By Barbara Coombs Lee, PA, FNP, JD, President Compassion & Choices
Marlise Munoz is dead. She died Nov. 26, probably of a pulmonary embolus, when she was 14 weeks pregnant. But John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas refuses to turn off the machines and let the family claim the body of their beloved.
This family is grieving a tragic loss. Their grief is all the more devastating because the firm wishes of their loved one – the woman paramedic, the daughter and wife who knew she never wanted to be maintained in an unconscious state – mean nothing. Texas law says life support may not be withdrawn from a pregnant patient and the hospital chooses to characterize Munoz’s dead body as a patient on life support.
Medical ethicists across the nation call it bad law and erroneous interpretation, but that doesn’t change this outrageous situation. More
(Boston, Mass. – December 17, 2013) Supporters of legislation that would allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to choose aid in dying (HB 1998) said today they welcome public debate of end-of-life issues. At today’s hearing, they urged lawmakers to pass legislation raised by the Joint Public Health Committee.
Mickey MacIntyre, Chief Program Officer of Compassion & Choices, was joined at today’s hearing by legislators, clergy members, doctors and nurses, and people who have faced difficult end-of-life decisions. MacIntyre said nearly 20 years of experience with aid-in-dying laws in Oregon, Washington, Montana and now Vermont, have delivered clear evidence the laws work as intended. None of the problems opponents predicted have materialized.
“Doctors, patients, clergy and the public support individuals’ autonomy when making end-of-life decisions,” Macintyre said. “This law helps give peace of mind to many but few ultimately need it. Massachusetts’s residents should enjoy freedom both in how they choose to live and, when the time comes, how they choose to die.”
“It is inhuman to subject people to unnecessary, painful medical procedures at the end of their lives against their wishes,” said Massachusetts State Representative Cory Atkins. “When people’s wishes are ignored, they are hooked up to machines and given strong medications with powerful side effects, making the final days of their lives unbearable. I support this bill because it would allow people to meet their end on their own terms, in comfort and surrounded by family.” More
By Ashley Carson Cottingham
Recent news coverage about a poll from The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life project missed the real news.
The poll showed that a majority or “two-thirds of Americans (66%) say there are at least some situations in which a patient should be allowed to die” and concluded “the share [of people] saying they would stop their treatments so they could die has remained about the same over the past 23 years.”
Yet, many subsequent headlines and stories about the poll focused on a slight increase in the percentage of Americans who say that doctors should do everything possible to keep patients alive.
This latter finding is not surprising given the growing chasm of access to healthcare between the wealthiest and poorest Americans over the last few decades. It is only natural that many Americans who are medically underserved or marginalized would want more medical care at the end of life when asked that question. In addition, healthcare has seemed like a luxury to millions of Americans who cannot afford it. But thanks to implementation of the Affordable Care Act starting next month, they will expect to have access to more and better-quality healthcare.
Equally important is that everyone feels differently about how much medical treatment they want at the end of life, based on the specific circumstances they are facing. These critical end-of-life decisions are complex and tightly connected to a variety of factors in a person’s life or situation. For example, 57 percent of those polled say they would tell their doctors to stop treatment if they had a disease with no hope of improvement and were suffering. That figure is 52 percent when the same people were asked if they would want to stop receiving treatment if they had an incurable disease and were totally dependent on someone else for their care.
These numbers indicate that healthcare professionals providing realistic quality-of-life expectations to seriously ill patients about various treatment options are extremely influential in patients’ decisions about whether to pursue any treatment or not. How often does a healthcare provider tell a patient that a particular treatment might result in the patient living in a nursing home, totally dependent on someone else for their care, even if the treatment is “successful”? More
Compassion & Choices has united with 15 major healthcare and aging organizations in a powerful new coalition to ensure patients’ end-of-life wishes are honored. The coalition collaborators are advancing The Campaign to End Unwanted Medical Treatment, which builds on Compassion & Choices’ years of work in this area.
The campaign seeks to focus healthcare policymakers on establishing provisions to ensure that medical professionals determine and enforce patients’ end-of-life treatment directives.
“The assembly of these respected organizations around the problem of unwanted medical treatment is a major step forward to build consumer confidence surrounding the healthcare they receive throughout serious illnesses or at the end of life,” said Ashley Carson Cottingham, director of policy and advocacy at Compassion & Choices.
Dr. Bud Hammes from Gundersen Health of LaCrosse, WI, led the first in a series of Washington, D.C., policy luncheons. He showcased Respecting Choices, a program in which an amazing 96% of patients have stated their advance care plans and medical staff adhere to the plans 98% of the time. The program’s centerpiece is an effort to listen to patients discuss their values, preferences and goals, and then align the patient’s medical treatment plan with those criteria. Respecting Choices employs a medical protocol for advance care planning that includes a quality-improvement process and accountability for medical staff – the same approach applied to other standard medical care. More
by Dustin J. Hankinson
Self-determination is one characteristic that defines human dignity. When a person reaches adulthood, it is expected that they make decisions to live the life they aspire to. Society is based on people taking responsibility for their decisions and lives
If individuals have the right to decide how to live, they also should have the absolute right to decide the manner of their death when faced with an imminent terminal illness. It is a patient’s life, body and mind; therefore, that patient should be the decision-maker in dying.
As a 38-year-old disabled man with a terminal diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, I value the expertise of medical professionals. However, I alone reserve my right as the patient to decide which treatments I receive, and I believe that my decisions outweigh those of anyone else regarding my medical care. In a free society, personal choice regarding medical treatment should be a fundamental human right! More