Building Bridges at the 16th Annual Fundraising Luncheon

Building Bridges at the 16th Annual Fundraising Luncheon: Thank you to everyone who helped Compassion & Choices Oregon raise funds for end-of-life choice and care!

Thank you for all of your leadership and support to make the 2013 Compassion & Choices Oregon Luncheon a great success! On October 9th, we hosted over 200 guests who generously supported our work to promote and protect end-of-life care including Oregon’s Death With Dignity law.

Keynote speaker Deborah Whiting Jaques, CEO of the Oregon Hospice Association, which represents 54 licensed hospices throughout the state, said she was happy to learn that the theme of the fundraising luncheon was “Building Bridges,” noting that 97 percent of patients who have used the Death With Dignity law are in hospice. Many of the 54 licensed hospice agencies in the state work closely with Compassion & Choices to ensure families get good advice about end-of-life planning, she said.” Read the Lund Report – full article here.

NEW! Patient Medical Notebook Available: The Patient Medical Notebook is part of our new Oregon Access Initiative. The purpose of the Notebook is to be a useful healthcare tool for everyone. Download a printable version of the Patient Medical Notebook here.

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Premier Eugene Luncheon on April 23, 2013

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Come join Compassion & Choices of Oregon for the Premier Luncheon from 11:30 – 1:00 at the Valley River Inn to be inspired by a great advocate of our mission and keynote speaker Secretary of State Kate Brown.

RSVP by April 16 online http://cco-eugene.eventbrite.com/# OR to Susan@compassionoforegon.org or 503-525-1956.

Leadership Sponsors are helping to build a larger base of support in the Eugene area to raise funds for aid-in-dying education and services for terminally ill patients.

Thank you to Leadership Sponsors:

Platinum – Oregon Board, Pat Dennis, Pam Wald, Nancy Crumpacker, MD

Gold – Gloria Crenshaw & Frank Hotchkiss, Cascade Health Solutions, Hot Pepper Studios

Event Committee:

Susan Smith, Ann Woeste, Susan Isaacs, Nanette Wilkins, Kirsten Leonard

Compassion & Choices is the world leader in the practice of legal aid-in-dying, in which a competent adult with a terminal illness may self-administer medication as a means to end life. Since the initial passage of the Oregon Death with Dignity law in 1994, Compassion & Choices of Oregon has worked closely with hundreds of physicians, pharmacies; hospice workers, clergy, and families who support the right of individuals to make considered and informed choices at the end of life. The organization follows strict guidelines and safeguards to ensure that all of the requirements of Oregon’s aid-in-dying law are fulfilled.

We need your help to protect the rights of Oregonians to have choice at the end of life. For more information please contact Susan Prior, Development Manager of Compassion & Choices of Oregon by phone 503-525-1956 or email susan@compassionoforegon.org.

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March 23rd: Free forum in Medford

Oregon’s Death with Dignity law says an Oregonian with a terminal illness may be eligible to hasten his or her own death in a humane and peaceful way. Who is eligible to use this law? How do you talk to your doctor and your family about your wishes? How do you support a family member who wishes to use the law?

Find out answers to these questions and more next Saturday, March 23rd, at a free seminar in Medford. Short presentations by experts include State Senator Alan Bates, M.D., a hospice nurse. a prescribing doctor, a local CCO volunteer, and a Rogue Valley resident who recently supported a family member through the process. After the presentations, there will be a short break followed by a Q&A session.

Oregon’s Death with Dignity law is about physician aid-in-dying. In most cases, people who want to use the law have fought the good fight and, for many reasons which we’ll talk about on Saturday, are ready and willing to let go of their last few months of life.

The event is from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at The Smullin Health Education Center, 2825 E. Barnett Rd., Medford. The Center is a one-level building located between Rogue Regional Medical Center and the 3-tiered parking structure on Barnett Rd.

ABC 12 (Medford, OR)  - “The more people know about it, the more they understand that it’s a humane and peaceful end to an otherwise miserable situation,” said Compassion and Choices of Oregon’s Gayle Wilson - http://www.kdrv.com/doctors-explain-death-with-dignity/

Thank you to the Death with Dignity Symposium speakers and organizer Gayle Wilson!

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Other offers should be considered besides Dignity Health’s

Published in the Medford Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings, September 25, 2012
Guest Opinion By Matt Witt

Why should we care whether the huge Dignity Health hospital chain takes over Ashland Community Hospital? Because any outside takeover can have a severe impact on jobs, the quality of care, and the rights of patients and doctors. That doesn’t mean no takeover should ever be considered. But it does mean that any possible acquisition must be done carefully, which requires

1. Meaningful community input with enough time to identify and resolve important issues before a deal is all but done.
2. Community consideration of alternatives, including proposals from other health systems like Asante, rather than just one preselected proposal.
3. Leadership with no potential conflict of interest and that represents the full range of patients’ concerns.
4. Preservation of individual choice and control over our own care.

We’ve seen outside takeovers before in which employees and customers were promised that they would thrive with wealthier owners. At Harry & David, jobs were lost, pensions were cut, and small contractors weren’t paid for work they had done. At Musician’s Friend, the new owners took what they wanted and then eliminated 200 good local jobs.

Our current hospital management says it can’t balance the budget but that Dignity, the fifth largest hospital chain in the nation with more than 40 facilities in three other states, will fix that by massive new spending. Maybe this will happen, or maybe not. Or maybe it will only happen at first.

If we relinquish community control, what happens when out-of-state executives, having established their first foothold in Oregon, decide to cut back or close our hospital so they can expand into larger markets in the state? What happens when numbers-crunchers who have no stake in our community decide to increase fees or cut jobs, benefits, or patient services?

Are these just hypothetical concerns? Hardly. Dignity is already imposing its own agenda on our community. While what used to be Catholic Healthcare West has changed its name to Dignity, its rules based on the chain’s Catholic tenets remain the same. A spokesperson admitted earlier this month that our hospital and doctors at its clinics will be required to abide by the chain’s longstanding “Statement of Common Values.”

She said that, under these rules, a terminally ill patient will no longer be allowed to request end-of-life care from a willing physician at the hospital’s Center for Family Medicine, as permitted by Oregon’s Death with Dignity law that has twice been ratified by the state’s voters. (No patient or doctor is required by law to participate in such care, but terminally ill patients have a legal right to request it and doctors have a legal right to provide it if they so choose.)

When Mayor [John] Stromberg asked whether this statement’s rules could be eliminated for ACH, Dignity’s spokesperson said, “As far as loosening it, don’t hold out hope. We have our feet in Catholic mud, there is no denying it.” When a doctor affiliated with the hospital courageously wrote to the City Council that the Dignity takeover does not protect his patients’ choices under Oregon law, the hospital’s CEO, Mark Marchetti, wrote that the doctor “will have to decide if he wishes to continue to be part of our clinic.”

For months, Marchetti denied publicly that Dignity would take away our legal right to choose end-of-life care or would limit women’s reproductive rights. Indeed, he wrote in his Aug. 7, 2012 blog that nothing would change and that “I do not believe that our board of directors would have chosen to align with Dignity had it remained a faith-based organization.”

The CEO himself might fare differently under the various takeover proposals the hospital received. To avoid any potential conflict of interest, the job of evaluating and negotiating alternatives for the hospital and keeping the community involved should be turned over to a more broad-based team that represents the full range of patients’ concerns.

Most area residents want the hospital to remain open, and most believe that terminally ill patients like my 96-year-old father must remain free to make their own choices as provided by law, even if those might not be the choices we would make for ourselves. We need to let our elected representatives know that we want all alternatives on the table, not just the Dignity proposal. We want full and informed community participation in the decision. We want to be represented by people who have no conflict of interest. And we want an outcome that preserves patient control over our own health care choices.

Matt Witt is a writer and photographer who lives in Talent.

READ – Dignity/ACH deal gets political, editorial from Ashland Daily Tidings, September 22
READ – Letters to the Editor of the Daily Tidings, September 20
READ – Dignity Health offers a hand up to ACH, guest opinion by Tracy Caldwell, a registered nurse who works at Ashland Community Hospital, September 26
LISTEN – Hospital affiliation discussed on Jefferson Public Radio, Ashland Community hospital’s CEO Mark Marchetti and Janet Troy, Vice President of Development were guests on Jefferson Public Radio’s ‘Jefferson Exchange’ talk show. They discussed the hospital’s financial health, place in the community, and upcoming affiliation with Dignity Health. Mark explained how the affiliation process worked and why Dignity Health was chosen. To hear the entire interview, click here.


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Dignity Health intends to restrict aid in dying in Ashland

If Ashland Community Hospital is acquired by Dignity Health, the hospital will restrict medical practice in the areas of contraception, sterilization, abortion and aid in dying.

At two meetings in Ashland, September 14 and 15, attendees were confused by the hospital’s policy position, as described by ACH CEO Mark Marchetti in the prior day’s Ashland Daily Tidings.

“Ashland Community Hospital officials insist the end-of-life care its patients receive will not change if a partnership is formed with Dignity Health.

“Physicians at ACH can prescribe patients who qualify under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act medication that induces death upon ingesting, said Mark Marchetti, ACH chief executive officer. “We have no policies that dictate the issue one way or another,” Marchetti said. “We certainly don’t monitor our physicians’ prescribing.”"

At both meetings, Carol Bailey of Dignity Health told Ashlanders, “not on our dime” when asked if a future Ashland Community Hospital would take would allowing physicians to prescribe for aid in dying,

Marchetti had insisted that the end-of-life care ACH patients receive will not change if a partnership is formed with Dignity Health.

“If the comments I made concerning the issue were not clear, I apologize,” Marchetti said Friday. “From a practical perspective, nothing is going to change.”

“I heard it loud and clear,” said City Council member Carol Voisin. “Death with dignity and abortion are serious issues that the community thinks our hospital should be able to address and perform.”

“If the comments I made concerning the issue were not clear, I apologize,” Marchetti said Friday. “From a practical perspective, nothing is going to change.”

Dignity’s non-Catholic hospitals are required to follow a Statement of Common Values which rejects the possibility of aid in dying, “Death is a sacred part of life’s journey; we will intentionally neither hasten nor delay it. For this reason, physician-assisted suicide is not part of Dignity Health’s mission.”

“As far as loosening it, don’t hold out hope,” Bailey answered. “We have our feet in Catholic mud, there is no denying it.”

About 80 people attended both forums, peppering both the Marchetti and Dignity Health staff with questions about cost-savings measures, local influence on policy, past financial decisions, governance, as well as reproductive choice and aid in dying.

“I do not want my community’s hospital to partner with someone who does not support Death with Dignity,” said Sharry Teague, 70, of Ashland, during Friday’s forum.

“I heard it loud and clear,” said City Council member Carol Voisin. “Death with dignity and abortion are serious issues that the community thinks our hospital should be able to address and perform.”

READ – End-of-life care reassurance as ACH considers its Dignity deal, Partnership wouldn’t change patients’ rights, CEO claims, Ashland Daily Tidings September 13, 2012
READ – Abortion, physician-assisted suicide dominate forum, Some are concerned over potential changes to Ashland Community Hospital under Dignity Health, Ashland Daily Tidings September 15, 2012

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Dignity Health intends to restrict aid in dying in Ashland

If Ashland Community Hospital is acquired by Dignity Health, the hospital will restrict medical practice in the areas of contraception, sterilization, abortion and aid in dying.

At two meetings in Ashland, September 14 and 15, attendees were confused by the hospital’s policy position, as described by ACH’s Mark Marchetti in the prior day’s Ashland Daily Tidings.

“Ashland Community Hospital officials insist the end-of-life care its patients receive will not change if a partnership is formed with Dignity Health.

“Physicians at ACH can prescribe patients who qualify under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act medication that induces death upon ingesting, said Mark Marchetti, ACH chief executive officer. “We have no policies that dictate the issue one way or another,” Marchetti said. “We certainly don’t monitor our physicians’ prescribing.”"

At both meetings, Carol Bailey of Dignity Health told Ashlanders, “not on our dime” when asked if a future Ashland Community Hospital would allowing physicians to prescribe for aid in dying.

Marchetti had insisted the end-of-life care ACH patients receive will not change if a partnership is formed with Dignity Health.

“If the comments I made concerning the issue were not clear, I apologize,” Marchetti said Friday. “From a practical perspective, nothing is going to change.”

“I heard it loud and clear,” said City Council member Carol Voisin. “Death with dignity and abortion are serious issues that the community thinks our hospital should be able to address and perform.”

Dignity Health has undergone a significant rebranding in the past year Dignity’s non-Catholic hospitals are required to follow a Statement of Common Values which rejects the possibility of aid in dying, “Death is a sacred part of life’s journey; we will intentionally neither hasten nor delay it. For this reason, physician-assisted suicide is not part of Dignity Health’s mission.”

“As far as loosening it, don’t hold out hope,” Bailey answered. “We have our feet in Catholic mud, there is no denying it.”

About 80 people attended both forums, peppering both the Marchetti and Dignity Health staff with questions about cost-savings measures, local influence on policy, past financial decisions, governance, as well as reproductive choice and aid in dying.

“I do not want my community’s hospital to partner with someone who does not support Death with Dignity,” said Sharry Teague, 70, of Ashland, during Friday’s forum.

READ – End-of-life care reassurance as ACH considers its Dignity deal, Partnership wouldn’t change patients’ rights, CEO claims, Ashland Daily Tidings September 13, 2012
READ – Abortion, physician-assisted suicide dominate forum, Some are concerned over potential changes to Ashland Community Hospital under Dignity Health, Ashland Daily Tidings September 15, 2012

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Ashland Community Hospital & Dignity Health merger to be addressed in two forums

Ashland advocates of choice at the end of life have asked, will an upcoming merger between Ashland Community Hospital and Dignity Health have an impact on how the Oregon Death with Dignity law is implemented in our community?

Two community forums next week with representatives from Ashland Community Hospital and Dignity Health could be the public’s last opportunity to inquire and provide input about a possible merger before the final phase of negotiations begins.

Both meetings will take place in the Ashland Community Hospital cafeteria, 560 Catalina Drive

Thursday – September 13, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Friday – September 14, 9 to 10:30 a.m

Plan to attend one or both of these public meetings – AND BRING A FRIEND. Bring questions and comments to testify on behalf of the right to choice at the end of life.

Compassion & Choices of Oregon’s Executive Director Jason Renaud will be at the ACH cafeteria to meet with supporters a half an hour prior to both meetings.

The question comes from our experience of Oregon Catholic hospitals, in Portland, in Medford, in Bend and in Eugene which restrict physicians and staff from speaking with their patients about the Oregon Death with Dignity law. Dignity Health, which was until recently Catholic Healthcare West, is shedding its religious restrictions and practices. But the company’s Statement of Common Values says, “Death is a sacred part of life’s journey; we will intentionally neither hasten nor delay it. For this reason, physician-assisted suicide is not part of Dignity Health’s mission.”

Here are the concerns of supporters of Compassion & Choices of Oregon about this upcoming merger.

1. Use of the word ‘suicide’ intentionally mis-characterizes and demeans the well-accepted Oregon practice of physician aid in dying. Use of the term “physician-assisted suicide” promoted by Catholic opponents of the Oregon law accuses Oregon doctors of an act illegal in Oregon – assisting a suicide.
2. Instead of showing us their aid in dying policy, Ashland Community Hospital representatives stated the hospital’s policies around the Oregon Death with Dignity law will remain the same. We’d like to know what the policies are.
3. Ashland Community Hospital physicians must not be restricted from communicating with patients about aid in dying, charting patient notes or prescribing for patients as protected by the Oregon Death with Dignity law.
4. Other Ashland Community Hospital staff persons, such as social workers, nurses and administrators must not be restricted from communicating with patients about the Oregon Death with Dignity law.

“We know our hospital and staff will continue with the same philosophy of care, placing the highest concern on what our patients and their families need,” Mark Marchetti, Ashland Community Hospital chief executive officer, said in the press release. “Information at these forums will help local residents understand how we will maintain independent local control for the hospital, while adding the support system of a large network.”

A memorandum of understanding will have to be signed to formalize Ashland Community Hospital’s membership with Dignity Health.

If the process goes accordingly, a partnership will be formed by the beginning of October, said Janet Troy, Ashland Community Hospital director of development.

Dignity Health, the nation’s fifth largest hospital system, is based out of San Francisco and operates 40 hospitals and 150 care centers in California, Arizona and Nevada, employing about 65,000 people. If a partnership is formed with Ashland Community Hospital, it will be the health care system’s first affiliate in Oregon.

Because the hospital operates under a long-term lease with the city of Ashland, the City Council will have a say in approving whatever lease arrangement emerges out of an alliance.

READ – Ashland Community Hospital services won’t change under Dignity, April 13, 2012
READ – Ashland Community Hospital experiences a $2.5 million loss, August 25, 2012

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Goodbye Peter Goodwin

Compassion & Choices of Oregon joins others all over the world today to grieve the death of Peter Goodwin, MD. He was a campaigner in the 1994 and 1997 ballot measures leading to Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (ODWDA). On Sunday, March 11, Peter, who had a terminal illness, died after taking medication he obtained under the the Oregon law. He was surrounded by his four children and their spouses, and a Compassion & Choices of Oregon volunteer was with them as well. It took less than one-half hour after taking his medication for Peter to attain the peaceful death he sought.

“I was honored to call Peter Goodwin a compatriot and a friend,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices. “Our hearts are broken at this loss. The state of Oregon, medicine and the world have lost a great leader. Most of all, our sympathies are with his family, whom he dearly loved.”

In 2006, Peter was diagnosed with a rare, fatal brain disease, corticobasal degeneration. His doctors recently gave him a six-month prognosis.

Peter was a chief petitioner for the ballot measure that led to the ODWDA. Peter called his accomplishments as chair of the committee to pass the Oregon Death with Dignity Act in the mid 1990s “the most gratifying of my entire life.” He was instrumental in persuading the Oregon Medical Association to remain neutral on the measure. After the law passed, Dr. Goodwin helped launch Compassion & Choices of Oregon and was its first Medical Director.

Services for Peter will be Wednesday, March 14, at 5 p.m. at Cheatam Hall on the World Forestry Center Campus in Portland.

LISTEN – Assisted Dying Advocate Uses Law To End His Life, NPR
READ – Peter Goodwin, aid-in-dying advocate, ends life at 83, Washington Post
READ – Dr Peter Goodwin takes his own life after six-year battle with brain disease, Daily Telegraph (UK)
READ – Peter Goodwin’s life’s work, opinion editorial from The Oregonian
LISTEN – Remembering Peter Goodwin, OPB
READ – Peter Goodwin Is Dying: An Assisted Dying Doctor Invokes Law He Built, Daily Beast / Newsweek
READ – The Separation of Church and Medicine, Time
READ – ‘Death with Dignity’ doctor dies at 83, AP
READ – Dr. Peter Goodwin, Father of Oregon Law, Takes Own Life, ABC
READ – Peter Goodwin dies at 83, aided by Death With Dignity Act he championed, CBS
READ – Right-to-Die Advocate Ends His Life, Wall Street Journal
READ – Peter Goodwin Is No More, TopNews United Arab Emirates
READ – Peter Goodwin, doctor who pushed for Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, dies, Oregonian
READ – Dueling over death: Dr. Peter Goodwin crafted Oregon Death with Dignity Act; a 1997 interview, Oregonian
READ – Oregon physician behind Death With Dignity dies, USA Today
READ – Peter Arnold Goodwin, MD – obituary and memorial service announcement
READ – Oregon Doctor’s Death Highlights Right to Die with Dignity, commentary from Susan Graybeal, Yahoo News

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Advocates are active in Ashland!

Compassion advocates are active in Ashland!

Volunteers of Compassion & Choices of Oregon appeared on Jefferson Public Radio on July 30 to talk with host Geoffrey Riley about the state of aid in dying in Southern Oregon.

LISTEN to Gayle Wilcox, Gene Rimmer and Dr. Peter Reagan on JPR.

Compassion advocates have been active, writing and calling members of the Ashland City Council and Board Trustees of the Ashland Community Hospital to get written assurance the hospital’s new partner, Dignity Health will allow ACH staff to

  • Write end-of-life prescriptions under Oregon law;
  • Give patients and family members accurate, neutral information about all end of life choices, including legal aid in dying under the state’s Death with Dignity law;
  • Make referrals, chart medical requests, communicate about a patient’s end-of-life decisions without fear of sanction;
  • Perform lawful acts or omissions that advance the time of death, in accordance with the patient’s advance directive or a lawfully appointed surrogate’s instruction, and conforming to medical best practice standards.

Press Release – July 25, 2012

We Need Your Help in Ashland

Compassion & Choices of Oregon needs your help to urge Ashland City Council Members and other community leaders to make sure the Ashland community does not lose comprehensive end-of-life care.

Ashland Community Hospital (ACH) is in negotiations to become part of Dignity Health, a massive healthcare system with hospitals in several states – but not Oregon. Dignity Health used to be a mission of the Catholic Church and it retains a similarly restrictive policy on end-of-life decisions. If this merger takes place, Ashland Community Hospital will operate under rules that bar any action to intentionally advance the time of death.

In its ‘Statement of Common Values,’ Dignity Health states that ‘physician-assisted suicide is not part of Dignity Health’s mission. This statement erroneously labels aid in dying under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act a “suicide.” Because it also bars any act or omission to advance the time of death Dignity’s ‘Statement’ is unclear about what OTHER end-of-life decisions may be curtailed.

Compassion & Choices has asked Dignity and ACH for assurances in writing that the new hospital resulting from an affiliation between the two entities will not erect barriers for terminally ill patients seeking a peaceful death.

We need your help to protect patient rights.

Please call the Ashland City Council and the Board of the Ashland Community Hospital and urge them to assure in writing that any incoming administration will support Oregon values and Oregon laws so that:

  • Physicians will not face restrictions in writing end-of-life prescriptions under Oregon law;
  • Patients and family members are able to receive accurate, neutral information about all end of life choices, including legal aid in dying under the state’s Death with Dignity law;
  • Hospital staff may make referrals, chart medical requests, communicate about a patient’s end-of-life decisions without fear of sanction; Mentally capable patients may refuse or direct withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment, even if their stated intention is to advance the time of death.
  • Physicians and hospital personnel may perform lawful acts or omissions that advance the time of death, in accordance with the patient’s advance directive or a lawfully appointed surrogate’s instruction, and conforming to medical best practice standards.

READ – The Religious Right’s Assault on Palliative Care, by Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion & Choices

Thank you for taking time to make your voice heard!

Jason Renaud, Executive Director of Compassion & Choices of Oregon

CONTACT LIST
Mayor John Stromberg 541-552-2104
City Councilor Michael Morris 541-708 3665
City Councilor Russ Silbiger 541-482-6907 – liaison to Ashland Community Hospital
City Councilor David Chapman 541-488-0152
City Councilor Carol Voisin 541-482-3559
City Councilor Dennis Slattery 541 890-0506
City Councilor Greg Lemhouse 541-488-6002

ACH Trustee Linda Butler 541-488-0735
ACH Trustee Carol Christlieb 541-482-2016
ACH Trustee Alan DeBoer
ACH Trustee Marie Donovan 541-840-1120
ACH Trustee Douglas Diehl, MD 541-482-6208 ACH Board chair
ACH Trustee Doug Gentry
ACH Trustee Ann Golden 541-482-1117
ACH Trustee Martin Lenk 541-890-5670
ACH Trustee Steven Miner 541-488-8898
ACH Trustee Tom Reid 541-482-3711
ACH Trustee Saundra Theis 541-488-7917
ACH Trustee Valri Williams 541-482-5358

Mark Marchetti 541-201-4000 CEO of Ashland Community Hospital

Ashland Daily Tidings 541-776-4477 tidingsopinion@dailytidings.com


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Assisted Dying: Experts Debate Doctor’s Role

From ABCnews.com, July 14, 2012

Peggy Sutherland was ready to die. The morphine oozing from a pump in her spine was no match for the pain of lung cancer, which had evaded treatment and invaded her ribs.

“She needed so much morphine it would have rendered her basically unconscious,” said Sutherland’s daughter, Julie McMurchie, who lives in Portland, Ore. “She was just kind of done.”

Peggy Sutherland, shown with her daughter, Julie McMurchie, chose to end her life with a doctor-prescribed drug under Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

Peggy Sutherland, shown with her daughter, Julie McMurchie, chose to end her life with a doctor-prescribed drug under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act.

Sutherland, 68, decided to use Oregon’s “Death With Dignity Act,” which allows terminally-ill residents to end their lives after a 15-day requisite waiting period by self-administering a lethal prescription drug.

“Her doctor wrote the prescription and met my husband and me at the pharmacy on the 15th day,” said McMurchie, recalling how her mother “didn’t want to wait,” she said. “Then he came back to the house, and he stayed with us until her heart stopped beating.”

But not all doctors are on board with the law. In the 15 years since Oregon legalized physician-assisted dying, only Washington and Montana have followed suit, a resistance some experts blame on the medical community.

“I think it has to do with the role of physicians in the process,” said Dr. Lisa Lehmann, director of the Center for Bioethics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Prescribing a lethal medication with the explicit intent of ending life is really at odds with the role of a physician as a healer.”

More than two-thirds of American doctors object to physician-assisted suicide, according to a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care. And in an editorial published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, Lehmann argues that removing doctors from assisted dying could make it more available to patients.

READ – To Die, to Sleep: US Physicians’ Religious and Other Objections to Physician-Assisted Suicide, Terminal Sedation, and Withdrawal of Life Support, American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 2008
READ – Redefining Physicians’ Role in Assisted Dying, New England Journal of Medicine, 2012

“I believe patients should have control over the timing of death if they desire. And I suggest rethinking the role of physicians in the process so we can respect patient choices without doing something at odds with the integrity of physicians,” she said.

Instead of prescribing the life-ending medication, physicians should only be responsible for diagnosing patients as terminally ill, Lehmann said. Terminally ill patients should then be able to pick up the medication from a state-approved center, similar to medical marijuana dispensaries.

But assisted dying advocates say doctors should be involved in the dying.

“Patients deserve to have their physician accompany them there and not walk away,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of the Denver nonprofit Compassion and Choices.

Coombs Lee, a nurse-turned-lawyer and chief petitioner for the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, said decisions about death should be no different than other treatment decisions.

“Physicians don’t walk away from patients who make other intentional decisions to advance death, such as refusing a ventilator or a pacemaker,” she said. “Why walk away from a terminally ill patient requesting life-ending medication?”

McMurchie agrees.

“Anything that improves access to assisted dying is a step forward,” she said. “But I think shepherding patients through their final days is a huge part of a physician’s responsibility.”

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