Monthly Archives

September 2015

Give Me Liberty and Give Me Death: Belgium’s Brave New Euthanasia Regime

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Public Discourse 8 September 2015
On January 17, 2015, PBS aired a chilling documentary about the physician-assisted suicide of a healthy, thirty-four-year-old Belgian woman suffering from depression. The film opens with shots of Eva, in sweat pants and a T-shirt, petting her affectionate Labrador as she greets the youthful Dr. Van Hoey at her home. “Let’s get on with this,” Eva says as she sits on her patio. “I am looking forward to the rest.” Eva gives a good-bye hug to her brother and sister-in-law, who do not want to be present for her death. She lies down on her living room couch and rolls up her sleeve to receive her injections.
Dr. Van Hoey’s first injection puts Eva into a deep sleep. The second kills her.
“The bond between a patient and doctor gets so strong by the time euthanasia takes place that it is hard,” Van Hoey said, “It is so personal and intimate and beautiful.” But Van Hoey also said that he has administered more than one hundred lethal doses over the past twelve years, and he can talk about them matter-of-factly, “I am quite used to [it],” he said, “It is part of my job.”
In order to qualify for euthanasia in Belgium, a person must suffer from acute and “incurable” physical or mental pain. Polls in Belgium show broad support for euthanasia, and the number of cases has grown steadily every year since it was legalized in 2003. In 2003, there were 235 cases of euthanasia. In 2013, there were 1,816. One out of every twenty deaths in Belgium is now deliberately caused. In 2014, Belgium became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for children. If you ask to be euthanized in Belgium today, chances are three in four that your request will be granted. Most of Belgium’s euthanized patients have terminal cancer, but people are also being euthanized for autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorders, chronic-fatigue syndrome, and depression.
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/09/15355/?utm_source=The+Witherspoon+Institute&utm_campaign=975964f4ca-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_15ce6af37b-975964f4ca-84094405

Euthanasia: Is it up to public opinion?

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Stuff co.nz 7 September 2015
OPINION: Whatever our view on life, religious or not, most people would agree that two scenarios we greatly fear are those of suffering a painful drawn-out death, or watching someone we love suffering such a death.  This is, in part, what drives the current debate on euthanasia and the growing moves to decriminalise/legalise both physician-assisted suicide (where the doctor prescribes the drugs and the patient takes them) and active euthanasia (where the doctor administers a lethal dose of drugs).
In Saturday’s Nelson Mail (August 29) there was the comment that the euthanasia issue was being “hijacked by opponents armed with ‘worst case scenario’ assisted suicide examples from overseas” – a very inaccurate statement as those against euthanasia have been given very little public voice in the media.
The current danger is that we risk poor legislation if such a decision was left up to public opinion alone, so that the determinant of public policy becomes the lowest common denominator capable of securing public consensus.  We need to remember that ultimately euthanasia is a medical issue and as the Palliative Care Council of NZ notes, “both euthanasia and assisted suicide are against the current ethical positions of the medical and nursing professions in New Zealand”.
As an Anglican Minister and a member of the InterChurch Bioethics Council (www.interchurchbioethics.org.nz) I believe there is more to be considered in this debate than public opinion alone.  First, there is significant ethical difference between actively/assisting in killing another person and withdrawing (or with-holding) treatment so that the person dies as a result of their illness – a difference often confused in public comments, even by the Prime Minister.
In both situations the intent of the action is critical.  In forms of euthanasia, the intent is to relieve suffering by killing.  By contrast, when treatment is futile and is stopped or withheld, palliative care given by skilled professionals who address the pain provides the best means to respond compassionately to terminal illness and suffering.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/opinion/71708749/euthanasia-is-it-up-to-public-opinion

Assisted Dying Bill Reject (UK)

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This assisted dying bill is unsafe and unworkable – parliament must reject it
The Guardian 8 September 2015
I was born with spina bifida, and have been a wheelchair user for 46 years. One thing that has always surprised me is how many people throughout that period have said to me, “It’s so sad you’re in a wheelchair,” and even at times, “You must have thought of killing yourself.” These comments are as infuriating as they are ridiculous. I’ve had ups and downs, like most people, in my personal and professional life. But I value those – and it is disappointing that others sometimes don’t.
I fear that the MP Rob Marris’s assisted dying bill, which will get its second reading in parliament on Friday, would exacerbate the assumption that because there may some things I cannot do, everything must be negative. The prospect of changing the criminal law on encouraging and assisting suicide, as this bill would do, fills me with dread.
It raises legal and ethical issues that have been debated for many years – yet to which I had given little consideration until I entered parliament in 2010. During a number of debates in the Lords, I heard a range of experts on the topic and now have a clear and informed view.
Many people wonder why disabled people are so concerned about a bill that appears to affect only people thought to have less than six months to live. But many disabled people have fluctuating conditions, with improvements and setbacks; and some at times could meet this rather hazy definition, even if they subsequently move outside it.
My colleague Jane Campbell, for instance, who has spinal muscular atrophy, has written about being told throughout her life to expect to die shortly. She is now in her 50s. Disabled people also have a stronger understanding than most about what it means to feel you are a burden to others, or to have assumptions made about the value of your life. Many of us are very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the NHS and view the prospect of doctor-assisted suicide, as proposed in Marris’s bill, with scepticism.
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/08/assisted-dying-bill-reject

Suicide prevention focus of new DHB plans

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Radio NZ News 9 September 2015
A Nelson woman, whose husband took his own life, is welcoming a government push to improve the way health boards tackle suicide.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said today health boards nationwide have plans in place to help them, in partnership with their local communities, prevent and respond to suicide.
City councillor Gaile Noonan said anything that increased discussion about what she said was a hidden epidemic, was a step in the right direction.
Dr Coleman said all DHBs had been working with community organisations, iwi and health professionals to review the needs of communities and services currently being provided. He said they had suicide prevention plans in place for the next two years.
“Reducing suicide rates requires coordinated action at a national and local level. DHBs are well placed to bring community groups together to coordinate and lead an approach that best meets local needs,” Dr Coleman said.
Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day and the theme this year is Reaching out and Saving Lives.
http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/283741/suicide-prevention-focus-of-new-dhb-plans
 

Mum Wanted to Die So She Wouldn't Be a Burden – But Convincing Her to Live Gave Us Both a Gift Beyond Measure

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The Huffington Post 3 September 2015
As she lay in the hospice, ghostly pale and apparently slipping away before my eyes, my mother was adamant. ‘I just want to die,’ had become her repeated refrain. She was 84, suffering from advanced breast cancer and didn’t want chemotherapy. As far as she was concerned, the end could not come soon enough. ‘I’ve had a good life,’ she would say. ‘But I don’t want to be dependent. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.’
Had assisted suicide been legal, she made it quite clear that it would have been her chosen path. ‘I’d go for it,’ she told me, with a fixed, determined look in her eye. The situation certainly seemed hopeless, particularly after a scan revealed that the cancer had spread to huge areas of her pelvis and lower back.
With every movement accompanied by excruciating pain, she agreed, reluctantly, to have radiotherapy on her disintegrating pelvis. But it seemed to make little difference; only the pain-killing drugs helped. She was getting weaker by the day and couldn’t wait to be released by death. Seeing a parent suffer is a terrible experience for anyone, but for me, there was an added and cruel irony: I’m a professor of palliative care.
I have dedicated my career as a physician to improving the care of the terminally ill – and yet here was my dreadfully sick mother, stopping just short of asking me to help her die.
By the bitterest of coincidences, as she lay in her hospice bed, I was also vigorously opposing a Bill in the House of Lords that would have made assisted suicide legal. The situation was tearing me in two. Mum had fought for her family all her life. So how could I ignore her wishes? I believed passionately in the cause I was fighting in Parliament – that every life is of value and should never be ended by legalised ‘death by appointment’.
But seeing my lovely mother dying in a hospice bed, despite the gentle, caring nursing and the patient doctoring, was almost too much to bear. Sixteen years earlier, I had left general practice and become a full-time hospice doctor because I wanted to improve the care of the dying. I longed to change health care so that staff listened to patients and valued each one, even when those patients were desperately ill, disabled or beyond a cure.
As I discovered, a terminally-ill person can live a lot of life in a short space of time – and I wanted to bring hope to their moments of despair. And yet I felt powerless to help my own mum. My brother, John – who had been desperately sick as a baby and who my mother had breastfed moments before taking him down for an operation that no one was sure he would survive – played peacemaker, desperately trying to reconcile his mother’s anger with his sister’s distress.
But it was the hospice chaplain who unlocked the door. Wise enough to realise there was no point talking about God to this agnostic lady and experienced enough to know we all have a story, he quietly and patiently asked Mum to tell him hers.
And so he sat, this quiet, unassuming man, and listened, soaking up the years, as she told him her views and philosophy on life. And it was in this telling that it dawned on Mum that her decrepit body still held an active mind. Suddenly, she realised that if she wasn’t going to be allowed to kill herself, she had better make the most of what time remained.
So day by day, she took more pain relief, which first enabled her to get out of bed and then to take a few tentative steps with a Zimmer frame. Every day, she tried to take a few steps more. ‘I’m training for the London marathon,’ she laughed, after five, seven and then ten yards on the Zimmer. And then, almost miraculously, the radiotherapy began to work, her pain disappeared and she was able to leave the hospice and go home.
My mother would go on to live for another four years and it’s no exaggeration to say that those four years were almost more precious than the 84 that had preceded them.
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/baroness-ilora-finlay/assisted-dying_b_8075776.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

A Doctor-Assisted Disaster for Medicine

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Wall Street Journal 17 August 2015
Since the voters of Oregon narrowly legalized physician-assisted suicide 20 years ago, there has been a profound shift in attitude toward medical care—new fear and secrecy, and a fixation on death. Well over 850 people have taken their lives by ingesting massive overdoses of barbiturates prescribed under the law. Proponents claim the system is working well with no problems. This is not true.
As a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, as well as a licensed physician for 35 years, I have seen firsthand how the law has changed the relationship between doctors and patients, some of whom now fear that they are being steered toward assisted suicide.
In one case a patient with bladder cancer contacted me. She was concerned that an oncologist treating her might be one of the “death doctors,” and she questioned his motives. This was particularly worrying to her after she obtained a second opinion from another oncologist who was more positive about her prognosis and treatment options. Whichever of the consultants was correct, such fears were never an issue before.
Under Oregon’s law, a patient can request lethal drugs only if he has a terminal illness and less than six months to live. However, it is nearly impossible to predict the course of an illness six months out, and many patients given such prognoses live full, rewarding lives long past six months.
The law requires that patients be referred for psychological examination if the doctor suspects they have depression or mental illness. But some doctors see suicide as a solution to suffering and depression as rational given patients’ circumstances. Last year only three of the 105 patients who died under the law were referred for a psychological exam.
http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-doctor-assisted-disaster-for-medicine-1439853118

Assisted Suicide: How One Woman Chose to Die, Then Survived

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Daily Signal 18 May 2015
In 1994, Jeannette Hall, a resident of King City, Ore., voted in favor of Ballot Measure 16, which for the first time in the United States, would allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives through physician-assisted suicide.
“I thought, hey, I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer,” Hall told The Daily Signal. “So I checked it. Then it became legal.”
That day at the ballot box, Hall never could have predicted that six years later, she would be diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer.
Doctors gave Hall, who was 55 at the time, two options: She could get radiation and chemotherapy and attempt to fight the cancer, or she could take a lethal dose of barbiturates to end her life.
“I was calling it over,” she said. “I wasn’t going to do chemo. When I heard what might take place in radiation … I wasn’t going to do it. I looked for the easy way out.”
Without treatment, Hall was given six months to a year to live, and therefore qualified for physician-assisted suicide through Oregon’s Death With Dignity law.
“She was terminal because she was refusing treatment,” Dr. Kenneth Stevens, one of Hall’s two cancer doctors, told The Daily Signal. “It’s like a person could be considered terminal if they’re not taking [their] insulin or [other] medications.”
http://dailysignal.com/2015/05/18/assisted-suicide-how-one-woman-chose-to-die-then-survived/

Inspirational MS sufferer taking on Himalayas

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OneNews 2 September 2015
Nick Allen is reaching heights that not so long ago seemed impossible.
Five years ago the avid mountaineer could barely walk and was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis.
“When I first got diagnosed I thought, ‘man my life is over’,” he said.
Taunted by the mountains he used to love, fighting fatigue and depression, Mr Allen contemplated ending his life.
“I had enough of the pain and I was out driving my car and pretty much decided to hit a tree.”
It was at that moment he knew he had to make some big changes – through food, fitness, family and faith.
“Being able to rest in the fact that God’s got it in control and that there is hope,” he says.
https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/inspirational-ms-sufferer-taking-on-himalayas-q08700.html