Catholic Free Press

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Legalizing physician assisted suicide still a threat

Posted By October 8, 2013 | 9:50 am | Lead Story #1
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By Tanya Connor

Last year Massachusetts created an autonomous commission whose goal is to restrain health care costs.
In England the government gives hospitals a bonus if patients don’t come out alive, and 60 percent of the hospitals take the bonus.
Dr. Paul A. Carpentier, of In His Image Family Medicine in Gardner, told listeners this on Saturday at the Death with Real Dignity conference against physician assisted suicide held at Assumption College.
A CT scan costs $83 in Canada, and $1,600 in the United States, he said. A month’s supply of Lipitor costs $40 in Canada, and $400 in the United States. But President Barack Obama is not allowing drugs from Canada into the United States; that would hurt medical companies financially, he said.
Such prices are what is driving up the cost of health care, but the Massachusetts health policy commission plans to crack down on doctors instead, because that is easier, Dr. Carpentier said. The plan is to do bundling, giving each area of the state a budget based on its total population and the number of people over 70 or over 50, and let doctors and hospitals decide who gets the care with a limited budget, he said.
He asked how he could say to a patient: “‘You could have that pacemaker but you are’ … fill in the age.”
Romneycare, signed into law by Gov. Mitt Romney, gave free health care to Massachusetts residents in need, but he state couldn’t sustain this financially, so the health policy commission is phase two, Dr. Carpentier said.
With the Liverpool Death Care Pathway in England, doctors decide, when a patient arrives at the hospital, whether or not to try to preserve his or her life, he said.
Doctors in England are not employing physician assisted suicide or killing patients outright, but are using methods like heavy sedation, which makes patients feel like not eating or breathing, leading to their death, he said. Heavy sedation is needed for only 2 percent of dying people, he said.
Like the Massachusetts commission, Obamacare’s so-called “death panel” is an unelected independent payment advisory board that does not report to anyone, Dr. Carpentier said. The American Medical Association says this board needs to be eliminated, he said. The Affordable Care Act mandates looking at patients’ ages and conditions to determine whether or how to treat them, a provision which the AMA also opposes, he said.
Obamacare no longer guarantees conscience protection for health care providers, Dr. Carpentier said. It says that to be able to prescribe medicine, they must be Medicare providers, and to be Medicare providers they must do whatever the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services mandates, which could include physician assisted suicide, abortions, sterilizations, and providing contraception.
Dr. Carpentier said economic advisers spoke to him and his colleagues about the federal deficit and Medicare, using the word “unsustainable.” They weren’t suggesting physician assisted suicide, he said, “but keep that in … your mind.”
In the 1920s Germany had the best medical system in the world, he said. But with a financial crisis leaving insufficient money to feed families, doctors justified killing the mentally ill. The Nazi party came to power, and asked the psychiatrists, who had invented the gas chamber, how to use it.
The Nuremberg Trials of Nazis showed how human nature can make very poor choices under extreme pressure, Dr. Carpentier said.
The tremendous economic pressure is not just on governments but on families too, he said.
“I’m talking about our own little groups,” he said. “We’re hoping for Pépé’s inheritance for little Johnny’s education.” But his inheritance is being chewed up by medical costs.
The true quality of life comes when the family rallies around and the dying person gets to say what he or she wants to, he said. We need to tell the dying person that they will not be alone in time of suffering but that “we will be there,” he said.

By Tanya Connor

Physician assisted suicide, narrowly defeated in last November’s election, is still a threat in Massachusetts, conference participants were reminded Saturday.
An attorney compared last year’s ballot question with a bill currently in the state legislature.
A respect life leader gave suggestions for aiding – instead of killing – the sick.
The conference, held at Assumption College, was called “Death With Real Dignity: Love vs. Hardships – Continuing the Discussion.” Sponsors were The Catholic Free Press, 1230 AM Emmanuel Radio and the Witness for Life Committee, formed to keep physician assisted suicide out of Massachusetts. More than 100 people attended the forum.
Speakers were Atty. Henry C. Luthin, acting president of the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund; Allison LeDoux, director of the Diocesan Respect Life and Marriage and Family Offices, and Dr. Paul A. Carpentier, of In His Image Family Medicine in Gardner.
All spoke against physician assisted suicide last year in voter education efforts. If a majority had voted “yes” on Ballot Question 2, physician assisted suicide would be legal in Massachusetts.
It was defeated 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent, said emcee Cindy R. Dorsey, Emmanuel Radio’s general manager.
“It was the power of prayer and the Lord that intervened,” said Atty. Luthin, also crediting African-Americans’ votes, the support of well-known people and the collaboration of varied ministries.
Mrs. LeDoux said voters defeated the ballot question in some areas that had educational panels, preaching and Catholic media coverage, but it is likely to return to the ballot in 2018. Meanwhile, a bill for legislators to vote on is in a committee, not moving, but must be watched, she said.
House Bill 1998, “An Act affirming a terminally ill patient’s right to compassionate aid in dying,” resembles the ballot question, but is worse in some ways, Atty. Luthin said.
The bill goes beyond the ballot question, affirming an “existing right of capable, terminally ill patients” to get medication from a physician to kill themselves, but prohibits state regulations from calling this “suicide” or “assisted suicide,” Atty. Luthin said. He said this so-called right does not exist in Massachusetts law.            Both the bill and ballot question permit adult Massachusetts residents who have a terminal illness expected to cause death within six months to obtain  drugs that would end their life immediately. Both speak of patients self-administering it, but Atty. Luthin said others could put it in their mouths.
Neither bill nor ballot question require notification of patients’ families.
Both call for the patient having the capacity to make and communicate health care decisions, including through persons familiar with the patient’s manner of communicating, which could include grunts, Atty. Luthin said. He said incompetent persons would probably be subject to physician assisted suicide since, under Massachusetts law, they have the same rights as competent persons.
The ballot question required the input of a consulting physician, but the bill allows the attending physician to waive that if it would cause “undue hardship” for the patient because of time or distance or if the illness is sufficiently advanced so as not to need consultation. The attending physician determines what is “reasonable,” Atty. Luthin said.
Conscience protections are weakened in the bill, he said. Those “unable or unwilling to carry out a patient’s request” for the life-ending drugs are to transfer the records, upon request, to a new health care provider, inform consumers how they will do this, and pay transfer costs.
The ballot question said the prescription could not be written sooner than 15 days after the patient’s written request, but the bill would permit getting it the same day, he said.
Both require two witnesses to the written request, at least one not entitled to any of the dead person’s estate. But neither bill nor ballot question require anyone to be present at the death, or that a record be kept of who is present, Atty.Luthin said. He said both require falsifying the death certificate by listing the underlying disease as the cause of death.
He suggested listeners read the bill, educate themselves, talk to others, and write legislators.
Mrs. LeDoux recommended that it would be helpful for patients to read the U.S. bishops’ 2009 “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” – for Catholic institutions.
To correctly apply moral principles to treatment, one should study the type of treatment, degree of complexity or risk, cost and possibility of using that treatment, she said.
Citing the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” #2278, she said a patient does not need to be kept alive at all costs. But nutrition and hydration are ordinary treatments that must usually be given, even in a “persistent vegetative state.”
She suggested not feeling pressured to make a hasty decision, getting a second opinion, consulting Catholics familiar with medical ethics, and choosing a health care proxy whose views mirror your own.
A proxy is a legal instrument that specifies an agent, or proxy, who makes decisions for an incompetent patient. Mrs. LeDoux urged listeners to appoint one who shares their values, use the Catholic health care proxy form for Massachusetts, give copies to their agent and doctor and keep copies on their computer and refrigerator.
She called for enlisting prayers of the homebound, informing them of television Masses or taking them to Mass, offering caregivers a break and getting patients pastoral care.
“We always want to give people hope,” and convey the redemptive value of suffering, she said. “People are not burdens,” but are tempted to choose physician assisted suicide when they feel they are.
Mrs. Dorsey said not wanting to burden the family, lower quality of life and depression are reasons people choose physician assisted suicide. She said proponents cite pain, but it was never one of the top reasons given in Oregon and Washington, where physician assisted suicide is legal.