She Killed Herself in an Assisted Suicide, But Could Brittany Maynard Have Been Saved?

This week, CBS’ 60 Minutes reported that FDA has just granted “breakthrough status” for an innovative treatment for glioblastoma brain cancer that was first reported by 60 Minutes on March 29, 2015. Brittany Maynard had glioblastoma and died by physician-assisted suicide on November 1, 2014, just 5 months before the original TV segment aired. Brittany Maynard was a young newlywed who, with enormous media publicity and the support of the pro physician-assisted suicide group Compassion and Choices, announced her intention to commit assisted suicide. She asked for donations to the Brittany Maynard Foundation to raise money to help Compassion and Choices fight for legalization of physician-assisted suicide throughout the US. Using Brittany’s story and foundation, Compassion and Choices was finally successful after years of failed attempts to get a physician-assisted suicide law passed in California. Did Brittany, her doctors, or Compassion and Choices know about the promising clinical trials for glioblastoma reported by 60 Minutes before Brittany took her life with a physician ordered lethal overdose? Although reported medical breakthroughs are frequent and often over-hyped or prove disappointing, information is available at ClinicalTrials.gov, a registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world. This service was developed by the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration and made available to the public in February 2000. The Decision to Forego Treatment According to Brittany’s own words: After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion: There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had...

Doctor-Prescribed Suicide is Never the Answer: Commentary

The disability community has been trying to have honest end-of-life conversations for years. After all, we’re the real experts on the front lines of the health care system that serves (and, sadly, often underserves) dying people. But for the most part, the megaphone has remained firmly within the grasp of the assisted suicide lobby and its well-intended supporters, many of whom haven’t been exposed to complete information about the construction, operation and consequence of such laws. Last week, California became the fourth state to legalize assisted suicide, providing the state’s imprimatur on the notion that some suicidal people warrant suicide prevention services and some warrant help getting the job done. Tragically, the only difference between those two groups is their health status or disability. Those already at increased vulnerability for depression and abuse because of their failing health are the ones who get state-sanctioned assistance with their suicidal ideations. Soon after Brittany Maynard became the long-awaited face of the right-to-die movement, the assisted suicide lobby (Compassion & Choices) enjoyed a fresh crop of proposed bills in sixteen states, with twelve defeats, California passing last week, and three others still pending. Although this whole ugly business seems far more palatable when such noble aims as pain mitigation are headlined, 17 years of available data do not bear out this claim. Oregon’s annual report data demonstrate that it’s social factors that propel assisted suicide requests. According to one study, “loss of autonomy” (92 percent), “less able to engage in activities” (89 percent), “loss of dignity” (80 percent), “loss of control of bodily functions” (50 percent), and “feelings of being a burden”...

Chancellor McCoy, Tennessee, and the Way of Wisdom

“If you can keep your head when all about you, Are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . .” (“If” by Rudyard Kipling) Yesterday’s decision in the case of John Jay Hooker, et al v. Tennessee, handed down by Chancellor Carol L. McCoy, is remarkable for its soundness and its clarity. The case was argued on 10 July in Chancery Court, with Hooker’s team seeking the right to have his physicians provide him with a lethal prescription, and not face charges for assisting a suicide. His legal team even used the term, “aid-in-dying” a now-favored euphemism employed by Compassion and Choices, the group once known as “The Hemlock Society.” Thankfully, Chancellor McCoy saw this assault on the state’s ban on assisted suicide for what it was. According to the decision (pp 19-20), the State identified six interests promoted by Tennessee’s Assisted Suicide Act, which are as follows: 1) preserving life 2) preventing suicide 3) avoiding the involvement of third parties and the abuse of arbitrary, unfair or undue influence over physically, emotionally, mentally, or medically-impaired individuals 4) protecting family members and loved ones 5) protecting the integrity of the medical profession 6) avoiding future movement toward euthanasia and other abuses It was the Defendant’s position that “the State is not required to devalue one’s life upon that person receiving a diagnosis of a terminal illness.” (p. 19) The Chancellor agreed, writing that the “Tennessee Supreme Court has held that there is a compelling State interest in protecting the life and promoting the health of its citizens.” (p. 20) The Plaintiffs (Hooker’s legal team) claimed that “the terminally...

Journal of Palliative Medicine: ‘Clinical Criteria for Physician Aid in Dying’ (aka: physician-assisted suicide)

[Comment: Unfortunately, some groups and individuals against physician-assisted suicide still cite hospice as the simple solution to physician-assisted suicide while some of us who have experience in hospice have warned for years about the progression of corrupting changes in hospice philosophy and practice promoted by well-funded groups like Compassion and Choices and individuals like George Soros. For example, note the first line of the article’s abstract: “More than 20 years ago, even before voters in Oregon had enacted the first aid in dying (AID) statute in the United States, Timothy Quill and colleagues proposed clinical criteria AID.”     How many people are aware that Dr. Quill first became famous in 1991 when he wrote a medical journal article “”Death and Dignity — A Case of Individualized Decision Making” before becoming a plaintiff in the 1997 US Supreme Court case Vacco v. Quill on the constitutionality of physician-assisted suicide. He became president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine from 2012-2013 and now the Academy has a position on physician-assisted suicide described as “studied neutrality”. Currently, we see our fears becoming reality. With the crucial help of the mainstream media, the public, the legal system and even medical organizations are being seduced into accepting that the so-called “right to die” must now include the “right” to be killed with medical assistance. It is not a coincidence that over 90% of assisted suicides victims in Oregon and Washington were enrolled in hospice. With California legalizing assisted suicide, I fear that it is only a matter of time before we see the US Supreme Court given the opportunity to follow...

From the Netherlands to Vermont: Patients Under Pressure to Die

Around one in five patients who choose euthanasia in the Netherlands acts under pressure from family members, according to a leading expert on the ethics of assisted dying, as reported last week in Dutch News: http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2015/07/pressure-on-patients-is-cause-for-concern-euthanasia-expert/ According to the report, Professor Theo Boer, who teaches ethics at Groningen’s Protestant Theological University and has for nine years served as a member of one of five review committees that assess every euthanasia case, said, “Sometimes it’s the family who go to the doctor. Other times it’s the patient saying they don’t want their family to suffer. And you hear anecdotally of families saying: ‘Mum, there’s always euthanasia.’” Here in Vermont, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal for just two years, cases of pressure are already starting to emerge, and it isn’t always family members providing the pressure. True Dignity has spoken with the family of a 90-year-old Medicaid patient who felt pressured by caregivers in the facility where she was admitted for recovery from a fall. The patient did not have a terminal diagnosis. According to Beth Neill, clinicians at the Berlin Health and Rehab Center informed her mother at regular intervals during her 4-month stay there that she had a “right” to use Act 39, and that, “She didn’t even have to discuss it with her family.” It was the act of repeatedly bringing up Act 39 as a health care “option” that caused her mother to feel pressure, and not overt efforts by clinicians to convince her to request the lethal prescription, Neill said. However, she said her mother made it clear she wanted nothing to do with Act...