Do-it-Yourself End of Life Plan

People like to feel they’re in control of their lives. They decide who to marry, where to work and live, and how to enjoy their free time.

One thing that should not be under anyone’s control, however, is how and when we die.

But now there’s a growing misplaced and sinister attempt to convince people they can take their very lives into their own hands and make those very decisions.

“Such an idea is morally wrong and clearly unbiblical,” Georgia Right To Life (GRTL) President Dan Becker said. “God alone determines when someone dies, as Psalm 31:15 says, ‘My times are in your hand.’”

Noting the growing pressure to encourage older people to simply do their duty and get out of the way, Becker said encouraging assisted suicide—in any form—is the latest manifestation of the “culture of death” in this country.

“First, women were encouraged to kill their babies if carrying the child or giving birth presented challenges. Now the focus has expanded to saving society the time and expense of caring for the elderly and infirm,” Becker said.

Carried to its extreme, “death with dignity” often involves encouraging, or even coercing, people to end their own lives.

“Wanting to spare family the agony and expense of a prolonged death, advocates claim physician-prescribed suicide is an acceptable way to leave this life,” Becker said

The heinous trend really got underway when Oregon legalized doctor-prescribed  suicide in l977. Since then, more than 1,170 people have received medical prescriptions to end their lives. Of those, more than 750 people have actually succumbed and taken their life.

Montana, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington State have adopted similar laws; Georgia passed an anti-assisted suicide law in 2012.

One of the fastest-growing methods being prompted is called Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking, or VSED. (Note: VSED is different than when a dying person naturally loses the desire, or the ability, to eat or drink).

A main VSED proponent is the former Hemlock Society’s successor, “Compassion and Choices” (C&C).

The group claims “aid in dying is the most neutral term to describe what proponents call death with dignity, and opponents call doctor-prescribed suicide.”

C&C has even promoted VSED for those who are not terminally ill. “There are those who may not be seriously ill but are simply ‘done.’ After eight or nine decades of life, they want information about ways to gently slip away in a peaceful and dignified manner.”

Sadly, the reality of VSED is far from a “neutral ” decision: it’s painful, dehumanizing and places families and many healthcare providers under stress and often guilt. C&C clearly recognizes that reality since it recommends those planning to practice VSED seek physician or hospice care. You simply don’t lie down and painlessly slip away.

The reason is simple. For example, a few of the conditions a patient practicing VSED can experience over a 5 to 21 day period include:

  • Dehydration which causes the mouth to dry out and become coated with a thick material.
  • The tongue becomes swollen and cracked.
  • The eyes recede into their orbits.
  • The stomach lining dries out, likely causing the patient to experience dry heaves and vomiting.
  • Brain cells dry out causing convulsions.

Despite those and other gruesome consequences, VSED supporters brazenly maintain it’s a painless, graceful and peaceful process. 

That claim is blatantly deceptive. Even with powerful sedatives and other measures dehydration deaths have been described as horrific. One woman described her mother’s death: “Her body mass reduced, her face became drawn, her skin was dry. She was dying of thirst. It was like being in the desert. I felt my mother was tortured until she died.”

Another woman died “howling with anguish” after two weeks of not eating and drinking.  This was despite the fact that she received small doses of morphine to combat cramps and a sedative to relieve emotional anxiety.

Making the situation more troubling is the tendency of many healthcare workers to dance around the issue, even though C&C boldly claims that VSED is not assisted suicide.

As evidence, last year the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization issued a newsletter regarding the ethical issues involved with VSED, but made no recommendations. The letter only raised questions to discuss. Apparently, individual hospices are on their own.

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM), representing physicians, was even more vague. Dr. Porter Storey, the group’s executive vice president, told GRTL: “AAHPM does not have a stance on hospice patients who stop eating in an effort to die more quickly.  In my 30-plus years in the field I have never seen this happen.”

Several Atlanta area hospices declined to discuss the issue. However, the executive director at one hospice said the idea of helping a non-terminally ill patient to starve themselves is “very disturbing. It goes against every rule and we wouldn’t do it.”

However, the same person said they would honor the request of a patient who was terminally ill and wanted to speed up the dying process. “We can’t force patients to eat or drink.”

Unfortunately, they would be protected by a loophole in Georgia’s anti-assisted suicide law that permits healthcare workers to deny food and hydration to a patient who makes such a request, regardless of their condition.

Even worse, GRTL has received reports of cases where hospice workers have actually withheld nutrition and hydration  without the patient's or family's consent.

Then there’s the question of is it ethical for a physician to write an order for hospice care for a patient who is not terminally ill, but just wants to die? The Georgia Composite Medical Board, which licenses physicians, did not respond to voice mail asking that question.

“There’s a lot of ducking, avoiding, and obfuscation about this issue,” Becker said.  “There’s a dangerously fuzzy line between letting the natural dying process occur, which GRTL supports, and actively helping a patient commit suicide.”

He also explained that GRTL supports the use of pain medicine and other medications to help a patient die naturally. “That’s assisting someone truly die with dignity, as opposed to being a party to killing them,” Becker said.

To draw a bright line between caring and killing, Becker said “Georgia’s leaders need to understand what VSED really is. We need to refine our laws to make any form of assisted suicide illegal.”

Sources: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; firstthings.com; people.com; compassionandchoices.org; patientsrightscouncil.org.

 

By Wayne DuBois
Media Relations Advisor