Human Exceptionalism

Pro Hospice Article Cause for Concern

You would think that I would be delighted by this compassionate, well meaning, and finely written column by a hospice doctor named Michele Ferguson. She does an excellent job of describing the kind of benefits that hospice provides dying patients:

In my work, I am reminded every day that when terminally ill individuals receive expert, compassionate care from an interdisciplinary team of hospice professionals — when pain is controlled, dignity is upheld, wishes and values are honored and fears and concerns are allayed–they can find richness and meaning in all the days that remain to be lived. Time and again, I’ve seen how physical suffering can be relieved, broken family relationships can be repaired and hope can be restored to those who are dying and their families. As a result, I’ve learned never to underestimate the healing power of hospice.

But there is a problem with the column, earlier in the piece than the section I quoted. She references Booth Gardner’s desire for assisted suicide and his intent to get it legalized in Washington-State:

Working at HospiceCare, where honoring every patient’s end-of-life choices is a core value, I have no dispute with Governor Gardner’s desire to make his own decisions as life draws to an end.

That’s a line right out of the script touted by the assisted suicide advocacy organization Compassion and Choices. Indeed, in my recent debate with Kathryn Tucker, the group’s lawyer, she said the same thing almost word for word, that assisted suicide was just a bare nudge in policy and forms of care, merely an additional “choice” that should be honored.

I call this phenomenon terminal non judgmentalism: All choices are not equal. Some choices are harmful to patients, other similarly situated people who might be affected by the assisted suicide, families, and indeed, overall society. Hospice is supposed to see suicidal ideation as a symptom to be remedied, not a choice to be honored. It indicates that a patient is not receiving needed care.

Seeing assisted suicide as merely another choice is the end of hospice philosophy, at least as created by Dame Cecily Saunders who adamantly opposed assisted suicide as denying terminally ill patient’s inherent dignity. After all, saying “It’s your choice,” when someone wants to kill themselves validates their worst fears; that they are a burden, that they will be allowed to die in pain, that their lives are indeed, not worth living any longer.

Hospice is supposed to be about valuing each patient’s life equally, not the different choices they might want to make. I fear that Dr. Ferguson misses this crucial point in her compassionate desire to empower those for whom she gives such compassionate care.

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