Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Intervention and Prevention: The Proper Response to Request for Hastened Death


The assisted suicide movement has the media eating out of the palm of its collective hand, by often getting reporters to adopt their lexicon--the euphemistic "aid in dying" as opposed to the accurately descriptive "assisted suicide"--and writing as if suicide were a necessity--even though the cases from Oregon show that almost all assisted suicides involve fears of loss of dignity or of burdening others, etc. And the media virtually never mention that proper hospice care includes intervention and prevention whenever a patient requests to end it all through suicide.

But some in the medical professions still understand the ethical and truly compassionate practice of medicine and nursing. An article in Oncology Nursing News about a continuing medical education class encouraged me. From the story:
Patient and family requests for hastened death usually reflect unmet needs rather than a desire to control the circumstances of death, Boston hematologist Janet Abrahm, MD, said during an education session on pain management and palliative care at the recent annual ASH meeting. The unmet needs often relate to a desire for increased communication with care providers, better symptom control, or acknowledgment of emotional distress or crisis. Clinician responses run the gamut and in some cases can even exacerbate the unmet needs.
That is certainly what I was taught as a hospice volunteer. And here's the kicker:
Regardless of personal or professional feelings about hastened death, providers must respond to such requests, rather than ignore or deny them.
Dr Abrahm suggested a multistep response that would include the following: Acknowledge the request and make sure it has been understood: Clarify the underlying causes, just as a clinician would clarify causes of physical symptoms; Evaluate the patient's decision-making capacity; Evaluate the patient for depression and risk of suicide and determine whether the patient has a plan to hasten death; Be aware that an immediate psychiatric evaluation is indicated for any patient who has a death plan.
This last part is totally ignored by the "death with dignity" crowd. In Oregon in 2007, no requesters for assisted suicide were referred for a mental health consultation--and remember treatment is not required under the law. Last year, according to the newly published virtually worthless assisted suicide annual report from Oregon, only 2 out of a reported 88 requests and 60 assisted suicides resulted in a referral to mental health professionals. This despite only 3 of the requests involving worries about pain control.

For anyone interested in the report and its details, Alex Schadenberg presents an analysis on his blog.

Three Babies Born From Cloning?


I don't believe a word of it. The notorious Italian fertility doctor claims that nine years ago he was able to bring three cloned babies to birth. From the story:
A controversial Italian doctor known for his work allowing post-menopausal women to have children has claimed in an interview to have cloned three babies who are now living in eastern Europe. "I helped give birth to three children with the human cloning technique," Severino Antinori, a prominent gynaecologist, told Oggi weekly in an interview to appear Wednesday. "It involved two boys and a girl who are nine years old today. They were born healthy and they are in excellent health now." He did not provide proof of his claims, but said cells from the three fathers, who were sterile, allowed the cloning to be carried out. The women's egg cells were impregnated in a laboratory through a method called "nuclear transfer," he said.
So let me get this straight: Scientists all over the world have not been able to create cloned embryos and maintain them past the first few days of development. But nine years ago Antinori not only cloned successfully, but also implanted the resulting embryos for gestation and to birth, and moreover, unlike many animals, they have no health problems--and publicity hound that he is he kept quiet about it all these years?

Remember the Raelian's making fools of the media years ago when the group claimed the same thing? It was nonsense then, and this is nonsense now.

Hospice Organization Reacts to FEN Lawyer Slander


The other day I posted about how a lawyer for one of the Final Exit Network defendants said that hospice is just assisted suicide in slow motion. This is dangerous demagoguery that could convince people not to seek the benefits that hospice can provide. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has now issued a press release rebutting the baseless charge. From the release:

"Hospice compassionately cares for people who are near the close of life--but hospice isn't about how you die, it's about how you live. Hospice and palliative care focuses on how dying persons and their loved ones live each day, providing comfort and guidance along the way," said J. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. "The quote from that news article demonstrates a callous disregard for all those who receive care, including family caregivers, from our nation's hospice programs."...

- Hospice focuses on caring, not curing and, in most cases, care is provided in the person's home.
- Hospice care also is provided in freestanding hospice centers, hospitals, and nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
- Hospice services are available to patients of any age, religion, race, or illness.
- Hospice provides bereavement support to families for 12 months following the death of their loved one.
- Hospice care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid, most private insurance plans, HMOs, and other managed care organizations.
- Research has shown the Medicare beneficiaries that opted for hospice care as opposed to other medical interventions when faced with a terminal illness lived on average 29 days longer than those who did not receive hospice care.

I am aware of the stories of abuse in some hospice cases. They make me sick, but I don't believe they are typical. And there is a problem with whether tube-supplied food and fluids are considered comfort care or life-extending treatment--a matter the government should remedy by regulation.

But I have been a hospice volunteer. I have seen the tremendous good it does, including with my own father who died in hospice care from colon cancer. A wonderful friend who died of breast cancer a few years ago, received such good care she and her husband were able to enjoy a lingering lunch at her favorite restaurant with Secondhand Smokette and me only two or three days before she died at home surrounded by her family.

Hospice is important. It is truly compassionate. It must not be corrupted with the assisted suicide virus. I am glad that the NHPCO leadership felt strongly enough about this respond to that lawyer's nonsense.

Pushing to Experiment on Alzheimer’s Patients


The Hastings Center published an article in its journal IRB: Ethics and Human Research ("Including Persons with Alzheimer Disease in Research on Comorbid Conditions," 31, no. 1 (2009): 1-6) that I found both alarming and a sign of the increased desire among some in the bioethics and science communities to instrumentalize the most weak and vulnerable among us. The article by Anji Wall, a student at the Center for Healthcare Ethics, Saint Louis University, is not about using Alzheimer's patients in experiments to understand the condition or find treatments for it. Rather, she wants to open up Alzheimer's patients to the study of "cormobid" conditions--that is the presence of two or more diagnosable maladies at the same time--such as heart disease, arthritis, diminution of vision, etc. that are not directly related to Alzheimer's.

Of course, the proposal is couched in terms of being beneficial to these patients since treatment of ancillary maladies experienced by Alzheimer's patients can improve the quality of their lives. (I am getting whiplash here. Other bioethicists have called for denying expensive interventions to Alzheimer's patients based on futile care type arguments and social justice rationing principles.)

However, I think this is actually a rationalization to gain access to a large cohort of compliant patients who can't decide for themselves, to study medical conditions that are not unique to Alzheimer's patients, and for which subjects can be found with decision making capacities to participate in human trials.

But the author writes as if excluding Alzheimer's patients from such research--again that is not related to understanding or treating Alzheimer's itself--is required as a matter of social justice, since these patients could conceivably benefit from therapies that are developed. From the paper (no link available):
The inclusion of individuals with Alzheimer disease in research studies on comorbid conditions is also required for scientifically valid trial design. Phase III and IV clinical trials are designed to include a sample of individuals that is representative of the population who might use the experimental treatment. Considering that the prevalence of Alzheimer disease is 5% in persons 65–75, and close to 50% in persons over 85, individuals with the disease constitute a significant proportion of the elderly population. Therefore, if a study involves a medication likely to be used by the elderly because it is intended to treat a condition common to this population, researchers should recognize that a significant proportion of the target population will have Alzheimer disease, and persons with the disease should be included in the trial in order to study a representative sample of the population. Thus, both the framework of social justice and scientific validity justify the inclusion of individuals with Alzheimer disease in research on comorbid medical conditions.
Never mind that these subjects could be at greater risk because of the inability to communicate well about what they are experiencing. The Nuremberg Code clearly states:
The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision. This latter element requires that before the acceptance of an affirmative decision by the experimental subject there should be made known to him the nature, duration, and purpose of the experiment; the method and means by which it is to be conducted; all inconveniences and hazards reasonable to be expected; and the effects upon his health or person which may possibly come from his participation in the experiment.
Moreover, the subject has to be able to call a halt, which would not be true with Alzheimer's patients:
During the course of the experiment the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached the physical or mental state where continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.
Alzheimer's patients are individuals, not part of a "group" that will unjustly benefit from treatments if they are not experimented upon. This is particularly true given that there is nothing unique about diseases that afflict the elderly such as glaucoma or congestive heart disease as they affect Alzheimer's patients vis-a -vis their non afflicted peers.

This article is just the latest in a growing chorus to instrumentalize the cognitively devastated, such as the call to use unconscious patients in animal organ transplant experiments. The issue isn't whether some Alzheimer's patients might be indirectly benefited along with other elderly people, from the treatment of heart disease or eye maladies. The issue is that they have no ability to defend themselves. No matter the soothing bioethicseze of "social justice" employed to rationalize the proposal, Wall's suggestion actually seeks to justify the instrumental use of the weak by the strong. As such, it should be rejected in the most blunt and unequivocal terms.

New Eugenics: Selecting Embryos for Eye and Hair Color


Remember when we were told that IVF, coupled with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), would only be used to prevent serious genetic health maladies from being passed to the next generation? That was never true, of course. The intent was to get people to accept the principle that parents should be able to design their children, and that kind of thing is best promoted via the example of serious illness--just as in assisted suicide.

But anyone who thought such restrictions were ever intended to--or would--remain in place other than as a temporary political expedient, please contact me so I can sell you a bridge known as the Golden Gate.

Predictably, once it was widely accepted that parents should be able to decide not only to have children via IVF fertility treatments, but to decide which they want and don't want, well why restrict the right to reject unwanted embryos to those with genetic illnesses? After all, cosmetics often matter to a person's success in the world. And who wants a child one doesn't find attractive? So why not toss embryos because they will have dark skin or the wrong color eyes to match with the house's decor?

But Wesley, no one would be that shallow about their own children! Oh no? From the story:

A US clinic has sparked controversy by offering would-be parents the chance to select traits like the eye and hair colour of their offspring. The LA Fertility Institutes run by Dr Jeff Steinberg, a pioneer of IVF in the 1970s, expects a trait-selected baby to be born next year.

His clinic also offers sex selection...

This involves testing a cell taken from a very early embryo before it is put into the mother's womb. Doctors then select an embryo free from rogue genes--or in this case an embryo with the desired physical traits such as blonde hair and blue eyes--to continue the pregnancy, and discard any others.

Dr Steinberg said couples might seek to use the clinic's services for both medical and cosmetic reasons. For example, a couple might want to have a baby with a darker complexion to help guard against a skin cancer if they already had a child who had developed a melanoma. But others might just want a boy with blonde hair.

So much for unconditional love of children.

We are constantly told that the right of a woman to reproduce is absolute, including getting pregnant, aborting if the pregnancy is ever unwanted, and now, genetically engineering progeny to order. But no "right" is absolute. The time has long since past to put some regulatory controls over the wild, wild west of IVF.

Lead Into Gold: IPS Cells Advances Continue


President Obama still hasn't rescinded the Bush stem cell policy. He will, but it may matter a lot less than people once thought. The IPSC advances continue, opening the door possibly for a way forward in biotechnology that all Americans can support. And, it is reported in the Washington Post! From the story:
Scientists have developed what appears to be a safer way to create a promising alternative to embryonic stem cells, boosting hopes that such cells could sidestep the moral and political quagmire that has hindered the development of a new generation of cures.

The researchers produced the cells by using strands of genetic material, instead of potentially dangerous genetically engineered viruses, to coax skin cells into a state that appears biologically identical to embryonic stem cells. "It's a leap forward in the safe application of these cells," said Andras Nagy of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, who helped lead the international team of researchers that described the work in two papers being published online today by the journal Nature. "We expect this to have a massive impact on this field."
The IPSCs are already being used in drug testing and etc. But can't be used in patients:
The alternative cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, appear to have many of the same characteristics as embryonic stem cells but are produced by activating genes in adult cells to "reprogram" them into a more primitive state, bypassing the moral, political and ethical issues surrounding embryonic cells. Until now, however, their use has been limited because the genetic manipulation required the use of viruses, raising concerns the cells could cause cancer if placed in a patient. That has triggered a race to develop alternative approaches. "These viral insertions are quite dangerous," Nagy said.
Well, so are embryonic stem cells. Pluripotency itself is a problem due to potential tumor formation, and if the stem cells come from "leftover" embryos, immune rejection issues--which is why with the exception of the Geron approved trial, they haven't been used in humans. And the story doesn't get into the amazing adult stem cell successes in early human trials, which are patient specific and don't appear to pose the tumor threat.

Be that as it may, let us all hope the IPSC advances continue. If they work, it could bring about a rapprochement between both sides of the great ESCR debate, while not opening the door to human cloning.

World Federation of Right to Die Societies: Free the Final Exit Network “Georgia Four”


I knew the assisted suicide crowd would try to make the four defendants in the assisted suicide of a man who had been treated successfully of cancer, but was undergoing difficult reconstruction surgery and needed a hip replacement, into some kind of civil rights-type heroes. Toward this end, some assisted suicide promoters have labeled them, "The Georgia Four." Meanwhile, the Board of Directors of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies has issued the following statement, demonstrating that the movement does not want to limit assisted suicide to the terminally ill:

The Board of the World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies is very concerned by the recent arrest in Georgia of its Vice Chairman, Ted Goodwin, and others. Many of us have known Ted for several years and regard him as a most compassionate individual.

Regarding the possible reasons for his arrest, we want to stress that desperate terminally-ill individuals and those suffering greatly from incurable chronic illnesses often look for a peaceful death when their suffering is more than they can bear.

This is already legally possible in Oregon and Washington State, in the USA; and in Europe, in Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and soon in Luxembourg. In the absence of rational laws, organizations such as Final Exit Network sometimes may get close to the line in challenging the law, as perceived by opponents of the right to choose.

The Board of the World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies supports legal change so that those who are terminally-ill, or suffering greatly from incurable chronic illnesses, can obtain a legitimate way to achieve a dignified, humane death.
Oh, can the fake nobility. The "Georgia Four" weren't "challenging" the law, which is what is done in civil disobedience when one publicly disobeys a law considered to be unjust--and then takes the consequences. Whether they committed a crime or not, the "Georgia Four" skirted the law and then carefully covered their own tracks wherever they went. Nelson Mandella and Martin Luther King they are not.

Man Who Died in Accused Final Exit Network Assisted Suicide Had Beaten Cancer


John Celmer, the man whose death is the subject of the Final Exit Network assisted suicide criminal charges, was not terminally ill. Indeed, he had apparently beaten his cancer. From the story:
John Celmer was making what his doctor considered “remarkable progress” last spring after two surgeries to reconstruct his jaw.

The 58-year-old Cumming man faced hip replacement surgery for arthritis, but he appeared to have won a battle against head and neck cancer. Then, he was found dead.
"His doctor was shocked," said Forsyth County Coroner Lauren McDonald III. "He said he shouldn’t have died." McDonald said an autopsy confirmed that Celmer, who smoke and drank, was cancer-free at death; the man had died from asphyxia suffocation resulting from the inhalation of helium. The death was ruled a homicide.
Repeat after me: Assisted suicide is not about terminal illness, it is about near death on demand.

Lawyer for Final Exit Network Slanders Hospice


Assisted suicide advocates pretend that they support hospice, but their work undermines the entire concept, or at least, twists it into something that would be unrecognizable by its creator, Dame Cecily Saunders. But now a lawyer named Michael Kaminkow, who is defending two of the Final Exit Network assisted suicide defendants, has gone so far as to slander hospice. From the story:
"Whatever happened here is no more than what happened in a hospice," said Michael Kaminkow, an attorney representing two of the network members arrested Wednesday. "In reality, a hospice is a suicide. It's just a little slower."
Shame on Kaminkow. First, hospice isn't about causing life to end. It is about alleviating suffering and promoting human community and dignity for people with terminal illnesses and their families. Second, in 1997 the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that refusing unwanted life-sustaining medical treatment, which is part of the hospice program, is not the same thing as suicide or assisted suicide. Third, sometimes people in hospice don't die, but get better. Finally, the man who his clients are accused of assisting in suicide was not terminally ill. He had previously had jaw cancer, but he had not experienced a recurrence of the disease.

Perhaps this is ignorance talking. But it is a cruel ignorance.

Fear Mongering for Assisted Suicide


There she goes again--meaning Compassion (Hemlock Society) and Choices head Barbara Coombs Lee--pushing the baloney that assisted suicide is only about preventing unalieviable suffering for the terminally ill. Worse, she engages in irresponsible demogoguery about proper care of dying patients. From her Huffington Post article:
Let's be clear. The policies on end-of-life decisions in every state except Oregon, Washington and Montana are merciless and irrational. Dying patients are abandoned to their agonies and any talk of assistance in their dying occurs in hushed, confused tones. A decent society must do better.
Well, that's not only fear mongering of the worst kind, but it is also a slander to the good work of hospice professionals, who most definitely do not abandon patients "to their agonies." Moreover, it completely glosses over the important public policy reasons for resisting legalized assisted suicide as well as the real experience of Oregon, touted by Coombs Lee in other venues, where patients commit assisted suicide for reasons such as worries about being a burden, fear of losing dignity, or worries about losing the ability to engage in enjoyable activities. These are important existential issues that often require professional intervention to alleviate. But assisted suicide interferes with that process, and hence, proper hospice care, by definition. And, in fact, patients receive lethal prescriptions in Oregon who are not experiencing significant symptoms.

Plus, C and C believes that unbearable agony is whatever the patient says it is, meaning that there are no principled standards in this regard that can apply. Plus, the Oregon guidelines are often not followed, as exposed by Kathleen Foley, the country's most prominent palliative care physician, and psychiatrist Herbert Hendin, an expert on suicide prevention. Plus, about Montana, which Coombs Lee also mentions, C and C's Kathryn Tucker has opposed the state enacting many of the very guidelines that Coombs Lee claims protect patients in Oregon and Washington.

This piece is a defensive one that seeks to put some distance between C and C and Final Exit Network, due to the recent arrests. It might work, but it shouldn't. It is worth noting that Coombs Lee never condemns FEN in her article. More to the point, FEN is as mainstream in assisted suicide advocacy as is Compassion and Choices. Where they really differ is in tactics. In this regard, Coombs Lee has the more cagey approach, I think, but FEN the more honest.

Obama to Revise or Rescind Bush Conscience Clause?


It was a given that the Obama Administration would attack the "Bush Conscience Clause." And that process has begun. But it may a revision rather than a rescission, and indeed, perhaps one I could support. From the story:
The administration took the step because the regulation was so broadly written that it could provide protections to health care workers who object not only to abortion but also to a wide range of health care services, said the HHS official, who asked not to be named because the process had just begun.

"We've been concerned that the way the Bush rule is written it could make it harder for women to get the care they need. It is worded so vaguely that some have argued it could limit family planning counseling and even potentially blood transfusions and end-of-life care," the official said. After a 30-day comment period, the regulation could be lifted entirely or it could be modified to make the protections more specific, the official said.

"We support a tightly written conscience clause. We recognize and understand that some providers have objections about abortion, and we want to make sure that current law protects them," the official said. "We want to be thoughtful about this."
I too thought that the Bush Regulation was too broadly written--for example, it could be construed to apply to futile care impositions--and was disappointed in its lack of nuance. Thus, if the rule were revised, rather than rescinded, so as to protect health care workers who refuse elective procedures, e.g., not needed to protect the life of or to prevent serious harm to the physical health of the patient, and moreover, to ensure that it is the procedure (such as assisted suicide) and not the patient that is objected to, a better federal conscience clause could come out of this.

However: I think there is a more than even chance that the reasonable tone is all politics and will not survive the actual rule revision process. I will keep an eye on this as the bureaucratic process grinds slowly forward.

I Am Now Associate Director of International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide


I was recently asked to assume more responsibilities for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. I agreed and am now its associate director. This new gig will include speaking, writing, and media on the specific topic of euthanasia/assisted suicide. It will not affect nor limit my broader work on bioethics, animal rights, and human exceptionalism as a Senior Fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics with the Discovery Institute, which is not connected with the Task Force. Nor will it impact my consultancy with the Center for Bioethics and Culture. How fortunate I am to be affiliated with such good people and organizations.

And please remember to keep in mind that SHS is my personal blog. The views I express here are my own and not necessarily those of the organizations with which I am affiliated.

This is the first real job I have had since 1985! As my first official task as associate director, may I suggest that you check out my Task Force boss Rita Marker's appearance on Fox News yesterday regarding the Final Exit Network assisted suicide arrests? Here is the link.

The Neo Inquisition: Stifling Freedom of Thought


Jet lagged from my recent journey to Ireland/UK, where there is an 8 hour time difference, and up at 3:30 AM, I decided to see what I had missed at The Corner and ran across an entry by Jonah Goldberg discussing a debate between two philosophers, Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett. Plantinga apparently claims that Darwinian theory is compatible with faith and theism, while Dennett is one of the new atheists who believes science has proven religion to be wrong.

I don't know the work of either man, and since that is not my field and is beyond our scope here at SHS, and I don't want us to get into the religion versus science, science versus religion controversy here. But what caught my eye was a plea made by a "live blogger" of the event who is terrified at being identified by peers and colleagues as someone who tends to sympathize with Plantinga's approach. From the account of the anonymous blogger:

I was at the talk. It was packed with professional philosophers and graduate students in philosophy, most of whom sided with Dennett. I wrote live comments on the debate/session. I prefer to remain anonymous for various reasons, in particular because I am inclined towards Plantinga's position over Dennett's and were this to become well-known it could damage or destroy my career in analytic philosophy. This is something I prefer not to put my family through. I almost didn't publish these comments at all, but as far as I could tell, this would be the only public record of the discussion.

Friends, if you can identify me, I request that you keep my identity secret. I am sharing my thoughts as a service to the philosophical community and all those who have an interest in such debates. But I prefer not to suffer at the hands of my ardently secular colleagues. This is not to say that all secular analytic philosophers are this way; they most certainly are not. But enough of them are that I cannot risk being known publicly.
If the blogger is correct about the impact of colleagues knowing his or her world view--and can there be any doubt that his or her fear of consequences is reasonable in the current atmosphere?--we are in an era of the neo Inquisition. There may not be burnings at the stake, literally, but the careers of anyone straying from certain Orthodoxies will be subjected to searing pain and being reduced to ashes. And the perpetrators will always find some other excuse than their utter intolerance of diversity of opinion and lack of respect for truly free thought.

We have seen the same kind of McCarthysim that the blogger worries about in analytic philosophy directed at life scientists who oppose human cloning and ESCR for ethical reasons. Ditto the screeds against climate change skeptics, etc. And imagine what would happen to the most erudite and astute bioethicist seeking tenure at a major university if it became known she she was pro life.

The Left still screams about McCarthyism and the blacklist, and that's fine. A lot of injustices were perpetrated in that era based on what people believed or on their past associations. If that was wrong--and I sure think it was--how is this any different?

The atmosphere of fear on our campuses and within our professional societies hurts freedom and undermines intellectual integrity by making the open exchange of ideas too costly for those holding minority views to speak out. And the irony is that free thought is being snuffed out by the very people who call themselves free thinkers and who screamed the loudest about the importance of free speech and respecting dissident views in the 60s when they were the in the minority.

Holding Plastic Bags Over the Heads of People in Final Exit Network Assisted Suicides


I have been following various aspects of the FEN activists' arrests. But this aspect of the story really caught my attention. SHSers will recall that I mentioned the book A Chosen Death in a previous post, and how its author Lonny Shavelson watched a Hemlock operative kill "Gene" by preventing him from tearing off a plastic bag she had put over his head.

Well now, it appears that the FEN activists may have done the very same thing! From the story:
At the Dawson County residence on Wednesday, [Ted] Goodwin [head of FEN and vice president of the World Federation of the Right to Die Societies] allegedly walked the undercover agent through the steps and demonstrated how he would hold the agent's hands to stop him from removing the exit bag, Bankhead said.

The GBI said that after the death occurs, "all evidence is removed from the scene by the 'guides' and discarded, as evidence indicated happened in the Cumming case."
Can you imagine holding someone down as they suffocate to death?

Kevorkian Against Final Exit Network Assisted Suicide Method!


Jack Kevorkian, who painted the delightful picture above, helped kill people--other than Thomas Youk, who he lethally injected--via an assisted suicide machine in which the client flipped a switch opening the valve of a canister containing carbon monoxide. Yet, he has come out against the alleged approach to assisted suicide taken by the arrested Final Exit Network assisted suicide practitioners. From the story:
Southfield attorney Mayer Morganroth said Kevorkian, once referred to as Dr. Death, believes a doctor should always be involved in any type of assisted suicide.

"Other than that, he's not allowed to express any views about the methods they use," Morganroth said Thursday. "That's a limitation on his parole. The only thing he can say is that he disagrees with the methods and one of the reasons is that there should be a doctor present."
FEN activists didn't use carbon monoxide: They allegedly used helium. I can see why Kevorkian would object!

As to having a doctor present for assisted suicide, he wasn't one for most of his assisted suicides since he had lost his license to practice. Moreover, he was a pathologist and had not treated living patients since his medical training in the 1950s. Moreover one more time, Switzerland doesn't require a doctor's presence, and doctors in the Netherlands now give a book to patients who don't qualify for euthanasia on how to commit "auto euthanasia," which is their euphemism for suicide.

Finally, FEN activists may be fanatics, but unlike Kevorkian, they never advocated conducting human experiments on the people they were helping to kill.

Resisting “Assisted Suicide Guidelines” in Montana


Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) has played a crafty game of pretense about the ultimate goals of its assisted suicide campaign. In debates (including those in which I have participated), in media interviews, in press releases, etc., its representatives have claimed that C and C wants only a very narrow legalization of "aid in dying," and that to be under strict regulatory control to ensure against abuse.

Well, now that the drive to legalize assisted suicide has gained some traction, the ideological zeal of the group's leadership has caused them to go off that carefully tailored script. Kathryn Tucker is the legal director of C and C who got a sympathetic judge to impose a state constitutional right to "die with dignity" on Montana. As I noted in the Weekly Standard--contrary to her assertions made in the story quoted below--the ruling is audaciously broad, to the point that it could be read as opening the door to near death on demand and a license for doctors to lethally inject patients. Nevertheless, Tucker is now on record against creating any regulations to govern assisted suicide in Montana in the wake of the court ruling. From the story:

Kathryn Tucker, a lawyer for Compassion and Choices, an advocacy group for what members prefer to call "death with dignity," said lawmakers shouldn't feel the need to pass any legislation. "There are some guidelines (in the ruling). It's not a free-for-all," she said.

The guidelines set in McCarter's ruling mirror the "most significant" aspects of Oregon and Washington's laws allowing physician-assisted suicide. There are extra restrictions in those states, but Tucker said those aren't necessary. It's very unusual that a physician would be governed by a statute telling them how the (sic) practice medicine," she said. "Montana doesn't need to import these laws."
This kind of brazen two-faced advocacy epitomizes the C and C approach. Remember, this is the group behind AB 2747 in California, a statute that explicitly instructs doctors how to practice medicine by prescribing what they must tell patients diagnosed with one year or less to live! And in its original version, it required doctors to do in that regard whatever the patient instructed--such as sedate and dehydrate--or refer to a doctor who would.

Moreover, the laws she doesn't want imported are the very laws C and C helped write and create--arguing all the while that such a careful and regulated approach was necessary to proper "aid in dying" practice to protect against abuse.

The reason Tucker, her boss Barbara Coombs Lee, and others in the movement can exhibit such chutzpah is that they know that ignorant or biased reporters won't hold them to account for the paradoxes of their arguments. But they are letting the cat out of the bag as to their actual goals.

And that is good. Wouldn't it be nice to have an honest debate about what the assisted suicide movement is really all about instead of this pretense of a limited safety valve for the terminally ill?

Arrested Final Exit Network Activist Part of Assisted Suicide Establishment


In the wake of the arrests of four assisted suicide activists from the Final Exit Network, I believe an effort will be made to cast them as fringe characters within the movement.

Don't believe it. One of the four is Ted Goodwin, who is the head of the FEN. Goodwin has been a stalwart in the movement for many years, to the point that in 2008 he was elected vice president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, the international umbrella organization to which most euthanasia/assisted suicide organizations belong. That means, unless he resigns in the meantime, he is next in line to be elevated to the chair of president in 2010. (Goodwin resigned as head of FEN. In an earlier version of this post, since corrected, I erroneously stated he resigned as VP of the WFRTDS.)

The World Federation of Right to Die Societies doesn't advocate for restricting assisted suicide to the terminally ill. Its 2006 "Toronto Manifesto" states:
The World Federation of Right to Die Societies (an international non-governmental organization) is aware of the increasing concern to many individuals over their right to die with dignity. Believing in the rights and freedom of all persons, we affirm this right to die with dignity, meaning in peace and without suffering.

All competent adults--regardless of their nationalities, professions, religious beliefs, and ethical and political views--who are suffering unbearably from incurable illnesses should have the possibility of various choices at the end of their life. Death is unavoidable. We strongly believe that the manner and time of dying should be left to the decision of the individual, assuming such demands do not result in harm to society other than the sadness associated with death.

The voluntarily expressed will of individuals, once they are fully informed of their diagnosis, prognosis and available means of relief, should be respected by all concerned as an expression of intrinsic human rights.
What constitutes unbearable suffering is whatever the suicidal person decides is unbearable suffering--as Compassion and Choices stated in its Seven Principles--meaning in the context of the Manifesto, it could be just about anything from cancer, to disability, to mental illness, to an elderly person being tired of life.

Along similar lines, in 1998 the WFRDS issued the Zurich Declaration, signed by some medical professionals within the movement--including Philip Nitschke who in another context advocated that troubled teenagers be allowed access to suicide--again illustrating the nearly open ended license that is the end goal of the movement. From the declaration:
We believe that we have a major responsibility for ensuring that it becomes legally possible for all competent adults, suffering severe and enduring distress, to receive medical help to die, if this is their persistent, voluntary and rational request. We note that such medical assistance is already permitted in The Netherlands, Switzerland and Oregon, USA.
"Severe and enduring distress" is so loose and broad a definition you could drive a hearse through it.

Remember this: The soothing assurances that assisted suicide is merely a last resort choice for the terminally ill only when nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering is demonstrably false. Goodwin's beliefs in this regard are well known, and he never advocated for a terminal illness limitation. Most people on both sides of the issue knew what the FEN was doing and that their dark work was not limited to people who were dying. In other words: He wasn't elected to high leadership in the international euthanasia movement by accident.

More Declarations of Non Cooperation with Washington Assisted Suicide


Right is right and wrong is wrong--regardless of legality: Another hospital has opted out of Washington's assisted suicide law. From the story:
Sunnyside Community Hospital will not participate in the state's new Death With Dignity Act that takes effect next week, a decision likely to be followed by other hospitals in Yakima County...In announcing the hospital's decision Wednesday, chief executive Jon Smiley said members of the board, medical personnel and local residents felt that "this act does not meet the standards of a majority of people in our community."
Assisted suicide shouldn't meet the standards of any physician or community. That realization will take time to reestablish after decades of "death with dignity" advocacy. But this is a good step in that direction. If enough health care facilities and physicians follow this leadership in Washington, Oregon, and Montana, perhaps it will sink in that prescribing poison is not a legitimate medical practice.

Then, the "choice" crowd will try and force participation, which will bring a huge clash over conscience clauses.

Final Exit Network: Search Warrants Issued in Phoenix Case


I wrote earlier today about the arrest of Final Exit Network operatives. I mentioned in that post about the Phoenix case in which a mentally ill woman--it was contended--was assisted in suicide by a group representative. I had reported that matter previously here at SHS, and now search warrants have apparently been issued in the case. From the Phoenix News Times that, unlike the MSM, covered the story previously:
This just in: Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is about to announce the issuance of search warrants in the 2006 assisted suicide of a mentally ill Phoenix woman.

The case, which involved volunteers coming to town to help 58-year-old Jana Van Voorhis kill herself, was first reported by New Times staff writer Paul Rubin in this cover story. The volunteers were part of the nonprofit Final Exit Network, an offshoot of the now-defunct Hemlock Society--one of them was a senior citizen who'd traveled all the way from Colorado to "help" with the suicide.

The case was particularly troubling to the experts interviewed by Rubin because Van Voorhis suffered from chronic mental illness--and the volunteers apparently tried to stage the suicide as if Van Voorhis had killed herself without their assistance. It was only thanks to detective work from the Phoenix Police Department that the Final Exit Network's involvement came to light.
Again, this isn't compassion or the facilitation of liberty. Participating in serial assisted suicides is crass abandonment of the vulnerable to fulfill one's own obsessions.

The Power of Love is the Power of Life


Day after day we are assaulted with the idea, fundamental to the assisted suicide movement, that some lives are not worth living and hence, not worth protecting from suicide. This advocacy, I believe, does not really promote liberty and freedom, but rather, endangers lives--of the elderly, people with disabilities and mental illnesses, and those with terminal or chronic diseases--by confirming their worst fears about their futures and their human worth.

Contrary messages are sometimes made, as I strive to report here at SHS and elsewhere, but do not seem to penetrate as deeply as the "death with dignity" meme, perhaps because they require a deeper empathy and lack the power of repetition. Along this line, I think it is important to acknowledge the death of Christopher Nolan, a man profoundly disabled by cerebral palsy who wrote about the power of love in his life. From Raymond Arroyo's blog:

He published his first book at 15, a collection of poems appropriately titled Dam-burst of Dreams. His second book won Britain's prestigious "Whitbread Book of the Year:" in 1988. It was called Under the Eye of the Clock, a biographical work in which he refers to himself as Joseph Meehan. At one point in the book Nolan writes of crying upon the realization that he is not like other children: "Looking through his tears he saw [his mother] bent low in order to look into his eyes. '... Listen here Joseph, you can see, you can hear, you can think, you can understand everything you hear. You like your food, you like nice clothes, you are loved by me and Dad. We love you just as you are.'

Pussing still, sniveling still, he was listening to his mother's voice. She spoke sort of matter-of-factly but he blubbered moaning sounds. His mother said her say and that was that. She got on with her work while he got on with his crying. The decision arrived at that day, was burnt forever in his mind. He was only three years in age but he was now fanning the only spark he saw, his being alive and more immediate, his being wanted just as he was....

It important to note that Nolan gained the insight of the sheer equal worth of his life before the the assisted suicide movement and medical utilitarianism, with which we are now badly infected, had metastasized to the point that many people approve people like Christopher going to Kevorkian or being flown to Switzerland for a dose of suicide tourism.

During the Q and A session after my recent speech at the Parliament Building in London, a representative from Not Dead Yet UK dramatically described the increasing fear and anguish he feels as a man with serious disabilities at being viewed by many in society as having a life not worth living. "The despair is hard to combat," he said.

We must all strive against the devaluing message he reported and with all of the energy we possess. One way is to point to Christopher Nolan's vivid life and its clear illustration that the true answer to the difficulties of human suffering isn't killing, it is love.


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