Assisted Death Debate – News from March 2012

End-of-Life discussions about Assisted Dying/Suicide/Euthanasia in news articles, blogs, videos from the left, right and center during the month of March 2012. This is a place to find out what’s being talked about around the world as we sort out this highly emotional and controversial issue.

Become informed, open your mind,  join in the discussions. Our leaders need to know what people are thinking and we need to know what our leaders are considering in terms of laws. These are conversations we all need to have!

Definitions

Direct active euthanasia is taking specific steps to cause the patient’s death, such as injecting the patient with drugs. This is usually an overdose of painkillers or sleeping pills.

Indirect active euthanasia is giving the patient a palliative drug that could lead to death.

Passive euthanasia is usually defined as withdrawing medical treatment with the deliberate intention of causing the patient’s death.

Assisted suicide is when a doctor provides a patient with the means to end his own life; however, a doctor does not administer it.

The Netherlands permits both physician-performed active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide; the Dutch law requires that the patient be facing intolerable suffering but not that the patient be terminally ill, nor even that the suffering be physical. In contrast, the Oregon and Washington statues permit only the writing of a prescription for a lethal drug but not active euthanasia, they require that the patient be terminally ill, and they make no mention of suffering. “Euthanasia and Law in Europe” Griffiths, j., et. al. Hart Publishing, 2008. From a book review in the New England Journal of Medicine by Margaret P. Battin, PhD

Death With Dignity isn’t Suicide – The DWDA patient is terminally ill and wants to live; the suicidal patient has no terminal illness but wants to die.

World laws on Assisted Suicide

UNITED STATES

U.S. Supreme Court and Assisted Suicide Resources

In 1996, two Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal struck down laws prohibiting assisted suicide. The appeals on these rulings were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court January 8, 1997. The court unanimously overturned both Circuit Court rulings on June 26, 1997.

Justice John Paul Stevens: “He showed great empathy for suffering patients and their physicians in the physician-assisted suicide cases, writing in a concurring opinion that although he agreed that patients have no constitutional right to physician-prescribed lethal drugs, he might change his mind if such a prescription was shown to be “the only possible means of preserving a dying patient’s dignity and alleviating her intolerable suffering” (Vacco v. Quill) NEJM 362;24

At least 30 states have laws explicitly criminalizing assisted suicide. Another nine states criminalize the practice through common law.

American Medical Assn. News
The number of Washington state residents who died of physician-assisted suicide rose to 70 in 2011, up from 51 in 2010 and 36 in 2009, when the state’s Death With Dignity Act took effect. The Washington State Dept. of Health reported in May that 103 patients requested and received lethal doses of medications from 80 different physicians in 2011.
In addition to the 70 who died after ingesting medication, 19 died of natural causes. An additional five died, but it is unclear whether they took the medications. No reports were received for the remaining nine patients, indicating that they were still alive at year’s end.
The vast majority of the terminally ill patients who received life-ending medications feared loss of autonomy, dignity and ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable. More than 90% were white, and 75% had at least some college education. Nearly 80% of the patients had cancer, said the report (doh.wa.gov/dwda/forms/DWDA2011.pdf).
Seventy-one patients in Oregon died of physician-assisted suicide in 2011. Since 1998, when Oregon’s first-of-its-kind law took effect, 753 patients in Oregon and Washington have died with physicians’ aid.

California

Woman charged with assisted suicide of vet

Victim of Alleged Assisted Suicide Remembered as Quiet, Good-Natured (Laguna Nigel Patch)

O.C. Woman Accused of Helping WWII Veteran Commit Suicide (LA Times blog)

Woman Arrested in Assisted Suicide of WWII Veteran Via Oxycontin-laced Yogurt (KPCC Radio)

Woman Accused in WWII Vet’s Suicide by Lethal Yogurt (US News)

Assisted Suicide Arrest Illustrates Death-on-Demand Logic of Euthanasia (National Right to Life News Today)

Defense in Assisted Suicide: Woman Unaware Vet Wanted to Die (OC Register)

Elizabeth Barrett, Woman Accused of Assisted Suicide, Claims She Didn’t Know Pills Would Kill (Huff Post Los Angeles)

Charges Filed in Yogurt-Assisted Suicide (KSN.com)

Woman Arrested After Grinding Oxycontin into Yogurt and Giving it to Healthy 86-year old veteran ‘in Apparent Assisted Suicide’ (UK Mail Online)

Calif. Woman Charged With Assisted Suicide (UPI.com)

Attorney: OC Woman Accused in Assisted Suicide Was Unaware Vet Wanted to Die (CBS News)

Woman Charged with Assisting Suicide of WWII Vet (RTT News)

Florida

Florida plans to bar some patients during flu epidemic by Sheri Fink, Sun-Sentinel (10.19.09) – “Florida health officials are drawing up guidelines that recommend barring patients with incurable cancer, end-stage multiple sclerosis and other conditions from being admitted to hospitals if the state is overwhelmed by flu cases.

The plan, which would guide Florida hospitals on how to ration scarce medical care during a severe flu outbreak, also calls for doctors to remove patients with poor prognoses from ventilators to treat those who have better chances of surviving. That decision would be made by the hospital.

The flu causes severe respiratory illnesses in a small percentage of cases, and patients who need ventilators and are deprived of them could die without the breathing assistance the machines provide.”

BUT FLORIDA DOES NOT ALLOW ASSISTED SUICIDE!

Georgia

Georgia high court strikes down assisted suicide law – The Supreme Court of Georgia has struck down — on First Amendment grounds — a state law intended to prevent assisted suicide. Reversal of the law means that a physician and three others who were charged with helping a man take his own life in 2009 are free from prosecution.

The wording of the law was too broad, encompassing not just the act of assisting a suicide but also related and constitutionally protected speech acts, the state Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 6… the high court said the state failed to provide an adequate explanation for or evidence about why a public advertisement or an offer to assist in an otherwise legal activity was sufficiently problematic to justify an intrusion on protected speech rights.

Case at a glance

Is a state law banning advertising of assisted suicide services constitutional?

The Supreme Court of Georgia said no. The court overturned the law, ruling that the state had failed to provide adequate explanation or evidence as to why an advertisement or an offer to assist in an otherwise legal activity was sufficiently problematic to justify an intrusion on protected speech rights.

Impact: Assisted suicide is now technically legal in Georgia, with no rules or regulations forbidding the practice.

Georgia Senate approves measure criminalizing assisted-suicide

Final Exit Network Inc. v. the State of Georgia, Supreme Court of Georgia, Feb. 6 (www.gasupreme.us/sc-op/pdf/s11a1960.pdf)

Hawaii

A Conversation about aid in dying in Hawaii – Every few years the Hawaii Legislature considers — and invariably rejects — legislation establishing physician-assisted suicide, also know as “death with dignity.”

The measures have primarily been opposed by religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church.

But Hawaii’s population is aging, and growing in size. The tremendous challenge of dealing with an ailing loved one was tragically illustrated just last week in the murder-suicide of an elderly Hawaii couple.

5 Hawaiian doctors offer assisted suicide to terminally ill patients – A group of Hawaii physicians is offering to write lethal prescriptions for terminally ill patients in a bid to test whether doctor-assisted suicide is allowed under state law.

In January, Dr. Nathanson co-founded the Physician Advisory Council for Aid in Dying, which now has five doctor members. The council has started a hotline to field queries from patients and doctors about end-of-life care issues and physician-assisted suicide. The idea is that Hawaii physicians who fear the legal consequences of writing life-ending prescriptions could refer their patients to the council for help, said Dr. Nathanson, 78.

“That’s the thing — I’m retired,” he said. “I think the worst that would happen is that they’d take my license away. I don’t think I’m going to put in any jail time. … My livelihood doesn’t depend on it, so I can be very brave.”

Dr. Nathanson said he is ready to be involved in the case that tests where Hawaii law stands on physician-assisted suicide.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts’s Death With Dignity Act ballot initiative  – H3884

Legal challenge to assisted suicide initiative – On Thursday, May 17, 2012, Massachusetts voters including members of the disability rights group Second Thoughts filed a challenge before the Supreme Judicial Court regarding the proposed ballot language for the measure that, if approved, would legalize assisted suicide in the state.

“The ballot language is clearly misleading,” said Second Thoughts director John Kelly of Boston. “We want the voters of Massachusetts to know exactly what they are voting on this November,” he said.

“The ballot language repeats the problems of the bill itself,” said Second Thoughts member Paul Spooner of Taunton. “The title is euphemistic, with the word ‘medication’ twisted beyond recognition. People will be led to believe that the measure is about palliative care, when it is about taking a lethal overdose — in other words, poison. Why not just call the act by its common and legal name, ‘physician-assisted suicide?'”

Massachusetts Dignity 2012– We’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response from people across Massachusetts who believe terminally ill patients deserve greater control over their end-of-life care. Hundreds of volunteers and donors have signed up to help with the effort. These decisions are deeply intimate and personal, and belong in the hands of individuals, not the government.

The proposed initiative gathered more than 84,000 signatures from voters for the initial qualification phase for which we only needed about 69,000 to move forward. After achieving that first step, the initiative was then put before the State Legislature for consideration and received a hearing. The next step in this process started yesterday when we filed the documents to request the petitions to put Dignity on the ballot.

The state constitution requires the petition to travel through the legislature where it is today. They had until May 1st to act on the petition but that didn’t happen. Now the petition has entered its next phase when we’ll need to collect about 20,000 more signatures by the end of June to put the question on the ballot in November.

Poll: Most support doctor-assisted suicide. Do you? (43% to 37%)

New Mexico

Patient joins doctor’s court case, asks for aid-in-dying option (Albuquerque, NM) – A 48 year old women with advanced ovarian cancer has joined a case asking a court to clarify the ability of mentally competent, terminally ill patients to obtain aid in dying from their physician if they find their dying process unbearable. Doctors have treated her with radiation and chemotherapy. For much of the time she has suffered debilitating exhaustion. In December she suffered neutropenia — an immune system “crash” — requiring hospitalization.
“That experience,” said Aja Riggs, “and the amount of pain and intensive medical treatment, has made me think: If this disease is going to take my life, I don’t need to go to the very end with it. I understand people can’t know how they’ll feel until they get there. So I don’t know. But I know I want to have the choice.”
The plaintiffs request a ruling that physicians who provide a prescription for medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill patient, which the patient could consume to bring about a peaceful death, would not be subject to criminal prosecution under existing New Mexico law, which makes a crime of assisting another to ‘commit suicide.’ The choice of a dying patient for a peaceful death is no kind of ‘suicide,’ the case asserts, and the physician does not assist such a patient in ‘committing suicide.’
“I’ve been thinking so much about having some control over the end of my life, and I felt I couldn’t talk about it with the people closest to me. I thought if it came to choosing a peaceful death, I would have to do it on my own to keep from implicating anyone else. To end that sense of fear and isolation that people have — about one of the most important incidents in our lives — it makes so much sense.” ACLU video

Oregon

The Death With Dignity Act in Oregon and Lane County – 13 years from Compassion & Choices Oregon.The Oregon DWDA was passed as a complex, double-safety-redundant process to address objections and predictions of doom by it’s opponents. The mechanical demands of the law represent an unfamiliar hurdle for the sympathetic physician and an enormous hurdle for a dying, emotionally distressed patient. The emotional hurdle for the first time sympathetic physician is not to be underestimated. As a result, only those patients who are educated enough and driven enough to push through the barriers, and have enough “time”, actually get to the final prescription. That currently amounts to .2% of the yearly deaths in Oregon. 83% of those who take the medication have cancer and 11% Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

Oregon Report shows more assisted suicides, more secrecy (National Right to Life News Today by Jonathan Imbody, Vice President for Government Relations for the Christian Medical Association. The Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation  issued a critique of the Public Health Department of the Oregon Health Authority’s report for physician-assisted suicides for the 2011 year.

The shroud of secrecy surrounding assisted suicide is heavier than ever. With each passing year, Oregonians know less and less about what is really happening with assisted suicides in the state.

Oregon docs not evaluating for depression before assisted suicide by Gene Tarne, a senior adviser at the Lozier Institute. In 2009, officials with the Oregon Health Department called the ongoing decline in requests for psychiatric evaluation for those seeking assisted suicide a “worrisome trend,” noting that “[t]he decline in formal evaluation raises concerns that depression remains undiagnosed in some patients who request and receive a prescription under the DWDA.”

Vermont

Life Everlasting: The religious right and the right to die by Garret Keizer, Harper’s Magazine 2/05) – This is the ballad of Doctor Lloyd Thompson (a founder of one of Vermont’s first hospice programs), who may or may not have hastened a patient’s death. This is a song about American secular democracy, which may be under a sentence of death, and about those forces gathering at the gallows. Most of all, this is a song about who owns your life.

Vermont’s death with dignity effort (4/16/12)- In a press release posted on Patient Choices Vermont’s website, Dick Walters, president of the organization stated, “Despite this decision, we appreciate the attempt by our Senate supporters to bring this bill to the Senate floor for a vote. We celebrate their courage and willingness to discuss an issue that is so important to so many Vermonters. We look forward to the day when all Vermont legislators get a chance to vote on the Death with Dignity bill.”

Vermont Citizens Against Assisted Suicide – True Dignity Vermont is a grassroots, independent, citizen-led initiative in opposition to assisted suicide in Vermont. Vermonters deserve true dignity and compassion at the end of life, not death and abandonment. Killing is not compassion, and True Dignity Vermont will work to ensure our end-of-life choices respect the dignity of all Vermont citizens.

Death With Dignity Bill may not go to full Senate (VPR News) Senator Sears: “A lot of times bills are votes based upon what I think my constituents want, or what’s best for the state of Vermont, what’s best for my region, etc, etc. This is one, clearly a vote of conscience.”

We shouldn’t encourage suicide (Letter to Editor Times Argus)

INTERNATIONAL

Australia

A doctor in Australia, ““Developing palliative care services in Noosa is as important as being able to choose to die with a terminal illness.

“There needs to be better support for people dying at home. With personal experience, I can’t speak highly enough of those doctors who make themselves available when a person is dying at home and the community nurses do a wonderful and professional job in caring for the dying. But more thought needs to be given to back-up systems, especially concerning the availability of restricted drugs after hours.”

Godless Gross blog – A moral storm in a mortal teacup? Yet published research on assisted suicide laws are far from a slippery slope. A study of US state Oregon and the Netherlands, both of which have legislated for assisted suicide, shows that vulnerable groups are not ‘‘groomed’’ for suicide. Indeed in some studies the number of deaths by assisted suicide is utterly tiny (0.13 per cent in Oregon and 0.02 per cent in Switzerland).

These figures could be used to impugn both sides of the argument. There is no slippery slope, as feared by the churches, and there is no real need for reform, as argued by the advocates for change. There is no evidence that life will be so cheapened that we will then call for the killing of those with diminished capacity.

When you speak to doctors and look at these small numbers, is it all a moral storm in a mortal teacup?  The doctors I have spoken to don’t cry out for the power to kill but for the courage to be not too enthusiastic with invasive treatment. Saving the dying from futile care is far more important numerically than the politicised area of euthanasia.

Consumers call for euthanasia to be examined (CanberraTimes.com.au) – The legal status of voluntary euthanasia should be considered by a Senate committee inquiring into palliative care in Australia, according to the Health Care Consumers Association of the ACT.

The group has also used a submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee to renew calls for a second, ”secular” hospice to be built in Canberra to complement the Clare Holland House hospice.

We need to talk about euthanasia(CanberraTimes.com.au) – As the general population has aged, diseases which were rare only decades ago, are manifesting themselves. Cancers, wasting diseases and also dementia-related conditions, are now reaching epidemic proportions.

Medical technology has progressed over recent years to the point where a body can be kept “alive” by artificial means. Where once a condition might claim a life, today many patients are faced with enduring long periods attached to wires and tubes. ? Rather than enduring these indignities and dying in agony, many patients ask to be helped to die.

Belgium

Ten years after euthanasia law opposition simmers by Taylor Poole (UPI) – “Philippe Mahoux, the head of the Socialist Party in the Senate and one of the fathers of the euthanasia law in Belgium, said Parliament began debates about euthanasia in 2000 and eventually passed the law because there was a demand for it.

The three most common reasons for euthanasia requests are when a patient is suffering without prospect of improvement, when he or she is feeling a loss of dignity or experiencing pain, reported a study by Yanna Van Wesemael, a psychologist and researcher.

Wesemael’s 2011 study on the outcomes of euthanasia requests states that, since 2002, 48 percent of requests have been carried out. Some are withdrawn, some patients die before they receive approval and some requests are refused.

Lionel Roosemont (father of a 16-year-old child born with half a brain) says he sees signs that the attitude toward euthanasia in Belgium is increasingly found in other parts of the world, including the United States. He’s concerned that a similar law could be introduced in the United States if Americans, like Belgians, view being able to choose when to die as an issue of personal freedom.”

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2012/03/16/Ten-years-after-Belgian-euthanasia-law-opposition-simmers/UPIU-7421331581626/#ixzz1vuWwUZAG

Canada

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (Canada)- Legalizing euthanasia would leave the vulnerable unprotected (3/28/12) – On March 22, the Quebec government’s Dying with Dignity Commission released its recommendations concerning euthanasia and palliative care. The media reported that the commission recommended the legalization of assisted suicide in exceptional cases.

In fact, the commission recommends that euthanasia be legalized — but not assisted suicide — in Quebec. The commission’s recommendations are similar to Belgian-style euthanasia, which is not limited to exceptional cases.

The first half of the report contains recommendations for improving palliative care, including the need for greater public awareness of the full range of palliative care options available today. We at the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) support these recommendations. EPC believes that improvements to pain and symptom management must be systematically implemented before the issue of euthanasia can be fairly addressed.

However, EPC vigorously opposes the second half of the report which recommends legalizing Belgium-style euthanasia.

Barbara Kay – Euthanasia report is reassuring but misleading(11/16/11) – The Royal Society of Canada (RSC) has recommended that the Criminal Code of Canada be amended so that people in poor health would have the right to physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The six-person panel, headed by Queen’s University bio-ethicist Udo Schuklenk, claims that fears of the elderly and the infirm of being hastened to death without their full consent are unwarranted:

“The evidence from years of experience and research where euthanasia and/or assisted suicide are permitted does not support claims that decriminalization will result in vulnerable persons being subjected to abuse or a slippery slope from voluntary to non-voluntary euthanasia,” reads a summary of the report’s findings.

B.C. woman asks for right to assisted suicide (8/5/11) – If Gloria Taylor has her way, Canadians may soon be able to choose doctor-assisted suicide rather than a prolonged and agonizing death. The Kelowna, British Columbia woman is suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. She is gradually losing her ability to walk, use her hands, swallow and even breathe.

In a CBC interview on June 29, 2011, Ms. Taylor talked about her decision to join the B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s suit challenging laws that criminalize assisted suicide. She has discussed her wishes with her family. Having watched Ms. Taylor’s slow, inexorable decline, they support her decision to request the option to legally commit suicide. She said, “No one in my family wants to see me suffer….I have the blessings of my family and all my closest friends.”

Death needs no assistance – The B.C. Catholic Paper (3/2/12)  – One of the primary purposes of good health care for the dying is the relief of pain and the suffering caused by it. Effective management of pain and palliative care in all its forms are critical in the appropriate care of the dying. We are grateful Catholic institutions are in the forefront of such treatment.

The truth that life is a precious gift from God has profound implications for our personal and social stewardship over human life. Because as social beings we live in community, we are not the owners of our lives, and therefore do not have absolute power over life and death.

We have a duty to preserve life. Yet this duty is not absolute, for life-prolonging procedures that are insufficiently beneficial or excessively burdensome may be forgone. Euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, however, is never a morally acceptable option.

Montreal

Dying with dignity – Finally, some compassion, declares RPCU (Canada Newswire) – The Regroupement provincial des comités des usagers (RPCU) supports the recommendations in the report released by the Select Committee on Dying with Dignity, which include improved palliative care and medical assistance when dying.

“Palliative care must be available everywhere – including in patients’ homes, as recommended by the Committee,” asserted Pierre Blain, director general of the RPCU.

“Compassion and respect for human beings should override all other aspects when considering end-of-life issues.”

Assisted suicide to be allowed? (The Barrie Examiner by Giuseppe Valliante, QMI Agency – Canada may have just moved one step closer to legalizing assisted suicide, according to prominent author and emeritus professor at the University of Toronto, Wayne Sumner.

Sumner, author of Assisted Death: A study in Ethics and Law, told QMI Agency Friday that he thinks the Supreme Court of Canada will likely agree to rehear the case for assisted suicide and will reverse its position on the issue.

“The winds are tending to blow in that direction,” he said.

On Thursday, a nine-member multi-party committee of Quebec MNAs presented a report to the province’s legislature recommending what it called “medical aid to die.”

The committee recommended that Quebec’s legislature enshrine rules governing assisted suicide in the province’s Civil Code within a year. Moreover, it also wants the government to prevent its attorney general from prosecuting Quebec doctors who help their patients die — regardless of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Sumner said the Quebec report is “a logical progression from the existing state of affairs.”

Patients already have the right in Canada to refuse food and other end-of-life treatments, he said. Keeping assisted suicide illegal in Canada is based on an “irrational prejudice,” he said.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that assisted suicide should remain illegal.

Quebec

Quebec report calls for euthanasia legislation (Globe and Mail) – Quebec is being asked to take the bold step of legislating a form of medically supervised euthanasia.
A report entitled Dying With Dignity that an all-party select committee tabled on Tuesday, includes a proposal called “medical aid to die” that is based on the opinion that dying is a part of life, and since medical assistance is used to prolong life, it should also be used in extreme cases to end it.

“Medical aid to die is more of an evolution than a revolution,” said Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon, the committee co-chair. “The patient must be the one who asks the assistance. It cannot be in any case someone else who asks for it.”

After more than two years of sometimes difficult deliberations and public hearings, the committee proposed that the government legislate an end to the enforcement of long and painful deaths.

The committee insisted the proposal is in no way a form of assisted suicide but rather the ultimate health care solution for the terminally ill.

“This approach abandons the debate over the legalization of euthanasia to situate it in terms of appropriate end-of-life care,” Ms. Hivon said.

Allow doctor-assisted suicide in exceptional cases, Quebec panel says (The Record.com by Sidhartha Banerjee) – A landmark report in Quebec recommends that doctors be allowed to help terminally ill patients die, in exceptional circumstances, if they want to.

The report was released Thursday in the Quebec legislature after two years of work from the so-called Dying With Dignity Committee, a multi-partisan group of nine MNAs (legislature members).

The argument for allowing euthanasia — even in some exceptional cases — could trigger a national debate again in Canada on the controversial issue.

In 1992 assisted suicide hit the national radar when Sue Rodriguez, a B.C. woman, fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada for the right to kill herself. Rodriguez, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS), lost by a 5-4 decision. She killed herself anyway with the help of an unidentified physician in 1994.

Since then, the issue has surfaced a number of times in court where people have been charged with helping loved ones die, including three such cases in Quebec in the past few years.

The committee examined questions about the end of life and produced a 180-page report with 24 recommendations.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition rejects Quebec euthanasia proposal and supports end-of-life care – The Select Committee on Dying with Dignity Committee in Quebec released its report today recommending that Quebec ignore the federal law that protects all Canadians, by legalizing euthanasia according to a Belgium model.

 The report defies parliament’s overwhelming defeat of a similar bill to legalize euthanasia by a margin of 228 to 59 after full-debate and across party lines.
The report does not adequately address concerns related to elder abuse, suicide prevention and vulnerability at the end of life, as addressed by the recent report by the parliamentary committee on palliative and compassionate care (November 2011)
The report splits its recommendations between improving palliative care and informing the public about their rights and options related to end-of-life decision making; and legalizing euthanasia.
Matt Gurney: Euthanasia a right long denied – Quebec’s Dying with Dignity Commission has done Canadians a service with its study on how best to cope with a dying citizen’s final days. The report, two years in the making, was tabled in the Quebec National Assembly on Thursday. It recommends that Quebec take steps to improve palliative care and allow patients receiving such care to do so in their home — worthy suggestions — but also recommends that Quebec offer a final option for those who seek it.
“Some sufferings can’t be relieved satisfactorily and the seriously ill who want to put an end to their sufferings, they deem senseless, come up against a refusal that isn’t in line with Quebec’s values of compassion and solidarity,” the report says. In these cases, the authors urge, Quebec should permit euthanasia (but not, interestingly, assisted suicide).
It will be a controversial conclusion, but probably more owing to the volume of opponents, rather than their numbers. Quebecers have generally been out in front of other Canadians in supporting legalized options for euthanasia: An Angus Reid poll in late 2010 found that 63% of Canadians generally support euthanasia, but that number rises to 78% in Quebec. Other polls show that a majority of Quebec’s doctors are also in support.

Not Dead Yet Responds to Report of the Quebec Commission on the Issue of Dying With Dignity (Seattlepi.com) – Disability rights advocates from Not Dead Yet react to the Report of the Commission on the Issue of Dying With Dignity in Quebec, Canada, noting that it contains some positive measures as well as fatal flaws.

The report of the Quebec parliament’s commission on dying with dignity contains some positive measures as well as fatal flaws, according to Amy Hasbrouck, a resident of Valleyfield, Quebec and board chair of Not Dead Yet, an international disability rights organization opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“They have addressed some important issues related to palliative care and advance directives,” said Hasbrouck. “The Commission has made an effort to respond to the needs of people near the end of life. Unfortunately the commission’s work is marred by a lack of precision and does not take disability discrimination and elder abuse into account. These factors, along with reliance on good faith and inadequate ‘safeguards,’ mean the Commission has failed elders and people with disabilities.”

Quebec report in support of euthanasia condemned as dangerous betrayalby DeborahGyapong, Canadian Catholic News – Living with Dignity (LWD), a network of anti-euthanasia groups in Quebec, has condemned the province’s Select Committee on Dying with Dignity report’s support for euthanasia as “dangerous” and a “profound act of political betrayal.”After holding consultations across the province last year, on Mar. 22 the committee recommended the legalization of euthanasia for people experiencing constant, unbearable physical or psychological suffering.”From the outset of the committee’s consultation, Quebecers were guaranteed that their voices would be heard and that the direction they gave would be followed,” said Dr. Andre Bourque, president of LWD. “On the basis of that promise, Quebecers spoke forcefully against opening the door to euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

“The committee has arrogantly and dangerously broken its word to the very people it promised to heed,” he said.

France

Protestors call on candidates to change euthanasia laws by Collette Davidson – A French organisation led up to 2,000 members in protest in Paris on Saturday, to fight for the right to die in dignity. The group is calling for changes to French laws to legalise euthanasia. An opposing organisation held their own protest across town, against the practice.

The two French presidential front-running candidates remain opposed on the issue, with socialist François Hollande in favour of assisted suicide and President Nicolas Sarkozy against it.

Ireland

Public can decide over euthanasia – The Ulster Unionist leadership contest has moved into ethical questions after front-runner Mike Nesbitt suggested there should be a referendum on whether to legalise euthanasia.

Asked during an interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show for his views on a patient with an incurable disease who wants to be killed – something currently illegal in the UK – Mr Nesbitt said that it was an issue for the public rather than politicians to decide.

He said: “I’m conflicted on that because if it was me I would probably want to get out of the way.”

The Strangford MLA said if euthanasia was legalised there would have to be protections to “ensure that the people surrounding you are properly motivated [in ending your life]”.

And Mr Nesbitt, who had earlier in the interview proposed a referendum on whether to allow for an opposition at Stormont, said: “That’s one, again, where I think you should go to the people, it’s not necessarily a matter for a politician.”

However, when pressed on whether that meant he was prepared to support euthanasia with those protections, Mr Nesbitt said: “No, I didn’t say that. If the protections are there it’s still a matter of principle that I’m afraid I would struggle to support but I hope that I would never be in the way of my children and hopefully my children’s children when it’s my turn.”

Asked then if he was opposed to euthanasia, Mr Nesbitt said: “Yeah.”

Netherlands

Dutch pensioner’s decision: when to die with dignity by Nicolas Delaunay – With a deadly dose of barbiturates stashed in his home in a small eastern Dutch town, pensioner Hans Hillebrand is a “self-determinist”: he alone wants to decide when it’s time to die with dignity. “I shall be the director of my own final scene,” he said.

Hillebrand is one of a growing number of aging Dutch people who prefer to make their own decisions about when and where to die — and in a dignified way.

“Senior citizens today like to decide things for themselves, more than previous generations,” said Ton Vink of De Einder (The Ender in Dutch), an organisation dedicated to “informing” people who want to end their own lives.

More and more Dutch voices are being raised in support of a right to claim assistance to die with dignity after “an accomplished life” and not just when the requirements by law for euthanasia are fulfilled.

A citizens’ initiative called “An Accomplished Life” which supports the idea, has already gathered more than 117,000 signatures, more than the 40,000 required for a debate in the Dutch parliament, which was held in early March.

Even with the country’s liberal laws on euthanasia, a doctor still has the final say whether the criteria have been fulfilled for assisted suicide, namely unbearable and prolonged suffering caused by incurable disease.

Mercy killings: Dutch, Belgians mark a decade to legalizing euthanasia by Nicolas Delaunay, Agence France-Presse. Euthanasia provided to an Alzheimer’s patient for the first time last year.

“The (euthanasia) law has been positive, as it has made huge changes in patient-doctor relationships,” said Jacqueline Herremans, president of Belgium’s Association for the Right to Die with Dignity (ADME).

“Many taboos on the end-of-life have been lifted,” she said.

“It allows families to better prepare for it and accept the deaths of their loved ones. They can put in place the rituals, like good-byes and a last meal..,” she said.

While most countries forbid mercy killing, the issue is often not clear cut as some allow “passive” euthanasia, when the medical profession is not required to fight to save a patient, or others where patients can refuse medical care.

New Zealand

Will you support one courageous voice? by Ann David, Voluntary Euthanasia Society – It is a relief to know that one courageous politician is willing to swim against the tide of political disregard for the will of constituents.

Labour list MP Maryan Street has announced her intention to sponsor a bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia.

This is exactly what more than 70 per cent of New Zealand voters have been calling for with increasing stridency over a number of decades.

It will be a private member’s bill. This means it must be drawn out of the ballot box for consideration and it could languish in waiting for months or years before seeing light.

In the meantime, more cases will undoubtedly be brought before the courts seeking to criminalise the innocent.

Grief-stricken family members no longer able to resist the pleadings of their loved ones to assist them to die, or doctors who believe in respecting a patient’s rights to call a halt to suffering, will be on trial for succumbing to humanity.

Salvation Army cautions against end-of-life choice – The Salvation Army notes the intention of Maryan Street (MP) to introduce a Private Members “end of life choice” Bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide.

The Salvation Army believes euthanasia and assisted suicide are morally wrong regardless of illness, age or disability, and does not accept the view that euthanasia is “death with dignity”. It says there are two important misconceptions around euthanasia: that death is usually preceded by serious pain, and that modern medicine seeks to prolong the dying process for as long as possible.

“Society’s task is not to eliminate those who suffer, but to find better ways of dealing with their suffering,” says Major Stevenson, chair of The Salvation Army’s Moral and Social Issues Council.

The Salvation Army believes it is important to communicate by word and deed to the sick, the elderly and the dying that they are worthy of respect, they are loved, and that they will not be abandoned. Full palliative care should be available to anyone with a terminal illness.

Religious groups fight early exit bill – Euthanasia is ethically wrong, and individuals could be placed under more pressure from family members to choose an “early exit” if a new bill goes ahead, say the Salvation Army and the InterChurch Bioethics Council.

Both groups have come out against a proposed “end of life choice” member’s bill being drafted by Nelson-based Labour list MP Maryan Street.

The bill would make it legal for those diagnosed as terminally ill, and fully in control of their mental faculties, to choose to die, and for assisting clinicians or family members to be protected from liability.

Chairman of the Salvation Army’s Moral and Social Issues Council Major Garth Stevenson said euthanasia and and assisted suicide were “morally wrong”, and removing legal liability from health professionals and family could place individuals under undue pressure.

“By offering some the choice to end their life, even with the best of intentions, we may also be removing a choice from others who may consequently feel pressured to choose an `early exit’.”

Spain

Spain’s main conservative and socialist parties join in rejecting euthanasia billby Matthew Cullinan Hoffman – Under the slogan “life is a right, not an obligation,” the Plural Left, a coalition of three small socialist parties, offered a bill yesterday to eliminate criminal penalties to one who by “necessary actions or active cooperation, permits, brings about, or facilitates death with dignity and without pain of another person, with express, free, and unequivocal permission of the same, when they suffer from a serious illness that would have definitely caused his death.”

The legislation also would have given individuals the right to “understand at least the purpose and nature of each intervention and treatment, as well as the risks and consequences,” and to “refuse to consent to a treatment” if they so wished.

The proposal was roundly rejected by Spain’s two biggest parties, which are normally at loggerheads over human life and family issues.

Switzerland

Swiss law tolerates assisted suicide when patients commit the act themselves and helpers have no vested interest in their death. Assisted suicide has been allowed in the country since the 1940s.
 
Death is usually induced through a lethal dose of barbiturates that has been prescribed by a doctor. Ingestion of the poison, whether by drinking it or through the use of intravenous drips or stomach tubes, must be carried out by the person wanting to die.
 
A 2006 decision by the Swiss Federal Court ruled that all people of sound judgment, irrespective of whether they suffer from a mental illness, have the right to decide the manner of their death.
 
The government examined various options to regulate assisted suicide practises and decided not to seek legal changes but to boost suicide prevention and palliative care.
 
Switzerland has two main groups which cater to people who seek an assisted suicide, Exit and Dignitas.

Dr. Jerome Sobel, president of Exit (Switzerland) I think it’s their right, their choice, and their individual freedom. Currently if a patient in a home asks for assisted suicide, homes can refuse to give permission. New law would force old people’s’ homes to open their doors to assisted suicide providers.
He believes physicians should accompany their patients in their chosen death, respect their last wish.

Swiss voters overwhelmingly support assisted suicide  (5/16/11) – Voters in Zurich, Switzerland supported the legality of assisted suicide in two measures which sought to ban the practice.  The first would have banned assisted suicide, which has been legal in Switzerland since 1941, completely, while the other proposed limiting assisted suicide to Zurich residents only, in an attempt to curb the tide of foreigners who take advantage of Switzerland’s liberal policy and travel to Switzerland to die.  85% of voters rejected the overall ban, and 78% voted against the second proposal.

The results were a sweeping affirmation of Swiss support for assisted suicide, despite the fact that before the election, 66% of Swiss people were said to oppose “suicide tourism.”  Active suicide is illegal in Switzerland, so while patients can be prescribed deadly drugs, they must ingest them without any assistance from others.

Headlines:

Switzerland: Sharp Rise in Assisted Suicide Numbers
More People Die in Switzerland Via Assisted Suicide in 2011
Murder in the Netherlands
Assisted suicide booms in Switzerland
Swiss assisted suicide deaths continue to increase
Europe’s culture of death on upswing

Swiss assisted suicide up seven-fold in a decade

Some actual numbers – 68 more than last year, 164 over 13 years
Digitas (near Zurich) 144 people in 2011, up 35% – 2/3 women
Exit – 300 people, up from 257
Most suffering from cancer
Average age 76
Men more likely to commit suicide – 1050 annually

No Doc Will Help? Sue Government to Kill You by Michael Carl – Assisted suicide on trial after physicians refuse woman lethal drugs.

If Alda Gross gets her way, the Swiss government will give her the drugs needed to commit suicide.

Gross filed a lawsuit against the Swiss government when she couldn’t find a doctor to prescribe for her the suicide drug sodium pentobarbitol.

United Kingdom

Should we legalize assisted suicide? (Walesonline.com) – The case of Tony Nicklinson who has locked-in syndrome, has once again raised the issue of about whether we should legalize assisted suicide. The High Court last week decided it will hear Mr. Nicklinson’s case– he wants a doctor to be able to lawfully end his life, which he sums up as “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable.”
Baroness Ilora Finlay, a professor of palliative care at Cardiff University, speaks against legalizing assisted suicide. Dr. Jeremy Honeybun, a GP and member of Dignity in Dying and Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, explains why he believes the UK should legalize assisted dying.

MP and doctor Dan Poulter’s expresses fears over right to die (The Telegraph by Laura Donnelly) – An MP who still works as a doctor is to use a Parliamentary debate to oppose any moves towards so-called “right to die” legislation, saying his experience has turned him against assisted suicide.

Dr Dan Poulter will warn that current prosecution guidelines on assisted dying must not be passed into law as he believes they have the potential to lead to patients being killed simply to benefit their relatives – a risk he has seen on the wards.

But he will also speak of the need for dignity and compassion for the dying and describe how his own resuscitation of a very ill woman left her spending her last three weeks alive in pain because the procedure broke her ribs.

Richard Ottoway MP hints at support for euthanasia law (The Telegraph by John Bingham) – Richard Ottoway, the MP behind the first full Commons debate on assisted suicide for almost 40 years, has hinted he would support further moves towards legalising euthanasia.

Mr Ottaway, a Tory backbencher, has secured parliamentary time for a full debate on new legal guidelines on whether those who help terminally ill love-ones travel to Switzerland to end their lives should be prosecuted.

He said that the debate, on Tuesday, would be the first time since 1974 that the Commons has discussed a substantive motion dealing directly with the issue of whether people should have a right to die.

In the intervening decades, a string of cases have tested the law on assisted suicide to the limit and a series of polls have pointed to growing public support for a change although it remains a criminal offence.

MP’s plea for law change after his father’s suicide (Sheffield Telegraph) – Central MP Paul Blomfield told this week how his father committed suicide after being diagnosed with lung cancer .

The Labour MP said his father took his own life last July at the age of 87, by filling his garage with exhaust fumes. His dad had watched many friends suffer for months before dying and did not want to suffer the indignity of being unable to look after himself.

Mr Blomfield said he was sure his father would not have killed himself if the law was changed so his relatives could have assisted his suicide, free from the fear of prosecution.

The assisted suicide debate will be interpreted in multiple ways by Steve Baker, MP) – This policy does not in any way “decriminalise” the offence of encouraging or assisting suicide. Nothing in this policy can be taken to amount to an assurance that a person will be immune from prosecution if he or she does an act that encourages or assists the suicide or the attempted suicide of another person.

Parliament does not want to normalise assisted suicide and, for most of us, our welcome of the DPP’s guidance reaffirms the view that life is precious and that assisting suicide  is a criminal offence, albeit one which it may not always be in the public interest to prosecute.

Attempt to relax laws on assisted suicide fails (The Christian Institute) – An attempt to undermine the law against assisted suicide has been unanimously rejected by the House of Commons.

In stark contrast the Commons gave unanimous backing to an amendment encouraging the development of specialist palliative care services.

Therese Coffey, a Conservative MP, said: “It was a mature debate but certainly clear that there was no appetite of the majority of the House to change the law as it stands today.”

Victory for compassion as MPs unanimously support non prosecution of compassionate amateur assistance to die. – Dignity in Dying has today welcomed MPs’ historic decision to back Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) guidelines on assisted suicide, as well as MPs endorsement of further development of end-of-life care via an amendment to the motion.  The DPPs guidelines make clear that those who compassionately assist a loved one to die at their request are unlikely to be prosecuted, and that those who maliciously encourage the death of another will feel the full force of the law.

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