End-of-Life Choice, Death with Dignity, Palliative Care and Counseling

Arizona Verdict Shows Need for Rational Public Policy on End-Of-Life Choicesby Jay


Compassion & Choices today responded to the split verdict in a Phoenix, Arizona, criminal trial. The verdict reaffirms the need for rational public policy on end-of-life choices. Dr. Larry Egbert and Frank Langsner stood trial for conspiring to commit manslaughter in the April 2007 suicide of Phoenix resident Jana Van Voorhis. The jury acquitted Egbert but was unable to reach a unanimous decision on Langsner.

“This case demonstrates the problem with vague ‘assisted suicide’ statutes such as Arizona’s,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices. “Terminally ill patients across the nation ask their physicians for aid in dying. Many doctors, in an uncertain legal environment, rebuff such questions and fail to discuss their patients’ concerns about pain and suffering. When patients cannot talk openly with their doctors they may seek assistance from others. Sympathetic family members or friends are usually unequipped to assess a patient’s competence or end-of-life options. No one should have to risk prosecution to help a dying patient end life peacefully.”

Media accounts suggest Van Voorhis was not terminally ill and may have suffered from mental illness impairing her judgment. The trial judge did not allow prosecutors to present evidence of her psychological state. “In today’s legal framework, judges and juries do not distinguish between the choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill patient for a peaceful death via selfadministered medication, and the act of a distraught individual who is not dying, who may be mentally ill and suicidal,” said Coombs Lee. “The
former is a practice known as aid in dying, which has strong and growing support among the public and medical professionals. The latter is suicide. Our nation’s laws should recognize the difference.”

Currently, Oregon, Washington and Montana have rational policies on endof- life choices. Studies demonstrate better communication among doctors, patients and families and improved palliative care, in jurisdictions where aid in dying is included in end-of-life care.

Options for controlled, peaceful death are available across the country. Compassion & Choices’ End-of-Life Consultation service helps individuals and families navigate their options and realize choices at the end of life. Compassion & Choices employs a professional staff to evaluate clients and guide the work of volunteers. All operate under strict guidelines and safeguards.

For more information please visit www.compassionandchoices.org