feel the spirit of this approach is also consistent with the Irish electoral law that prohibits campaigns from accepting foreign donations,”

DOCTORS AND NURSES PUSH BACK.

Although Irish government leaders want medical professionals ready to begin aborting unborn babies by January 1, 2019, the medical community is balking.

Doctors against abortion petitioned the government stating that “forcing a doctor to make a referral for an abortion against their conscience is simply wrong” and dozens of Irish doctors stormed out of an emergency meeting about abortion because they said their conscience rights protections were being ignored.

And almost 500 Irish nurses and midwives signed a petition to Health Minister Simon Harris urging him to protect freedom of conscience and support the amendments concerning conscience rights protections.

So far, the minister has ignored their requests.

However, the pro-abortion National Women’s Council of Ireland is urging the passage of the new abortion law as soon as possible “despite fears the existing bill does not go far enough to decriminalize abortion or prevent protests at abortion facilities”.

CONCLUSION

As a fellow pro-life nurse, I applaud Nurses and Midwives4Life Ireland who stated that:

“We are dedicated, hardworking nurses and midwives who care for patients from conception to natural death. We have a conscientious commitment to life which accords with the values inherent in Our Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics. We respect and defend the dignity of every stage of human life and we have a responsibility to make every valid or reasonable effort to protect the life and health of pregnant women and their unborn babies.”

I also sent a message of support to the Facebook page of Nurses and Midwives4Life Ireland .

I also support Irish Doctors for Life and its Facebook page that states its “aim is to educate and support doctors, health care professionals and others who are concerned about the ethical questions relating to patient care and practitioner responsibility at all stages of life.”

I personally have seen the terrible destruction of some of our most basic medical ethics principles after abortion was legalized here in the US in 1973. This issue not only divided doctors and nurses but also eventually led to the increasing acceptance of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

We need to support all medical professionals throughout the world who work to care for and protect all human life.

Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Fight for the Soul of Healthcare

Despite the US Supreme Court’s unanimous rejection of a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide in the 1997 Vacco v. Quill decision , the well-funded   pro-assisted suicide organizations like the Hemlock Society (now called Compassion and Choices) remained undeterred in their efforts to legalize assisted suicide throughout the US.

Along with its efforts to pass physician-assisted suicide laws, Compassion and Choices also focused on changing the health care system itself by influencing health care professionals and especially their organizations.

Thus, Oregon became the first state to pass a physician-assisted suicide law (by voter referendum), but only after the Oregon Medical Association changed its position from opposition to neutrality and despite the American Medical Association’s long-standing opposition to physician-assisted suicide.

However, only a few other states eventually did legalize assisted suicide over the next 20 years either by legislation or voter referendum while most states rejected physician-assisted suicide, even after almost yearly efforts in legislatures and overwhelmingly supportive mainstream media coverage.

But now Compassion and Choices is touting  that “(a) growing number of national and state medical organizations have endorsed or adopted a neutral position regarding medical aid in dying (physician-assisted suicide) as an end-of-life option for mentally capable, terminally ill adults.” (Emphasis added)

For now at least, the American Medical Association (AMA) itself continues to oppose physician-assisted suicide  despite strong pressure from groups like American Association of Family Physicians to take a neutral stance. If the AMA does change its stance to neutrality, it won’t take long until groups like Compassion and Choices finally realize their goal of “integrating and normalizing medical aid in dying (aka physician-assisted suicide) suicide as an additional end-of-life option“.

Nurses are also not immune to the efforts to convince health care professionals to accept or be neutral on physician-assisted suicide. For example, a “policy dialogue” at the American Academy of Nursing’s annual conference in Washington, DC. was covered in a May 2018  article in the American Journal of Nursing titled “Assisted Suicide/Aid in Dying: What is the Nurse’s Role?” (reprinted in full by Death with Dignity). The article included this disturbing news

“In 2018, the American Nurses Association (ANA) will be updating its current position statement “Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and Aid in Dying”. (Emphasis added)

Ominously and just last year the ANA approved VSED (voluntary stopping of eating and drinking) stating that “people with decision making capacity have the right to stop eating and drinking as a means of hastening death.” (Emphasis added)

Not surprisingly, our government is also not immune to the aspirations of Compassion and Choices. In its “Federal Policy Agenda / 2016 & Beyond” , Compassion and Choices set the following priority:

Establish federal payment for palliative care consultations provided by trained palliative care professionals who will advocate for and support the values and choices of the patient….”

Compassion and Choices lists as one of its accomplishments that it:

Pioneered the medical model of aid in dying that helps ensure that doctors can ethically practice aid in dying in an open, legitimate and accessible way, and integrates the option into patients’ end-of-life care. The culmination of that work was the publication of clinical criteria in the Journal of Palliative Medicine in December 2015. (Emphasis added)

Now, a Compassion & Choices’ website even has a video presentation based on this article  titled  “Understand the Clinical Practice of Aid in Dying”  for doctors and other clinicians. The presentation even offers continuing medical education credits.

We may now be seeing the potential results of this agenda in the current  “The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act” that is endorsed by Compassion and Choices . The bill was passed in the US House of Representative and is currently in the Senate health committee as SB693. If passed, the bill would authorize grants and contracts to promote education, research and the development of faculty careers in hospice and palliative care. (I have already contacted my home state senator about the potential problems with this legislation.)

CONCLUSION

Several years after Oregon voted to legalize physician-assisted suicide, I began to notice a stark difference between my fellow health care colleagues who supported legalizing physician-assisted suicide and those who didn’t. Doctors and nurses who supported such laws often spoke about patients who “needed to die” even though those patients never even mentioned wanting to die. They often tried to get out of caring for or even talking to difficult patients. In contrast, those doctors and nurses who were appalled by physician-assisted suicide were the ones who patiently listened to patients and addressed their fears and hopes, treated relatives as part of the care team and actively advocated for the best care for their patients.

But with Compassion and Choices’ leaders like Barbara Coombs Lee, one of the architects of Oregon’s assisted suicide law, even arguing against strong conscience rights protections for those of us who refuse to participate, it may become impossible in the future to even find a health care professional committed to protecting the life of every patient.

All of us, both medical and lay people, must speak out against physician-assisted suicide before our health care system becomes irreparably corrupted.

Should a Mental Health Exam be required before Physician-assisted Suicide?

When I read the October 27, 2018 MedPage news article titled “Assessing Competency in Aid-in-Dying Patients (aka physician-assisted Suicide)-Should a Competency Exam by an Outside Doctor be Required?”, I was struck by one case cited by psychiatrist Richard Martinez, MD, professor of psychiatry and law at the University of Colorado Denver who opposes mandatory mental health exams as “an invasion of privacy ” …”(t)o mandate an interaction with a stranger”. Dr. Martinez also contends that “Depression should not be an exclusionary decision.” (Emphasis added)

Dr. Martinez cited the case of a young man who had a severe spinal cord injury after a fall and was on a ventilator to breathe. Doctors took him off sedation and asked if he wanted to live. He said no so the ventilator was removed and he died.

Although Dr. Martinez acknowledged that “people who work with people with spinal cord injuries have argued for a waiting period” and that this was a very difficult case in bioethics, he still maintained that, in the end, the issue is really about choice. (Emphasis added)

When I read this, I remembered when “Aaron” (not his real name) was admitted to our intensive care unit with a severe spinal cord injury after a car accident. This was in the early 1970s, long before the “right to die”/physician-assisted suicide movement became known to the public.

I was there when the doctors told Aaron that his legs were permanently paralyzed and he would never walk again. Naturally, this 18 year old young man was devastated. It didn’t take long before he told us he wanted to die. We were not surprised by this  normal reaction and the doctors wanted to stabilize him medically before ordering a psychiatric consult if he persisted in wanting to die.

One day while I was bathing Aaron, I asked him if many people complimented him on his legs. Aaron was puzzled but answered “No”. Then I asked him if his legs were the most important part of him. After a pause, he smiled a little and said probably not.

Then I talked with him about what he would still be able to do once he was medically stable and what he might be able to do in the future with rehabilitation and medical advances. Aaron looked a little less forlorn. I reassured him that we doctors, nurses and his wonderful family would be there every step of the way and I predicted how much better he could feel with time and more information.

But what really made a difference was when Aaron’s parents told me how much he enjoyed poker. So one quiet night, I started a midnight poker game in Aaron’s ICU room with the nurses taking turns between caring for the patients and playing. It was great to see Aaron finally laughing and making fun of how badly we played.

Even though we were caught by an unexpected visit from administrators and I had to promise never to do this again, it was worth it. When I last visited Aaron after he left our unit, he was laughing and talking to his friends. And making plans.

Supporters of physician-assisted suicide claim that one of their strongest safeguards is, as the Oregon physician-assisted suicide law states, that “If, in the opinion of the attending physician or the consulting physician, a patient may be suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment, either physician shall refer the patient for counseling.” (Emphasis added) But only the evaluation of a patient’s competence to make such a decision- not the diagnosable mental disorders that afflict more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide- is required .

However, now that supposed “safeguard” is being questioned by some psychiatrists in this new MedPage article reporting on a panel discussion during the 49th annual American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL) meeting.

In the article, psychiatrists like Anna Glezer, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and of ob/gyn at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) who supports requiring a mental health exam stated:

“A psychiatrist can help identify potentially treatable psychiatric symptoms that may relieve elements of patient suffering, and detect family agreement versus family conflict that may require further intervention and counseling,”

and

‘”I’ve done a case where I didn’t say ‘This person meets the criteria or doesn’t,’ but [instead said] ‘These are my concerns,'” she said. In this case, the patient had lost her husband within the past year “and I thought grief might be compounding her decision-making capacity.” (Emphasis added)

Dr. Ariana Nesbit, a psychiatrist at the San Diego Central Jail says PAD (physician-assisted death aka physician-assisted suicide) is a complicated issue, stating that:

Our goal is often thought to be to prevent suicide, and we still conceptualize suicidal ideation as a symptom and pathological. As someone who just recently finished training in three very liberal states, I can tell you that at no point during my training was I ever taught how to figure out whether someone’s suicidal ideation, or their suicide attempt, was rational, so we don’t have any widely accepted method for determining this.” (Emphasis added)

Dr. Nesbit also cited a study titled “Prevalence of depression and anxiety in patients requesting physician’s aid in dying: cross sectional survey” that found 26% of patients requesting physician-assisted suicide did meet depressive disorder criteria but three of them were approved for physician-assisted suicide anyway. The authors concluded that “Although most terminally ill Oregonians who receive aid in dying do not have depressive disorders, the current practice of the Death with Dignity Act may fail to protect some patients whose choices are influenced by depression from receiving a prescription for a lethal drug.” (Emphasis added)

During a question and answer session, Annette Hanson, MD, adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, questioned whether PAD itself was a good idea. “We’re not just consulting psychiatrists — we’re members of a profession,” she said. “We’re shapers of healthcare policy that will affect everyone in the country … including people who are institutionalized, including people who don’t have physical illnesses.” (Emphasis added)

Dr. Hanson told how she was contacted by a colleague who asked her how to do such an mental health exam on a patient seeking assisted suicide in Switzerland. because of an “irreversible neurological condition”.  Dr. Hanson said, “It turned out the ‘irreversible neurologic condition’ was schizophrenia”. Dr. Hanson concluded that “So the publicity surrounding the right-to-die movement is hurting our psychiatric patients.” (Emphasis added) She also added that “the American Psychiatric Association also considers [PAD] to be unethical, and re-emphasized that in [amicus] briefs to the Supreme Court.”

Another MD talked about self-care for doctors after making mental health exams for physician-assisted suicide, saying that she deliberately tried “not to find out what happened to the patient” but still often found out what happened to the patients she evaluated when she would see an announcement about a memorial service

CONCLUSION

I am glad that I became a nurse decades before state legalized physician-assisted suicide. Back then, I saw what happened with patients like Aaron when we didn’t have the assisted suicide “option”: Patients received a chance for the best life possible and we received a chance to show how much we cared.

 

 

 

 

My Review of “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer”

I just saw the movie “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer” and was moved to tears even though I already knew much of the story about the notorious Philadelphia abortionist who ran an outrageously filthy clinic where he executed late-term babies who survived abortion by callously cutting their spinal cords. I also knew that some of the women died, suffered serious complications or contracted diseases from dirty instruments during the 30 years Dr. Kermit Gosnell ran his politically protected clinic.

This PG 13 movie scrupulously avoids sensationalism but through great acting, writing and accurate depictions of the clinic and Gosnell himself (actual pictures were shown at the end of the movie), the enormity of the evil cannot be ignored.

The movie starts much like an episode of “Law and Order” portraying a drug bust but then expands as police raid Gosnell’s abortion clinic for evidence of illegal prescription drug sales and find even greater problems. After the initial reluctance to prosecute by the District Attorney because the case involves abortion, a courageous assistant district attorney puts her job on the line to prosecute Gosnell.

The trial of Gosnell is riveting, especially when an expert witness abortionist describes how to correctly perform a late-term abortion that is unnervingly similar in callousness to Gosnell’s. The testimony of girls as young as 15 when they were trained by Dr. Gosnell to be his unlicensed assistants is also devastating as they describe an aborted baby swimming in a toilet or another struggling to keep breathing. The trial is very contentious but a stunning development late in the trial determines the result.

I highly recommend seeing this movie that even opened the eyes of people like Ann McElhinney who was neutral on abortion until she worked on this film.

CONCLUSION

Although one of the most shocking aspects of the Gosnell trial was his cutting the spinal cords of babies who survived abortion, Kermit Gosnell was not the first known abortionist to deliberately end the lives of babies who survived abortions.

In 1999, nurse Jill Stanek was shocked to discover a live baby boy left to die after an induced-labor abortion  and found this was a common practice in her hospital. Her courageous testimony led to the 2002 “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act” which extended legal protection to infants born alive after an abortion.

However, the lack of legal enforcement power in this Act led to the current “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act that not only requires physicians and abortion facilities to afford “the same degree” of care to a baby born alive during an abortion that would apply “to any other child born alive at the same gestational age,” including transportation to a hospital, but also mandates fines and the possibility of imprisonment for medical professionals found to be noncompliant.

This bill was passed in the US House of Representatives this year and sent to the Senate where (because of procedural hurdles), it might need 60 votes to pass and be signed into law by President Trump.

Although it might be difficult to pass the Act now because of the political entrenchment of abortion supporters in the Senate, passing this law would provide at least one fitting endnote to the horrors of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s clinic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The AAFP resolution also stated that:

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

and that

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Suicide Discrimination!

When I was asked by my late daughter Marie’s best friend to join her on a family and friends fundraising walk for suicide prevention last Sunday, I hesitated.

I was in the process of reading yet another disturbing article about assisted suicide, this time a Journal of Clinical Psychiatry article titled “Working with Decisionally Capable Patients Who Are Determined to End Their Own Lives”  and I found it outrageous that the suicide prevention groups I know exclude potential physician-assisted suicide victims.

As a nurse, I have personally and professionally cared for many suicidal people over decades including some who were terminally ill. To my knowledge, none of these people went on to die by suicide except one-my own daughter.

Almost nine years ago, my 30 year old daughter Marie died by suicide using an assisted suicide technique she found after searching suicide and assisted suicide websites and reading assisted suicide supporter Derek Humphry’s book “Final Exit”.

Marie was a wonderful woman who achieved a degree in engineering despite struggling off and on with substance abuse and thoughts of suicide for 16 years. She was in an outpatient behavioral health program at the time of her suicide. Her suicide was my worst fear and it devastated all of us in the family as well as her friends. Two people close to Marie also became suicidal after her death but were fortunately saved.

For years before and after Marie’s death, I have written and spoken to groups around the country about the legal and ethical problems with assisted suicide as well as suicide contagion  and media reporting guidelines for suicide.

So it was with mixed feelings that I participated in the suicide prevention walk but now I am glad I did.

“WORKING WITH DECISIONALLY CAPABLE PATIENTS WHO ARE DETERMINED TO END THEIR OWN LIVES”

I finally finished reading this article after the walk and found that while the authors of this Journal of Clinical Psychiatry article insist that they are only discussing “decisionally capable” people with “advanced medical illness”, they write:

The 24% increase in US suicide rates from 1999 to 2014 has led to greater efforts to identify, prevent, and intervene in situations associated with suicidality. While the desire to kill oneself is not synonymous with a mental illness, 80%–90% of completed suicides are associated with a mental disorder, most commonly depression. Understandably, psychiatrists and other clinicians face strong moral, cultural, and professional pressures to do everything possible to avert suicide. Hidden within these statistics are unknown numbers of individuals determined to end their lives, often in the context of a life-limiting physical illness, who have no mental disorder or who, despite having a mental disorder, were nevertheless seemingly rational and decisionally capable and in whom the mental disorder did not seem to influence the desire to hasten death.”

Tragically, the authors also state:

“In reviewing the either sparse or dated literature in this field, surveys from the United States and Canada support that most psychiatrists believe that PAD (physician aid in dying, a euphemism for assisted suicide) should be legal and is ethical in some cases and that they might want the option for themselves.”

And

“Although we see ‘assisted death’ as an option of last resort, we instead ask whether on certain occasions psychiatrists might appropriately not seek to prevent selected decisionally capable individuals from ending their own lives.” (All emphasis added)

This flies in the face of long-standing professional suicide prevention and treatment principles.

Notably, the article ends with an addendum, the 2017 Statement of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS): “Suicide is not the same as ‘Physician Aid in Dying’

That concludes:

“In general, suicide and physician aid in dying are conceptually, medically, and legally different phenomena, with an undetermined amount of overlap between these two categories” but “Such deaths should not be considered to be cases of suicide and are therefore a matter outside the central focus of the AAS.” (Emphasis added)

WHY I AM GLAD I WENT ON THE SUICIDE PREVENTION WALK

The Sunday walk was sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), a group that I discovered states it is trying to “Develop an updated AFSP policy position on assisted death (other common terms include physician assisted suicide or Death with Dignity Laws)

The next day, I was able to contact a policy person at their Washington, DC office and, unlike other suicide prevention group representatives I have contacted in the past, I found this woman surprisingly interested and receptive to the idea that we should not discriminate against certain people when it comes to suicide prevention and treatment. She even asked for my contact information.

Of course, the AFSP may decide to exclude potential assisted suicide victims like other organizations have done but at least I tried and that’s the best tribute I can give to my daughter now.

 

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

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

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

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

BIOETHICS AND CONSCIENCE RIGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……

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

……

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

 

Beware the New “Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act”

Right now, there is a Senate Bill 693 titled “The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act” to authorize more and better training in palliative and hospice care. Although a provision (SEC. 6. Clarification) was recently added to explicitly forbid federal funding for any health care furnished for the purpose of causing or assisting the death of any individual by assisted suicide, euthanasia or mercy killing, many of us have serious concerns. (The similar House Bill 1676 has already passed and sent to the Senate.)

As an RN with decades of nursing experience in hospice, oncology (cancer) and critical care, I have been involved with many end-of-life situations. I am an enthusiastic supporter of ethical palliative and hospice care which is indeed wonderful for patients of any age and their families.

Unfortunately, there is a growing trend towards calling unethical practices “palliative” or “hospice” care.

For example and just a few years ago in a Catholic hospital, I saw a nurse/friend’s life deliberately ended due to so-called palliative and hospice care labeled “comfort care.” She had recently suffered a serious brain injury and was declared hopeless after a couple of weeks. The family was strongly pushed to switch to “comfort care”.  She was taken off a ventilator, had her feeding tube removed (against her adult son’s wishes), and continued to receive the sedation medications used when she was on the ventilator, even receiving an increase in those medications when she continued to breathe on her own. Despite my friend’s son insisting that he wanted the feeding tube replaced and that he wanted to eventually care for his mother at home whatever her level of functioning was, he was told to wait until a doctor could order the feeding tube replaced. The hospital waited until he went home to sleep, transferred her to the hospice unit without his permission and she was dead by morning.

Unfortunately, similar stories have become increasingly more common since the 1970s when the Euthanasia Society of America changed its name to the Society for the Right to Die and promoted the new “living wills”. Now we have well-funded groups like Compassion and Choices (the former Hemlock Society) not only promoting physician-assisted suicide but also trying to change medical ethics from never deliberately causing or hastening death to merely a “choice” about when and how to die.

Two years ago in my blog “Is Compassion and Choices aiming to become the “Planned Parenthood” of Euthanasia?, I warned about the current and future involvement of Compassion and Choices in “end of life” education.

Here are some excerpts:

With over $22 million in 2015 net assets,  a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator, enthusiastic media coverage and a new  Federal Policy Agenda for 2016 and Beyond” , Compassion and Choices increasingly appears to be following in the 4 star, politically and media supported, $1.3 billion dollar revenue ($528 million in government taxpayer funding) steps of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

While Compassion and Choices claims that it just “works to improve care and expand choice at the end of life”, it also admits that “We employ  educational training programs, media outreach and online and print publications to change healthcare practice, inform policy-makers, influence public opinion and empower individuals.” (Emphasis added)

……….

THE PALLIATIVE AND HOSPICE CONNECTION

Compassion and Choices has worked for decades not only to legalize physician-assisted suicide in every state but also to normalize and integrate physician-assisted suicide into medical practice and reaches out to established medical groups like the American Academy of Palliative and Hospice Medicine (AAPHM.

………..

Now, Compassion & Choices’ website has a video presentation based on this article  titled  “Understand the Clinical Practice of Aid in Dying” for doctors and other clinicians. The presentation even offers continuing medical education credits.

This would not be possible if the AAPHM had not changed its position on assisted suicide from opposition to “studied neutrality”, a position that the American Medical Association itself is now considering.

………….

Compassion and Choices also supports two other “legal” options for assisted suicide in states that haven’t passed physician-assisted suicide laws. One is “voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (VSED)” and the other is “palliative sedation-Sometimes called terminal sedation”. Significantly, the recommendations include the admission that “VSED includes pain and symptom management” and “Palliative sedation must be medically managed by a healthcare provider”. Thus the need to influence and train hospice and palliative care providers.

………..

WHERE THE MONEY AND POWER IS

Compassion and Choices now has its “Federal Policy Agenda / 2016 & Beyond”.

The priorities on its agenda include:

Establish federal payment for palliative care consultations provided by trained palliative care professionals who will advocate for and support the values and choices of the patient….”  (Emphasis added)

Also included are

Professional Education and Development” training programs for doctors and other providers “in discussing terminal prognoses and death” and  “Policies and Payment Systems” to change medical policies and payments to a “a value-based healthcare payment system” that will “(e)ncourage Congress to direct CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and other federal agencies” to withhold   “appropriations or other funds”  for treatment that was “provided but (deemed) unwanted”.

This last provision reinforces the fear many healthcare providers already have that, if in doubt, it is safer not to treat a person rather than treat him or her in hope of a good result because of potential lawsuits or reimbursement problems.

………

In the meantime, if the Compassion and Choices federal policy agenda is successful, they stand to benefit from a potential windfall of government taxpayer funding to provide their currently  “free consultation, planning resources, referrals and guidance”.

CONCLUSION

I have already contacted my state senator to express my concerns and urged him to vote “no” on SB 693.

As Nancy Elliot, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Council USA, ended in a great letter to Senators opposing the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training  Act :

“instead of creating a rival form of palliative care…Wouldn’t it be better to educate/update all physicians and nurses about pain and symptom management?”

Journal of the American Medical Association Article Calls Crisis Pregnancy Centers “Legal but Unethical”

When I first started nursing school, abortion was illegal in all 50 states and the American Medical Association (AMA) was influential and widely admired.

But, as cited and influential in the Roe v Wade decision in 1973, the AMA dropped its’ opposition to abortion in 1970  after a few states legalized abortion with resolutions  that stated:

“abortion is a medical procedure that should be performed by a licensed physician in an accredited hospital only after consultation with two other physicians and in conformity with state law, and that no party to the procedure should be required to violate personally held moral principles”.

I remember how upset many doctors were with the AMA after Roe v Wade and many dropped out of the AMA.

Now, there are over one million MDs in the US  but less than 25% of practicing doctors are members of the AMA, down from 75% in the 1950s. (This is not just because of abortion but also the politics of the AMA.)

The AMA today now stands firmly for abortion rights and even against common sense conscience rights protection.

“AT ‘CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTERS’, CRITICS SAY, IDEOLOGY TRUMPS EVIDENCE”

This is the title of a July 18, 2018 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Rita Rubin, MA excoriating crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) as “legal but unethical”.

Among the allegedly “unethical” practices the article cites are that CPCs “don’t prescribe or provide birth control” and “dispense misleading information-sometimes mandated by the state-about disproved or exaggerated harms associated with abortion, including increased risk of breast cancer, depression and infertility”. The article also criticizes the free ultrasounds as “medically unnecessary” and “emotional manipulation”.

But, according to the article, the biggest ethical problem seems to be “withholding information” about obtaining abortions.

The article cites California as the first state to pass a crisis pregnancy mandatory disclosure law that mandates CPCs to “post or distribute a notice about California’s public programs that provide free or low-cost contraception, prenatal care, and abortion“.(Emphasis added)

The article criticizes the June 26, 2018, the US Supreme Court’s National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra decision that struck down the California law as likely unconstitutional.

The JAMA article also decries a recent Health and Human Services’ announcement that Title X family planning services grants includes “natural family planning methods” and that faith-based organizations are eligible to apply for such grants.

THE REAL FACTS ABOUT CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTERS

As even the JAMA article admits, there are more than 3500 CPCs in the US, more than twice the number of US institutions that performed at least 1 abortion in 2014 according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute. That is a decline of 3% between 2011 and 2014.

Obviously, crisis pregnancy centers are seen as threatening to the pro-abortion movement.

As CPC volunteer Patty Knap observed in her blog The Real Reason Crisis Pregnancy Centers Must Always be Free”,  “The difference between an abortion center and a pro-life pregnancy center is like day and night. Or life and death.”

Ms. Knap observes that, unlike an abortion clinic that charges for everything, CPCs don’t charge for anything-including pregnancy tests. Instead, Ms. Knap says, “Every pregnancy center in the country is constantly fundraising”.

Ms. Knap says offering their services without charge is necessary because the trust factor is so important. When their clients understand the motivation of someone who isn’t profiting from the decision they are making, they are more likely to accept the truth and real help.

CONCLUSION

Just as outrageous as California’s attempt to compel crisis pregnancy centers to advertise abortion is that so many mainstream media outlets continue to ignore or disparage the ongoing efforts of the pro-life movement to offer desperate women a loving opportunity for them and their unborn babies.

We may sometimes wonder if attending fundraising baby showers in our churches, picketing abortion clinics with telephone numbers for help, donating to Birthright, etc.  is really accomplishing much. But, as the successes of CPCs show, even the smallest effort by a great number of people can produce the awesome result of helping distressed mothers and saving their babies’ lives.