Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Making Hospice Care and Palliative Sedation into "Stalking Horses" for Euthanasia

Wesley J. Smith has a compelling essay over at First Things dealing with California bill AB 2747 and the assisted-suicide movement which has promoted it. AB 2747 is a nefarious piece of work that would force doctors into active euthanasia.

In the essay, Smith also examines how euthanasia advocates have skillfully connected the issues of palliative care (including hospice ministry) to euthanasia (both active and passive) and physician-assisted suicide. Smith's own background in hospice care required a strict attention to suicide prevention as "an essential part of the package, crucial to fulfilling a hospice’s call to value the lives and intrinsic dignity of each patient until the moment of natural death. Indeed, when I was trained as a hospice volunteer, my instructor pounded into my head the importance of reporting to the hospice team any suicide threats or yearnings my patient might express so they could initiate proper intervention. As a consequence of this philosophy, many patients who might have killed themselves were later very glad still to be alive to get the most of the time they had remaining."

But my, how things have changed. Nowadays, euthanasia activists have made many hospices (not to mention hospitals and nursing homes) into places where suicide is facilitated, not prevented. A tragic case in point? Oregon.

Writes Smith,

...Toward this end, advocates often point to a statistic involving assisted-suicide deaths in Oregon. According to the state, approximately 86 percent of people who died by swallowing poisonous overdoses under the Oregon law were receiving hospice care at the time they committed assisted suicide. Promoters of such “aid in dying” claim that this proves dying patients need the additional choice of a lethal prescription to ensure a “good death” if hospice care does not suffice.

But there is another way to look at it. What advocates don’t mention—and this is an issue about which the state bureaucrats seem utterly indifferent—is that most of Oregon’s assisted suicides were facilitated in some way by people affiliated with the assisted-suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society), either as end-of-life “counselors” or as prescribing doctors after the patient’s own physician refused to write a lethal prescription. This means that the patients in the hospice who committed assisted suicide under Oregon’s law most likely did not receive suicide prevention—either because the hospice team was not alerted to their patient’s suicidal desire or perhaps the Oregon law has effectively short-circuited the prevention response by hospice professionals. In other words, rather than showing the need to expand hospice “services,” Oregon demonstrates how assisted suicide actually interferes with the proper delivery of hospice services—at least as the hospice was envisioned by Saunders.

There's yet more in Smith's essay of much importance. And I encourage you to take a few minutes and read it in its entirety.

For as Wesley Smith concludes, "Anyone who cares about the proper practice of medicine should be up in arms about the assisted-suicide movement’s attempt to make hospice and palliative sedation stalking horses for backdoor assisted suicide. Not only do such schemes subvert medicine by transforming legitimate medical interventions into life-terminating protocols, but proposals such as AB 2747 effectively deprofessionalize medical practice by reducing physicians to mere order-takers. Alas, this is par for the course for a movement obsessed with transforming killing into a legitimate answer to the problems of human suffering."