Physician Aid in Dying Used Mostly by White Patients

By Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN

In the United States, medical aid in dying (MAID) is used mostly by white patients, even after states with more racially and ethnically diverse populations legalized the practice.

Pondering why this is the case were speakers here at the National Clinicians Conference on Medical Aid in Dying (NCCMAID) 2020 during a session on ethnic and cultural considerations in aid in dying.

Factors such as culture and religious beliefs may play a role in preventing some individuals from considering this option, but a 2019 survey from the California Health Care Foundation found that there was support for MAID among African Americans.

“When asked if race and ethnicity prevented you from getting the services and healthcare you needed, 43% of black respondents said yes, that it has happened to them,” said Thalia DeWolf, RN, CHPN, clinical coordinator, Bay Area End of Life Options, Berkeley, California.

“But when asked if they would support the right to die when terminally ill, 70% of blacks and 82% of whites said yes,” said DeWolf.

“This is surprising, since it is almost at the level of the general population, and given the unequal access to medical care and unequal outcomes, they still believe that medical aid in dying should be legal,” she continued.

“We don’t bring this up to suggest complacency, but it brings up some interesting conversation to be had,” she added.

A recent study found that in Oregon and Washington, the two states where the practice has been legal for the longest period, most patients were non-Hispanic white individuals with some level of college education (JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2:e198648.)

In 2016, MAID became legal in California, a state with a much larger and far more diverse population compared to Oregon and Washington. Even so, about 88% of people who use California’s physician-assisted death law are white, according to 2018 data from the California Department of Public Health.

Speaking to Patients

There is an overall lack of participation by black patients in all programs related to end-of-life care, noted Tracey Bush, MSW, LCSW, regional practice leader, End of Life Option Act Program, Kaiser Permanente, Southern California.

“This includes aid in dying, and we consider this lack to be a healthcare disparity,” she said.

“We would be remiss to look at the disparities and participation in these programs without thinking about the disparities in the rest of our healthcare system,” she explained. “We need to think about where the line can be drawn between education, empowerment, and recruitment,” she explained.

From a programmatic perspective, she pointed out, information, pamphlets, and staffing are designed in a way that couches the MAID decision as individualistic, but not all patients have this point of view.

“My argument is that this population doesn’t really view medical decision making in that manner,” she said. “So are we designing our materials and having conversations in a way that really speaks to these patients?”

She also emphasized the need for a diverse care team across the board with regard to ideas, perspectives, cultural beliefs, gender, and ethnicity.

Complete Article HERE!

The State of the Medical Aid-in-Dying Debate

Diane Rehm updates us in her new book, ‘When My Time Comes’

Diane Rehm spoke during her book kickoff event Feb. 3, 2020, at the Sixth & I synagogue in Washington D.C.

By Richard Harris

Maybe, just maybe, America’s greatest taboo — talking openly about death — is itself dying a slow death. Too slow, if you ask Diane Rehm, author of the new nonfiction book, When My Time Comes.

“Until we overcome our fear about talking about death,” the longtime NPR host says, “few of us can have the end of life we envision. We’ve been so focused on living and accomplishing and moving forward that we don’t think about death as part of life.”

For 37 years, Rehm’s morning talk show — first on Washington, D.C.’s public radio station WAMU, then on NPR — allowed her to focus on living, accomplishing and moving forward. But that changed as she witnessed her husband of 54 years, John, decline to the point where he pleaded with his doctor to prescribe him a medication to end his life. And without a medical aid-in-dying law in Maryland, his doctor refused.

So, John Rehm, wracked by Parkinson’s disease, with a severely diminished quality of life, decided to starve himself to death. No water. No food. No medication. It would take him 10 days to die.

And that began Diane Rehm’s journey into advocacy. After signing off her talk show in 2016, she has immersed herself in the world of the terminally ill and studying the limited options available to those for whom palliative care (focused on relieving pain and symptoms) is not the solution to their end-of-life misery.

“We focus so much on happiness and joy surrounding birth, but we think about death as this place no one wants to go — but we’re all going there. Everybody is,” says Rehm in her office at WAMU, where she hosts the podcast “On My Mind.” A February 2019 episode discussed end-of-life issues and why so many people’s end-of-life wishes are not realized.

Discussing Aid in Dying

For several years, Rehm, 83, has crisscrossed the country, speaking to the terminally ill and their families, as well as advocates and opponents of medical aid in dying. She also talked to ethicists and physicians on both sides of the issue. It’s all part of an emerging national conversation about the right to die that Rehm has captured in her new book.

A companion public TV documentary of the same name as her book to be presented by WETA in Washington, D.C., is due out in the spring of 2021, and is being shown at festivals. See the trailer here.

During a speaking engagement in a church in Falmouth, Mass., Rehm asked audience members to raise their hands if, “you are one of those people who is not going to die.” Not a hand went up, of course, and it provoked a lot of nervous laughter.

Some of the crowd had gathered at that church for a “death café,” part of a movement that began in Europe in 2004 in which people of all ages talk candidly about dying, their fears and hopes for the end of life. It’s a sign that America’s reluctance to bring death out of the shadows may be fading.

The medical aid-in-dying movement for the terminally ill — some call it death with dignity —began in Oregon in 1994. It took another 14 years for Washington state to pass its law. “But since then, Montana (2009 State Supreme Court ruling), Vermont, California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine have followed suit.

Each jurisdiction allows a patient who has no more than six months to live (certified by two physicians) to request a lethal dose of medication as long as that person has the capacity to decide and can self-administer.

Changing Minds on Medical Aid in Dying

More than a dozen other states are considering such a law, including Maryland, where Rehm testified last year in support of medical aid in dying. The bill lost by a single vote in the state Senate. But supporters, including the bill’s sponsor, the Maryland House of Delegates’ Shane Pendergrass, are optimistic that the End of Life Option Act will pass this year.

“Everyone is one bad death away from supporting the bill,” Pendergrass, a Democrat from Howard County, said during a news conference in January 2019.

Case in point: Maryland Del. Eric Luedtke, a Democrat from Maryland’s Montgomery County, who originally opposed the legislation. “The two biggest things that gave me pause were the concern about normalizing suicide (three of his family members had attempted suicide) and that some folks in the disabilities community believed aid in dying could be abused,” he told Rehm, who included his comments in her book.

Then, Luedtke’s mother, stricken with esophageal cancer, was in extreme pain — even with palliative care. A few days before she died, “she got the bottle of liquid morphine she had been prescribed, tried to drink it, tried to commit suicide,” he said.

A few months after his mother died, Luedtke signed on to the bill. “I began to question whether I had the right as an elected official, or even as her next of kin, to make that decision (of whether she could use a lethal prescription),” he said. “I think her death would have been less painful and there would have been more closure, had that option been available to her.”

Joe Fab, producer and director of Rehm’s documentary, became interested in end-of-life issues after his sister and both his parents died within four years. “We are just too frozen up in this country, talking about death,” he says.

The Core Conflict

Dr. Lonnie Shavelson, a former emergency room doctor who founded Bay Area End of Life Options in Calfornia, distilled the complex debate surrounding medical aid in dying, to a phrase, included in Rehm’s book: “You’ve got the ethic of autonomy against the ethic of maintaining life.”

The American Medical Association sides with maintaining life, opposing what it still calls “physician-assisted suicide” because the group says it’s “incompatible with the physician’s role as a healer.”

The question that remains unsettled in the context of the physician’s Hippocratic Oath is whether a doctor does more harm than good in writing a lethal prescription for a suffering, terminally ill patient.

The Catholic Church and other religious groups have not given their blessing to medical aid in dying. Diane Rehm is quick to say she respects all opposing views, but remains steadfast in her support for the terminally ill individual choosing when his or her life should end.

The public likely associates two people — Jack Kevorkian and Brittany Maynard — with medical aid in dying more than anyone else. Kevorkian, the controversial pathologist who assisted in the deaths of 130 terminally ill patients in the 1990s and was sent to prison, kicked off the national debate over the right to die.

But it was Maynard who put a new, young face on the right-to-die movement and perhaps did more than anyone in accelerating the growth of laws. Given six months to live with a brain tumor, Maynard moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s death-with-dignity law. Before she died on Nov. 1, 2014 at 29, her videos promoting medical aid in dying went viral.

Rehm’s Take on the Subject

At the conclusion of Rehm’s book and documentary, she asks her grandson, Benjamin Zide, a Dartmouth sophomore studying medical ethics, to pick up his phone and take a video of her as she described what would be for her a “good death.” Here’s what she says:

“I came across a perfect paragraph that Anne Morrow Lindbergh left behind. She wrote, ‘To my family, my physician and my hospital: If there is no reasonable expectation of my recovery from mental or physical disability, I request I be allowed to die and not be kept alive by artificial means and heroic measures. I ask that medication be mercifully administered to me for terminal suffering, even if it hastens the moment of my death. I hope that you who care for me will feel morally bound to act in accordance with this urgent request.’”

Last night, as Rehm kicked off her book tour at Washington, D.C.’s Sixth & I synagogue, she recounted her mother’s suffering before dying at age 49 and how John Rehm’s father and mother committed suicide. So, the subject of death was part of the conversation at their dinner table, even before John was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Diane Rehm says she told her husband, “When my time comes, I need some help from you. I don’t want to live to the point where I’m sick and infirm and cannot take care of myself.” And, she says, “John looked at me and said, ‘I feel the same way.’”

Complete Article HERE!

Assisted dying is not the easy way out

By

One in every five Americans now lives in a state with legal access to a medically assisted death. In theory, assisted dying laws allow patients with a terminal prognosis to hasten the end of their life, once their suffering has overcome any desire to live. While these laws may make the process of dying less painful for some, they don’t make it easier. Of the countries that have aid-in-dying laws, the U.S. has the most restrictive. Intended to reduce unnecessary suffering, the laws can sometimes have the opposite effect.

My work as a medical anthropologist explores the field of medicine from a cultural angle, focusing primarily on birth and death. Over the past four years, I’ve studied how access to a medically assisted death is transforming the ways Americans die. I have spent hundreds of hours accompanying patients, families and physicians on their road to an assisted death. And, I have witnessed some of these deaths firsthand.

This research has taught me one thing: An assisted death is not the path of least resistance. For many, it is the path of most resistance. Those who pursue it face a range of barriers, at a time when their health is rapidly declining. Some patients navigate these waters successfully and manage to secure the coveted bottle of life-ending medication. Others give in to the opposition or simply run out of time.

History of the laws

The country’s first right-to-die law, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (1994), came after a fierce, century-long struggle to give terminally ill patients access to some form of medical assistance in dying.

Legislators in Ohio and Iowa proposed the first two of these bills in 1906. Known as the “chloroform bills,” they envisioned the use of chloroform on fatally ill or injured patients to induce their death, but their terms were so flawed that they never saw the light of day. Other legislative bills – introduced in Nebraska in 1937, Florida in 1967 and Idaho in 1969 – met similar fates.

When a committee of lawyers, physicians and activists sat down to craft Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act in 1993, similar ballot initiatives had recently failed in Washington (1991) and California (1992). To appease vocal opposition, lawmakers laced the Oregon statute with a long list of restrictions and safeguards.

Unlike all previous proposals, the Oregon measure no longer allowed for euthanasia. That’s the act of injecting a patient with a lethal dose of narcotics. Under the law, patients would have to ingest the lethal dose themselves – a final protection meant to ensure the absolutely voluntary nature of their death. The act also introduced a 15-day waiting period between a patient’s first and second request, intended as a period of reflection.

It worked. Oregonians narrowly approved the measure, but a three-year legal stay prevented it from being enacted. In 1997, Oregonians reaffirmed their support for the act, and it became law. Since then, each state that has added an assisted dying law to their books has either followed the strict Oregon model or, in the case of Hawaii, added more constraints. Those include requiring a mandatory mental health exam and a 20-day waiting period in between requests.

The letter of the law

Unlike other countries that permit assisted dying, such as Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium, in the U.S. intolerable suffering and an incurable medical condition alone are not enough to qualify someone for an aided death. A patient must already be within six months of the end of their life – coinciding with the admission criteria for hospice. That means protracted degenerative diseases with open-ended prognoses like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) don’t usually qualify, at least not until a patient’s breathing becomes severely compromised.

Every year, dozens of eligible patients who apply for an assisted death are so close to the end of their life that they die during the mandated waiting period. And by the time a patient becomes eligible for an assisted death, they may have missed the window when they are able to ingest the lethal medication. In contrast to their Canadian, Dutch and Belgian colleagues, American physicians cannot administer these drugs to their patients.

Lou Libby, a pulmonologist from Portland, Oregon, told me that the physical manifestations of many advanced neurodegenerative diseases bump up against this requirement. Again, consider ALS. Alongside their diminishing ability to breathe, patients with ALS almost always lose their ability to swallow.

“You have to be able to ingest the medication yourself. And here you have all these patients who can’t even swallow.”

As I learned during my research, the stress over their ability to swallow can provoke a great deal of anxiety in patients, particularly when it comes to correctly timing their death. Taking the medication too early means cutting short a life still worth living; waiting too long means possibly missing their chance. To have the kind of death they prefer, some patients choose to die earlier than they would have liked.

Cultural roadblocks

Despite popular backing for medical assistance in dying – seven in 10 Americans support it – the cultural stigma and moral ambivalence around these laws remain potent. Across the country, many religiously owned health systems decline to participate in their state’s assisted dying law.

In rural parts of Oregon and along the coastal corridor, where Catholic health systems often run the only hospital in town, patients routinely struggle to find two physicians who will approve their request, or a pharmacist who will fill their prescription. Many hospices refuse to cooperate with a patient’s desire to seek an assisted death, leading patients to feel abandoned. Many assisted living and nursing facilities still prohibit the practice under their roof, forcing patients to make alternative arrangements, sometimes at a nearby motel. In trying to reclaim control over the way they die, these patients often are being stripped of some of that control in the process.

Medical aid-in-dying will become an even bigger issue as baby boomers face the end of their lives. It is mainly older patients who want access to an assisted death. In Oregon, for example, nearly 80% of those who sought medical assistance in dying in 2018 were 65 or older. Boomers, as in many other aspects of their lives, likely will want more say over their deaths.

Assisted dying reframes how we, as a society, understand the potential of medicine, not as a way to extend life but to mitigate the process of dying. Patients who endure intractable, painful diseases sometimes reach a moment when the prospect of staying alive feels worse than the prospect of dying. At that point, the idea of having a say over the timing and manner of their death can bring enormous comfort. But few are aware of all the hurdles they must clear to exercise this kind of control.

Complete Article HERE!

A Chaplain on How to Talk About the Right to Die and Death With Patients

By Diane Rehm

Martha Kay Nelson has had a long career in hospice work. Rather than choosing hospice work, she believes hospice work chose her. Her training was at Harvard Divinity School. She did a yearlong internship as a hospice chaplain during her graduate work. The year after she graduated, she managed to combine her career as a chaplain with her work in hospice. She is in her mid-forties, with short hair and hazel eyes. Her warm, open face, earnest manner, and easy smile help me understand why she is so good at her work. We sit together in her office at Mission Hospice & Home Care in San Mateo, California.

DIANE: How do you feel about California’s “right to die” law?

MARTHA: Well, I have many feelings, and they could vary depending on the day or the hour. It depends on whom I’m talking to, and what her or his experience is. My overall sense about the law is that people have a right to make their own health-care decisions, whether it’s at the end of life or at any time up to that point. I know people have a hard time having these conversations, particularly early on, before they’re even sick. And then they get sick and it’s crisis time, and those decisions have to be made quickly. The End of Life Option Act to me is part of a spectrum of all those decisions and conversations that come at the end. It’s a new end point on that spectrum.

D: You’ve been in a leadership position here at Mission Hospice, not only learning, but teaching. Tell me what have been the elements of transmitting this information to others.

M: It’s been an interesting learning curve. I think even seasoned hospice professionals have had to adjust to a new option for patients, stepping into that terrain. The elements that have been important in teaching staff members, working with health-care partners, have been to get folks to acknowledge at the outset that this is a challenging topic, this is new terrain, there are profound implications, and not to shy away from it.

Some folks here at Mission Hospice didn’t want to participate, but the majority did, to have their questions answered or share some of their thoughts, their concerns. We’ve done this regularly enough that people felt they could talk freely about the End of Life Option Act. We didn’t want it to be whispered about awkwardly in the corner, that this law is coming and our patients are going to have the right to choose the option. As an agency, we’re not advocates for the law, we’re advocates for our patients, and we won’t abandon them. Having said that, any of our employees, if they’re not comfortable, don’t have to participate. They can opt out if they need to, and they would be fully supported.

D: What kinds of questions did you get from staff? What kinds of issues did they raise?

M: At the outset, a lot of general questions about details of the law, how it works, how are we supposed to communicate with our colleagues around it, what can we say to the patient and what can’t we, those kinds of things. Questions arose about accessibility to the law. If I have patients who are saying they just want to end it all, and they’re saying this a lot, but they’re not specifically asking about the law, then can I bring it up with them or not? We have a policy here at Mission Hospice that we let the patient lead. If a patient is inquiring about his or her options, then we will be there.

That’s one kind of question. Other clinicians have asked about folks who haven’t had the chance to be educated about medical aid in dying, or don’t have access to resources where they might have learned about it. What if it’s something they’d like to avail themselves of ? There’s kind of a social justice question there. There are also questions arising from specific cases. Every case is different.

D: Can you give me an idea of how many patients have actually come forward and asked you about the right to die?

M: We’ve been tracking some of these numbers, and to date, we’ve served around forty-five people since California’s law went into effect, which was a lot more than we anticipated. When back in 2016 we set out to draft our policy and prepare ourselves, we thought maybe we’d have four or five people in the first year. We had twenty-one. And about that same number inquired about the law, but never went all the way through the process. Either they actually died before they had a chance to use the law, or they changed their minds. I would imagine that it was split evenly.

D: Tell me about the process. So a patient comes to you and asks about the process, the law. How do you respond?

M: My initial response as a chaplain would be one of curiosity. I’d be interested in learning more about their thoughts and why they’re asking. It’s a big thing to ask about. Sometimes people are afraid to even inquire. They’re afraid of being shamed or judged. So I’d want to let that person know that I’m glad they’re asking. And then we’d have a conversation, whatever they would wish to say at that time. Next, I would contact the doctor and the rest of my interdisciplinary team members and would let them know the topic had been broached. Then a doctor would probably go and make a direct visit, which would be considered the first formal request, if the decision was made to pursue that course.

We really encourage the other team members to make sure they keep talking to one another—the social worker, the nurse, the spiritual counselor, home health aides, and volunteers who might also be involved. Through a team effort, we would need to have clarity on how much privacy the patient would want. Patients have the right under the law to not tell anyone but the doctors they’re working with, not even family members. Our experience has been that that’s not often the case. Usually there is communication with family.

D: Who makes the initial judgment that the patient has six months or less to live?

M: The attending physician on the case. And if the patient inquires about the law, and his or her doctor says, “I’m not comfortable being involved with this,” that’s one way we might get involved. Or it might be a hospice patient already on our service.

D: I saw in your waiting room a brochure for Death Cafes. Can you tell me about them?

M: The Death Cafe movement started several years ago in England. It’s basically having a conversation over coffee and cakes in a public venue. Anyone is welcome to attend, and the purpose is open-ended. The goal is to talk about death in any way you wish. There does need to be a facilitator, someone who is able to establish ground rules in etiquette so folks aren’t talking over one another. Folks that host them tend to have some level of experience in end-of- life care, in thanatology, but anyone can sign up. I’ve led a couple of them.

D: How successful do you think Death Cafes are as teaching tools, as comforting elements in the whole discussion of death?

M: I think Death Cafes are successful in meeting the needs of folks who already want to talk about death. If you show up at a Death Cafe, there’s something in you that is already ready to speak and to hear what other people are thinking. It can serve as a cross-pollination of ideas and thoughts, and normalization. The cafes meet a kind of thirst that we have in our culture to speak about these things openly and not be afraid. How you get people to Death Cafes is another question. I’ve had some people say they’re offended by that name, or they don’t want to attend a Death Cafe because it sounds morbid.

D: What is the best way to reach people? How do we get the conversation started even before we’re sick?

M: There’s no one best way. It’s about being creative and really getting to know your community. In my family, I’ve been lucky in that we’ve always talked about death openly. I have ongoing conversations now with my father. He’s about to turn eighty-three, and I really value the kinds of discussions and ruminations we have.

It’s wonderful. We’ve started kind of reflecting theologically, talking about, wondering together, what happens after we die. To be able to have that in a father-daughter kind of way. I’m well aware of what a precious opportunity it is to hear his thoughts. As he comes into the “lean and slippered pantaloon” time of his life, as he might say—some of his last chapters— I feel really blessed that he’s willing to discuss it openly.

D: How do you open that discussion for the general public?

M: I think it takes courage and a conscious decision to ask a question of someone in a moment when you feel there’s an opportunity. Someone speaking about her or his health, some decline, or illness, grief, and you ask, “How would you like things to be?” And perhaps even being a bit persistent if you get an initial brush-off, which often happens, but trying again, and saying, “ Really, I would like to know.”

I also think reaching children is important. I think that in our death-denying culture, children are really shielded from all things involved with death. Things happen at the funeral parlor, no longer at home, and we try to protect children in all kinds of ways. But if you don’t allow children who want to be involved in a loved one’s illness or death, I think you’re doing them a disservice. You’re keeping them from something that is integral to life for all of us. The earlier you can start to have those experiences and wonder about them and ask the questions, the more skills you will have as you age to meet them openly.

D: Have you decided what you want for yourself at the end?

M: I have no idea. I do know that I would like to have the right and the option to choose. I understand that even just knowing that the option is available can bring a lot of comfort to people. I haven’t faced a terminal illness that might cause me great physical pain or suffering, or mental or spiritual suffering. There’s one area that gives me pause, which is when folks choose medical aid in dying because they’re used to being in control in their lives. They might not have physical or mental or spiritual suffering, but they want to have personal agency. I think they entirely have the right to do that. But I also believe we’re in a culture that distorts the degree to which we think we’re in control. So on a soul level, on a much deeper level, I wonder, Are we messing with something there? How is it that we’re making such a profound decision from a place of a distorted need for control? And then I think, Well, what do I know about their journey and what they need? Maybe this is the one time they’ve ever made a strong, solid decision for themselves, and who am I to say what it is they need to learn?

D: But isn’t pain, intractable pain and suffering, and the inability to care for oneself, a sufficient reason to respect someone’s decision in terms of his or her final say?

M: Absolutely. I think clinicians have more trouble when they can’t observe visible intractable pain, when they can’t see physical or emotional suffering. It’s harder for clinicians to get their heads and hearts around that. Why is someone making this choice? And so I do a lot of counseling with staff about that, exploring how to meet the needs of the person when we don’t see them suffering, at least not on the surface. And we have to remind ourselves, clinicians need to express those feelings and concerns, so that when they’re dealing with patients directly, they can be respectful and meet them on their own terms.

Complete Article HERE!

Dates With Death

When My Time Comes

Diane Rehm poses for a portrait at her home in January. After more than three decades and thousands of programs, she’s stepping away from the broadcast microphone.

By Amy Kepferle

“My mother begged to die,” Diane Rehm writes in the preface of her new book, When My Time Comes: Conversations about Whether Those Who Are Dying Should Have the Right to Determine When Life Should End.

“There was no hope of recovery,” she continues. “There was nothing more they could do to ease her pain or to keep her comfortable. She died suffering.”

Rehm, a beloved National Public Radio talk show host and bestselling author, wondered why she’d had to watch her mother endure the horrific effects of non-alcohol-related cirrhosis for so long, and why she didn’t have the right to choose when she’d had enough.

The subject again became personal in 2014 when her husband of 55 years, John Rehm, decided to end his life when the side effects of Parkinson’s disease became overwhelming. He couldn’t use his hands, could no longer feed himself or use the bathroom on his own, and slept for most of the day.

“Because John could not receive medical aid in dying, he had to starve himself and go without medication for 10 days, until he died,” she relates during a chapter focusing on an interview with palliative care physician, internist and geriatrician Christina Puchalski. “I as his wife could do nothing but watch him suffer.”

Puchalski’s take on Rehm’s story is an interesting one. Although she has plenty of compassion for those who are facing their final journey, she has concern that in states where assisted suicide is legal—like Washington, Oregon, Maine, Vermont, California, New Jersey, and Colorado—people might be too quick to seek medical aid to quicken their deaths. She believes palliative care and hospice care can help with pain and symptom management, and can also be done with dignity.

“Are we giving a message that when you get to that point, there’s not a lot of opportunity for meaning and purpose and joy?” Puchalski asks.

At 83 years old, Rehm is a clear proponent of the right-to-die movement. But in When My Time Comes, she uses her interviewing prowess to explore the topic in ways that go beyond a simple “yes” or “no.” She questions terminal cancer patients—one of whom moved to Oregon so she’d be able to end her life on her own terms—and widowed spouses, doctors, death educators, reverends and Roman Catholic priests, constitutional law professors, attorneys and politicians for their opinions.

It’s heady reading, especially when hearing from those who know they’re running out of time. But it’s also a reminder that life is fleeting, and that it’s better to let your family and loved ones know what you want before its final chapter.

At the end of the book, Rehm even talks to her grandson, asking him to record their conversation on his iPhone for posterity. She then tells him that if she’s terminally ill and there is no reasonable expectation of her recovery from mental or physical disability, to let her die and not be kept alive by artificial means and heroic measures.

During “A Conversation with Diane Rehm” Tues., Feb. 11 at Sehome High School, the retired radio personality will be in conversation with local author Phyllis Shacter, who—like Rehm—watched her spouse choose to die via Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED) rather than live into the late stages of Alzheimer’s. The discussion is sure to be a fascinating one, and may help give attendees a clearer look at the bigger picture.

Complete Article HERE!

How to love dying people.

It can be heartbreaking to hear that a loved one facing death has decided to give up the ‘fight’. Here’s how to love them through it.

By

It’s mid-January. The post-holiday glow has most definitely worn off and I’m now leaning on my fave comfort food to help get me through winter. Yep, am here nibbling on some chocolate almonds while writing this to you because I’m about to dive into a touchy topic.

Let’s begin by saying…

Death is deeply ordinary. 100% inevitable. And as natural and necessary as being born.

As a society, we treat death like the enemy (instead of the goddess of wisdom that she is). We fight ‘til the bitter end, this “battle” that we won’t ever win. This battle against death (and the obsession with youth it creates) is seen everywhere in our science and culture.

Which means it can be heartbreaking to hear that a loved one facing death has decided to give up that fight. To accept what’s coming. To make peace with a battle they know they aren’t going to win. To refuse any more treatments. And sometimes, even to choose a medically assisted death.

M.A.I.D. stands for Medical Assistance in Dying and it’s been legal in Canada since June 17, 2016.

First, a few stats to set the scene. The total number of medically assisted deaths in Canada between December 2015 and October 2018 was 6,479 or roughly 1% of the estimated total deaths in Canada during that time.

It’s split pretty evenly between men and women. But those of us in urban centres are more likely to seek out these services.

There are a number of guidelines in place to make sure that MAID isn’t abused. You have to be “eligible” and of sound mind. Three doctors must all independently agree that you qualify. Currently, there’s a minimum 10-day waiting period to make sure this is really what you want. And you can change your mind – right up to the last second – if you want to.

But it’s still controversial.

MAID bumps up against our morals and ethics and religious beliefs. It asks us to think about how we want to live and more importantly how we want to die (if you even believe that you have the right to choose).

It can be agonizing to hear that a loved one is ready to die. Especially if we aren’t ready to let them go.

There’s a fantastic episode of Grace and Frankie (season 6 is out now!) called “The Party” where their friend has decided not to fight the cancer that’s returned. We watch Grace and Frankie navigate their friend’s request to throw an epic ‘exit’ party and help her die. The show deals with this subject with such compassion (and of course, their signature sense of humour) it’s definitelyworth watching.

So let’s talk this through, shall we?

HOW DO YOU SUPPORT A LOVED ONE WHO HAS CHOSEN MAID?

Acknowledge that this is NOT ABOUT YOU

Which is hard because their death most definitely impacts you. And your ego, once it’s recovered from its shock, will start wringing its hands and wondering what your life will look like without this loved one. It’ll be afraid of losing the person you were when you were with them. And your ego will most definitely not want things to change, or the pain that comes with change. It’ll want to avoid this at all costs. Even if it means asking your cherished one to extend their life, to keep fighting, just a little longer so you can avoid the pain and grief their death will bring.

Here’s what I want you to remember: it’s not about you (no matter how much it feels like it is). This is THEIR journey. Trust that they know what they need. And, deep down your soul knows it’s going to be okay. It’s going to hurt, yes, but it’s going to be okay. So listen to your soul.

Get help

For you. Find support for yourself so that you can show up for your loved one who has chosen MAID. Maybe this looks like talking to a trusted friend, therapist, or coach.

Establish rituals that will help YOU during the transition. What do you need? Maybe you can schedule some time off. Or, one of my personal favourites is hitting the yoga mat. Allowing movement and breath to begin to allow those emotions to move through me. Maybe you can light a candle for your loved one.  Pray. Journal. Meditate. Walk. Do some kick-boxing. Take a bath. Let your intuition guide you. (more ideas for honouring your griefhere)

Empathize

Be a heart with ears for your friend or family member choosing medically assisted death. We can’t ever truly know what it’s like to walk someone else’s path. But we can listen with open hearts. Connect with compassion. And if the moment calls for it? Grieve together (more ideas on how to show up for someone who’s grievinghere).

Plan

If planning is your forte help them with plans for their funeral. Or a living funeral. Or a celebration of life service. Whatever they want. A big, loud, joyful party or intimate, sacred and peaceful. There’s no wrong way to do this.

The rituals and ceremonies we create around the ending of life aren’t just a reflection of our culture or beliefs. These rituals allow us to begin processing all the complex emotions that accompany grief. They help us to take meaningful action. To gather in community. Because action is necessary to heal from loss and helping plan their ‘exit’ party can be a beautiful offering.

Shift your perspective

This is gonna fall under the category of “easier said than done” advice. But what if you saw this time together (however much is left) as a gift?

When death is unexpected one of the things grievers want more than anything…is more time. Time to say I love you. Time to just be with the person.  Even just one more day with their loved one. You’ve got that. Cherish it.

Honesty

Take time to ask the questions you have to. Resolve any conflicts. Ease any discomfort between you. Above all, have honest conversations because we certainly don’t have time for bullshit in our last days on earth. And if you can’t quite say it out loud – try writing it in a letter.

When we implore our loved ones not to give up, to keep fighting, we rob them of the opportunity to go peacefully on their terms. We take away the deep KNOWING they have about their approaching death and ask them to doubt themselves. We give false hope.

We’d never ask our family member or friend to live their life according to our terms.  We can’t ask them to die on our terms.

If we loved them in life, even when life got messy (and really, when is it not messy?!) then we need to love them enough to make dying okay too.

Complete Article HERE!

‘It was kindness and it was a mercy’:

The doctor helping people to die

Oncologist Cameron McLaren

By Melissa Cunningham

It was just after 2pm on October 31 when oncologist Cameron McLaren arrived at Phil Ferrarotto’s house on the outskirts of Melbourne to help him die.

Dr McLaren had never administered a fatal drug to a terminally ill patient before. He was struck by the magnitude of what he was about to do.

“I had no idea if I was going to be OK with it even up to the point where I put the needle to his arm,” Dr McLaren said. “But there was no question that this was the right thing to do for Phil. It was what he wanted. It was kindness and it was a mercy.”

Phil hadn’t eaten for days. No longer able to digest his medication, the 70-year-old was hooked up to an intravenous morphine drip and sustained by spoonfuls of cola-flavoured ice.

He lay in bed with his daughter Katie and wife Dorrie curled up on either side of him. They cuddled his frail body and watched his chest rise and fall with each painful breath.

His son Glen and son-in-law Ryan came into the room with three glasses of aged Glenfiddich whisky; one for each of them and one for Phil.

They toasted Phil as Dr McLaren gently swabbed the father-of-two’s arm with medicinal alcohol.

Phil Ferrarotto

Dr McLaren found a vein and inserted a cannula. He used the thin tube to inject a sedative medication, before administering an anaesthetic and a muscle relaxant.

Phil began to drift off within minutes of the drugs flowing into his bloodstream. The circle of his family closed in around him. They held his hands and told him how much he was loved. “Be happy,” Phil said, before he took two final, deep breaths.

Dr McLaren has helped two dozen terminally ill Victorians apply for permits to end their lives since the state’s voluntary assisted dying laws came into effect on June 19. Eleven of them have since died using the legislation.

All the patients Dr McLaren has assessed so far were in intolerable pain and often bedridden.

“The number one reason people are doing this tends to be more the existential suffering,” Dr McLaren says. “It is the loss of joy, the fear of losing dignity and the fear of losing autonomy and of being a burden to family.”

Cancer-stricken patients surrender their bodies to years of treatment they know will cause them pain and discomfort, Dr McLaren said. He wants to give people control at the end of their life.

“It is one last decision about their body which is entirely theirs,” he said. “This is something we do for animals and when they get too old and they are suffering greatly. We put them out of their misery and we call it humane. Why shouldn’t we afford humans the same humanity?”

When Dr McLaren first met Phil he was sitting in an armchair in his living room hooked up to an oxygen concentrator. The cancer had spread from his bladder to his lungs and had riddled his bones. Then it invaded his liver, causing his belly to swell and fill with fluid. Opioids prescribed to Phil did little to dull his pain. Each breath was agony.

This kind, strong-willed, clever, retired general manager, who had battled four different kinds of cancers over the past 18 years, was frank and direct.

He told Dr McLaren he wanted to end his own life.

Dr McLaren carefully assessed Phil. He ticked off all the strict criteria; over the age of 18, of sound mind, an Australian citizen with less than six months to live. He referred Phil on to a second doctor who also deemed Phil eligible for the scheme.

Before his application was approved an email from Phil arrived in Dr McLaren’s inbox: “This gives me no pleasure in begging you to end my life, but I have no one else to turn to. I’m struggling with every breath I take and I can’t do it anymore.”

A permit for a doctor-administered death was approved the same day by the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board with Dr McLaren agreeing to administer the fatal dose.

For days after Phil died, Dr McLaren was waiting for the “hammer’s fall”.

“I was really concerned about the fallout for me, personally and emotionally,” he said. “I was concerned about being recognised as ‘that’ doctor and the impact it might have on my family and my work.

“I didn’t question what I did, because in Phil’s case, he was in the last days of his life and he was going to die within 48 to 72 hours. I was able to provide him a death that in his mind was dignified. It didn’t cost him anything. It cost him his suffering.”

The fallout never came.

“It was a lonely experience because there’s no literature review you can read on it,” he said. “It still does feel lonely because there’s not a lot of us doing it.”

The night Phil died, Dr McLaren picked up his two year-old daughter when he got home and held her in his arms. His love for his child overwhelmed him and he pressed his face against hers.

“As I was holding her I thought of Phil being surrounded by his family as he took his final breath,” he said.

“Nothing that we could have done would have avoided his death, but we were able to make sure Phil  died at home in the arms of the people who loved him most. I thought, yeah, that would be a nice way to go.”

Before he died, Phil wrote a letter to Dr McLaren thanking him for what he was doing:

Complete Article HERE!