Catholic rebel Kueng, 85, considers assisted suicide

By Tom Heneghan

Hans Kueng, Roman Catholicism’s best known rebel theologian, is considering capping a life of challenges to the Vatican with a final act of dissent – assisted suicide.

KüngKueng, now 85 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, writes in final volume of his memoirs that people have a right to “surrender” their lives to God voluntarily if illness, pain or dementia make further living unbearable.

The Catholic Church rejects assisted suicide, which is allowed in Kueng’s native Switzerland as well as Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and four states in the United States.

“I do not want to live on as a shadow of myself,” the Swiss-born priest explained in the book published this week. “I also don’t want to be sent off to a nursing home … If I have to decide myself, please abide by my wish.”

Kueng has championed reform of the Catholic Church since its 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, where he was a young adviser arguing for a decentralized church, married priests and artificial birth control. The Council did not adopt these ideas.

A professor at the German university of Tuebingen since 1960, Kueng was stripped by the Vatican of his license to teach Catholic theology in 1979 after he questioned the doctrine of papal infallibility and ignored Vatican pressure to recant.

The university responded by making him a professor of ecumenical theology, securing him a post from which he wrote dozens of books, some of them best-sellers, and many articles.

NOT LIKE JOHN PAUL OR MUHAMMAD ALI

In the third and final volume of his German-language memoirs, Erlebte Menschlichkeit (Experienced Humanity), Kueng wrote that a sudden death would suit him, since he would not have to decide to take his life.

But if he does have to decide, he said, he does not want to go to a “sad and bleak” assisted suicide center but rather be surrounded by his closest colleagues at his house in Tuebingen or in his Swiss home town of Sursee.

“No person is obligated to suffer the unbearable as something sent from God,” he wrote. “People can decide this for themselves and no priest, doctor or judge can stop them.”

Such a freely chosen death is not a murder, he argued, but a “surrendering of life” or a “return of life to the hands of the Creator.”

Kueng, who writes openly about his Parkinson’s and other medical problems in old age, said this death was compatible with his Christian faith because he believed it led to the eternal life promised by Jesus.

He cited the late Pope John Paul’s public struggle with Parkinson’s and the silent suffering of boxer Muhammed Ali, also afflicted with the disease, as models he did not want to follow.

“How much longer will my life be liveable in dignity?” asked Kueng, who said he still swims daily but is losing his eyesight and his ability to write his books by hand as usual. “A scholar who can no longer read and write – what’s next?”

Kueng, who repeatedly criticized the now retired Pope Benedict during his papacy, described Pope Francis as “a ray of hope”. He disclosed that the new pontiff had sent him a hand-written note thanking him for books that Kueng sent to Francis after his election in March.

It seems highly unlikely the new pope will include support for assisted suicide among possible Church reforms he was discussing with eight cardinals in Rome on Wednesday.

Speaking in Sardinia in late September, Francis denounced a “throwaway culture” that committed “hidden euthanasia” by neglecting and sidelining old people instead of caring for them.

A spokesman for Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese, where Tuebingen is located, said Kueng’s views on assisted suicide were not Catholic teaching. “Mr Kueng speaks for himself, not for the Church,” Uwe Renz told Stuttgart radio SWR.

Complete Article HERE!

Deaths With Dignity

Rear Adm. Chester Nimitz Jr. and Joan Nimitz planned their suicides with military precision.

By Lewis M. Cohen

NimitzLast month, following a decade of bitter political combat, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act. Passage of the bill was a bittersweet triumph for the governor, who had made it part of his election platform and then encountered fierce opposition from a coalition of leaders from the Roman Catholic hierarchy and from representatives from the disability community and socially conservative organizations that also dispute the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception. Vermont is now the fourth state to make it legal for a physician to prescribe lethal medication to a terminally ill, mentally competent patient who wants to end his life and to offer immunity from criminal prosecution to doctors, family members, and friends who wish to participate. Vermont has also become the first state from New England to officially accept this treatment option, which has been available in Oregon, Washington, and Montana. The new law is an important step forward for the death with dignity movement.

When I mention this movement, people often look mystified. Explaining that it is the same phenomenon as “aid in dying” merely results in additional perplexity. It’s only when I say, “physician-assisted suicide” that the coin drops and they recall Jack Kevorkian—the original Dr. Death—or perhaps Derek Humphry, author of Final Exit and founder of the Hemlock Society. At this point in the conversation, many enthusiastically identify themselves as staunch advocates while others just as vociferously announce they are fervent opponents. And then there are the few individuals who suddenly break eye contact and start inching away. The latter are a reminder this is not only an extremely private and sensitive subject but that the act of hastening death is a cardinal sin if you’re Catholic and a potent taboo regardless of one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof.

What almost all of these people have in common is a lack of facts or experience upon which to base their opinions. Whether they love or hate the idea of physician-assisted suicide or are simply creeped out, it is unlikely that they have encountered anyone or even heard a narrative of someone who has resorted to using it as an option at the end of life; they are similarly unfamiliar with doctors or loved ones who have helped a patient to die. Because physician-assisted suicide has been illegal, complex, and intensely private, the stories have remained in the shadows. Even when they are recounted, the subject of suicide is so morbidly powerful that most people psychologically protect themselves by promptly forgetting the narrative or quickly switching the mental channel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last year, during the time of the Massachusetts Death with Dignity ballot initiative, I learned about Rear Adm. Chester W. Nimitz Jr. and his wife, Joan, from a brief article written by their daughter Betsy Nimitz Van Dorn that appeared in the Cape Cod Times. The couple died on Jan. 2, 2002, and after a fleeting spate of publicity, the story disappeared from public attention. I was able to speak with Van Dorn for a more intimate perspective of her parents and their decision.
Joan Nimitz was born in England, trained as a dentist, and came to America for specialty training in orthodontia. Like many women of her generation, after meeting and falling in love with her future husband, she had little opportunity to practice her profession and instead devoted herself to raising their three daughters and furthering her husband’s career.

As a Navy wife, she led a peripatetic existence, moving the family every year to a new base in a strange city often located in a foreign country. She oversaw her children’s upbringing single-handedly during the extended periods in which her husband was at sea. By age 89, Nimitz suffered severe osteoporosis, bone fractures, and the constant pain of peripheral neuropathy. Although she and her husband loved golf, this pursuit was no longer possible, and because she was becoming blind with macular degeneration, she was unable to indulge her passion for reading.

Chester Nimitz Jr., at age 86, was a bonafide military hero and the son of the legendary World War II Pacific fleet admiral—Chester Nimitz Sr.—who was responsible for defeating the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the critical Battle of Midway, and in the Solomon Islands campaign. Chester Nimitz Jr. graduated from the Naval Academy and served on a submarine, the USS Sturgeon, during World War II. He was awarded the Silver Star, which was presented by his father at Pearl Harbor. Nimitz was transferred to command of another submarine, the USS Haddo, and was awarded the Navy Cross and a Letter of Commendation with Ribbon. The Navy Cross citation reads in part, “For outstanding heroism in action during her Seventh War Patrol in restricted enemy waters off the West Coast of Luzon and Mindoro in the Philippines from 8 August to 3 October 1944.” The citation goes on to say, “Valiantly defiant of the enemy’s over powering strength during this period just prior to our invasion of the Philippines, the USS Haddo skillfully pierced the strongest hostile escort screens and launched her devastating attacks to send two valuable freighters and a transport to the bottom. … The Haddo out-maneuvered and out-fought the enemy at every turn launching her torpedoes with deadly accuracy despite the fury of battle and sending to the bottom two destroyers and a patrol vessel with another destroyer lying crippled in the water.”

An interview recorded two months before his death was conducted at the Naval War College, and it reveals a man with no interest whatsoever in rehashing any brave exploits that took place in the war. When asked about his awards, he simply replied, “Yes, the patrols were all deemed successful. We got a combat star. In other words, we sank something all the time.”

Of greater concern to him in the interview was conveying his indignation over the penurious salary that he received during his time in the military that would not properly cover family expenses. After completing service in the Korean War and against Chester Nimitz Sr.’s express wishes, he left the Navy. He was recruited by Texas Instruments and later became the president of the Perkin-Elmer Corporation. According to his daughter, the first year he worked at Texas Instruments in Dallas he paid more in income taxes than he had cumulatively earned during 23 years in the Navy. Her parents did not lead especially lavish or self-indulgent lives but were extraordinarily generous to all of their progeny. Their mantra, Van Dorn says, was:

Chester Nimitz“We are not the kind of people that would ever want to leave any of our children a trust fund. We have given you decent educations, and you are fine on your own. We want the pleasure of watching our grandchildren go to great schools and summer camps and take trips and have adventures. That is the pleasure money can bring—not stockpiling it so some spoiled offspring can have it when he or she turns 21.”

Chester and Joan Nimitz were longtime members of the Hemlock Society, a national right-to-die organization that was organized in 1980. Hemlock’s philosophy—that people should be in charge of their deaths as well as their lives—appealed to them as meticulous managers. The Nimitzes freely discussed these beliefs with their children, and Van Dorn explained, “They always proclaimed that when they got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, that they would do themselves in.”

This did not mean they wouldn’t take advantage of medical advances, and when the admiral developed coronary artery disease, he promptly underwent quadruple cardiac bypass surgery. However, after several years, his health began to noticeably deteriorate; he had frequent bouts of congestive heart failure, suffered gastrointestinal problems, lost 30 pounds, became incontinent, experienced chronic back pain, and began to fall at home. Like his wife, his vision became impaired, and he could no longer safely drive. Extensive evaluations and treatment at the best Boston teaching hospitals proved ineffective for this proud warrior.

Nurses were employed at their home to attend to Joan Nimitz’s worsening health problems, but the couple did not want to squander all of their money on such care. They were both appalled at the vast sums spent at the end of life to sustain people who were frail and sick and not likely to get better. They could clearly envision—and they rejected—the idea of spending their remaining years in a nursing facility.

The admiral particularly worried his heart condition might suddenly worsen and his wife would be unable to commit suicide by herself. Joan Nimitz confided to the children that she, too, feared that without her husband’s help, she would not be in a position to ingest the barbiturate pills they had been stockpiling.

The admiral told his daughter, “That’s the one last thing I have to do for your mother.”

According to Van Dorn, her father had a large file box labeled with a 3-by-5 note card upon which he had written with a magic marker, “When C.W.N. [Chester Williams Nimitz] Dies.” In it were his insurance policies, documents concerning his Navy pension, and so forth. This was intended to save the family from the frustrating task of scrambling around in search of these papers. He was a commander, and he wanted his death and its aftermath to be conducted with the precision of a military operation.

Throughout the fall and winter, the Nimitz couple explicitly discussed with the children their plan. It followed the suggestions in the book Final Exit. When ready, they would begin with an anti-nausea suppository, followed by the sleeping pills, chased with a little of their beloved Mount Gay Rum with a squeeze of lime and soda, and maybe a little peanut butter to settle their stomachs. The last step involved securing a plastic bag over their heads as a precaution in case the medication was not sufficiently lethal. The admiral was going to let his wife take the pills first and make sure she was dead before he followed her example. Van Dorn concluded, “None of it was particularly pretty. But they were just so determined and upbeat about all of it.”

On New Year’s Day in 2002, the Nimitz clan, including some grandchildren, assembled for lunch. They discussed the football games, embraced, and quietly praised the patriarch and matriarch. Everyone was relatively subdued; the admiral and his wife were emotionally reserved individuals. The family members did not try to persuade them to change their minds, because they knew that this would be fruitless. They were confident that neither parent was depressed and their decision was entirely consistent with long-held beliefs.

The admiral had wanted one more chance to write tax-deductible checks for his children, their husbands, and grandchildren, and these were dated Jan. 2, 2002, and left in the apartment. He had seen a lot of deaths in World War II. Joan Nimitz had experienced the deaths of siblings, including one of her brothers, a British Royal Air Force pilot shot down in combat. Death was no stranger to this devoted couple and held no fear. After their family went home, Chester and Joan Nimitz wrote a suicide note that read in part, “Our decision was made over a considerable period of time and was not carried out in acute desperation. Nor is it the expression of a mental illness. We have consciously, rationally, deliberately, and of our own free will taken measures to end our lives today because of the physical limitations on our quality of life.”

After the police officially notified Van Dorn of the deaths, she brought out her father’s comprehensive list of people and telephone numbers. She divvied up the list with one of her sisters, and they called all of her parents’ closest friends to tell them what had happened before any word got into the newspapers. Almost universally the response was, “Yup, that’s your parents!”

In the spring when the ground thawed, the family convened in Cape Cod, Mass. It was a place filled with memories of summer barbecues and sailing expeditions. The ashes of the couple were interred; the younger children placed small keepsakes into the grave, such as a particular piece of Lego that reminded them of their grandparents; and family members spoke lovingly and respectfully of their progenitors.

In the ensuing years, Van Dorn has supported a number of nonprofit organizations, including Compassion & Choices, which along with the Death with Dignity National Center evolved from the original Hemlock Society. The efforts of these groups led to passage of the Vermont bill. Van Dorn appreciates that the law would not have directly helped her parents, as neither had a “terminal” disease. She understands that a civil rights movement, such as death with dignity, takes politically expedient and incremental steps. She anticipates that in the future the infirmities and suffering of advanced age may also qualify people to request this option (as is presently true in Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands). Meanwhile, one more American state will allow its citizens further control at the end of life. And Van Dorn is looking forward to the day “when kids and their parents will regularly sit around the dining room table and talk about end-of-life issues the way you talk about college planning. Because, after all it is just another kind of planning.”

Complete Article HERE!

Threshold Choir

Be sure to check them out today!

Threshold Choir

Threshold Choir
is a network of
a cappella choirs of
primarily women’s voices:

a community
whose mission is
to sing for and with
those at the thresholds of life.

ACLU says faith-based hospitals jeopardize reproductive, end-of-life care

By Aaron Corvin

Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing, but Washington’s hospitals are becoming places of conflict between religion and government over health care services.

faith-based hospitalsThe state’s American Civil Liberties Union is questioning whether health care regulatory agencies and public hospital districts should grant approval to faith-based hospitals — primarily Catholic — that don’t offer reproductive and end-of-life services that are widely available at secular hospitals. In some rural areas of the state, the ACLU says, hospital consolidations and mergers could leave communities only with Catholic hospitals which refuse, based on Catholic religious beliefs, to provide such services.

“We’re very troubled by what’s going on,” said Sarah Dunne, legal director for the Seattle-based American Civil Liberties Union of Washington Foundation. The ACLU is pressing its case on several fronts, including the possibility of legal action. The group also is challenging proposed partnerships between Vancouver-based PeaceHealth and other health care providers.

PeaceHealth, a Catholic-sponsored health system, is pushing back. The nonprofit health care giant — Clark County’s top private employer — says its partnerships with public hospital districts and others are well within legal parameters. And the organization stands by its right to deny certain services based on its religious principles, officials say, as it continues a long history of improving health care in a variety of communities.

“All we have to point to is our record of service,” said Jenny Ulum, a PeaceHealth spokeswoman.

Later this year, the proposal by PeaceHealth and Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives to join forces will undergo a public review and decision by state health regulators. The companies are submitting paperwork, and critics say they plan to weigh in.

The controversy arises amid dizzying political and economic changes in health care. Consolidation has become a health care industry norm. And federal health care reform has heightened tension between the Obama administration and Catholic-based health providers over insurance coverage for contraception.

Not all religiously affiliated hospitals operate in the same way or with the same policies. In PeaceHealth’s case, the nonprofit is a church ministry authorized by the archbishops of Portland and Seattle, according to Ulum. “The church’s authority pertains to our Catholic identity,” she said, “which basically has oversight over faith and morals.” However, PeaceHealth also is a nonprofit corporation with its own governing board and bylaws, Ulum said. PeaceHealth owns its property and facilities, she said, and is responsible for business operations and its health care work.
Legal arguments clash

The ACLU cites data showing that several merger proposals this year would decrease secular hospital beds in the state, in some cases handing a monopoly on health care services to religiously affiliated institutions.

As a result, the ACLU in Washington has launched efforts to curb what it sees as an alarming trend. That includes opposing arrangements between PeaceHealth and taxpayer-funded public hospital districts in San Juan and Skagit counties. The group argues the tax dollars should not be used to subsidize health services limited by PeaceHealth’s religious policies.

It’s also urging public hospital officials to renegotiate their relationships with PeaceHealth in light of the nonprofit’s proposed partnership with Catholic Health Initiatives.

The ACLU argues CHI is even more restrictive in its policies than PeaceHealth. Partly because of its larger size and influence, they say, CHI will likely seek to impose its religious doctrines in communities served by PeaceHealth.

But PeaceHealth officials say the nonprofit and CHI already have agreed that neither of their respective patient-care ethical policies will change under their proposed affiliation, which will be structured as an equal partnership. What’s more, they say, their partnership is intended to boost the quality of care they provide and to strengthen their financial footing to serve growing populations.

The situation in San Juan County exemplifies the conflict. Under an arrangement with the San Juan County Public Hospital District No. 1, PeaceHealth built Peace Island Medical Center, which opened last year. The new facility was built for $30 million, with the community covering about a third of the cost using private funds and with PeaceHealth footing the rest of the construction bill. And PeaceHealth runs the hospital under a contract with the district, which uses its property-tax levy to partially subsidize PeaceHealth’s operations.

Ulum, the PeaceHealth spokeswoman, said the hospital district transferred about $1.2 million in annual property-tax revenue it had used to operate its previous clinic to PeaceHealth. Nearly all of those property-tax dollars enable PeaceHealth to cover the costs of providing charity care and of maintaining a 24-hour emergency department, Ulum said. There was no change in the tax rate, she added.

Lenore Bayuk, the San Juan Hospital District’s commission chairwoman, said PeaceHealth’s entry into the community, with modern facilities, was crucial. Previously, the district struggled to cover its costs at the old clinic, Bayuk said. With PeaceHealth, she said, the district is on sounder financial footing. “We have a cancer treatment center which we didn’t have before,” Bayuk added, noting many other improvements.

But critics say the situation isn’t so tidy. Those include Monica Harrington, a former Seattle technology executive who opposes PeaceHealth’s contract with the San Juan County public hospital district. She cited the fact that San Juan County health officials have agreed to review concerns raised by some residents about health care cost and access issues, including at Peace Island Medical Center.

“We effectively traded lower-priced unrestricted health care in an increasingly dilapidated building for much, much higher-priced, religiously restricted care in a beautiful, art-filled facility,” Harrington wrote in an email to The Columbian.

The ACLU acknowledges the improvements made under PeaceHealth’s arrangement with the San Juan Hospital District. But the organization argues the contract between PeaceHealth and the district violates the Washington Constitution and the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act. “As a government entity, the hospital district should not subsidize religious facilities that discriminate against women’s fundamental rights,” Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU’s operation in Seattle, wrote in a letter to district officials.

PeaceHealth says the ACLU is wrong in its legal interpretation. There’s nothing in the law prohibiting public-private partnerships between hospital districts and private health care providers that maintain religious affiliations, the nonprofit says. The purpose of PeaceHealth is to provide “important health care services, not the advancement of religion,” according to its legal analysis. “To suggest otherwise is inconsistent with more than a century of collaboration in Washington between the state and religiously affiliated charities, health providers and others.”

But the ACLU says its concerns go beyond PeaceHealth’s arrangements with local public hospital districts.

In her letter to the San Juan County Hospital District, Taylor takes umbrage with PeaceHealth’s proposed partnership with CHI, which operates in 17 states and includes 78 hospitals. The venture between PeaceHealth and CHI would combine seven Catholic Health Initiatives hospitals in Washington and Oregon with nine PeaceHealth hospitals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

Although PeaceHealth has argued it will maintain its own ethical policies in its relationship with CHI, Taylor wrote in her letter, “the lack of any legally binding document to that effect fails to protect against the possibility” of additional restrictions on access to reproductive and end-of-life services.

In their concern about how PeaceHealth and CHI will interact, the ACLU and other critics also cite Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s effort last year to block a proposed merger between University of Louisville Hospital and Catholic Health Initiatives. Beshear opposed the merger in part out of concern that the deal would reduce access to reproductive services. But after further negotiations, the deal went through this month and included a provision that U of L Hospital will remain independent of the Catholic health directives followed by CHI.

Closer to home, PeaceHealth says the concern about its potential relationship with CHI is a nonstarter.

In a letter to the San Juan County hospital district, Sister Andrea Nenzel, chair of PeaceHealth’s board, wrote: “(Catholic Health Initiatives) and PeaceHealth have already agreed that our hospitals, including Peace Island Medical Center, will not change their ethical policies regarding patient care that have been in effect for as long as 40 years.”
Diverging from mainstream?

PeaceHealth officials emphasize the nonprofit’s health care mission is spiritual and expansive, serving the poor and caring for those who are unable to pay for services. Its faith foundation means that PeaceHealth also carries a set of ethical policies that govern the medical services it chooses to provide. Those include:

• It does not permit abortion except to save the life of the mother.

• Contraceptive decisions, including tubal ligations and vasectomies, are between the patient and the provider, and are based on medical necessity.

• Emergency contraception is provided to women who are victims of sexual assault. However, PeaceHealth requires a negative pregnancy test before it will dispense emergency contraception.

• RU-486, which induces abortion, is not dispensed at PeaceHealth.

• With respect to end-of-life care, the nonprofit honors advance directives.

• Physician-assisted suicide is prohibited — even in states, including Washington, where it is legal — on PeaceHealth time and in the nonprofit’s facilities or any facility leased from PeaceHealth.

“In the vast majority of cases,” said Ulum, the PeaceHealth spokeswoman, there’s no “dogmatic policy that supersedes” the decision-making that goes on between a doctor and a patient.

Before Vancouver-based Southwest Washington Medical Center became part of PeaceHealth’s system in 2010, the hospital had been secular since the late 1960s, according to Ken Cole, a PeaceHealth spokesman. Still, the secular hospital honored its Catholic heritage, which dates to the hospital’s founding in 1858 by Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

None of the ethical policies that Southwest, as a secular institution, followed in providing medical services changed when the hospital joined the Catholic-sponsored PeaceHealth network, according to Cole. “We were already in alignment with the system,” he said.

Of course, both organizations have made numerous other changes to solidify their affiliation, Cole said, including updating their clinical procedures.
‘Our conscience’

But critics see more gaps, “don’t ask, don’t tell” situations and slippery slopes in the policies of PeaceHealth and other religiously based health care companies than they do comprehensive services. And they cite examples in Puget Sound and across the nation where they believe that religiously based policies have interfered with patient rights and needs, and modern medicine.

“Who wants their doctor worrying about what a bishop thinks in the middle of a medical emergency?” said Harrington, the critic of PeaceHealth’s contract with the San Juan County public hospital district.

Harrington leads the Coalition for Health Care Transparency and Equity — the group arguing against the arrangement in San Juan County. She’s also co-chair of Washington Women for Choice.

Harrington has weighed in on issues of choice and access in a variety of ways, including submitting op-ed columns in the San Juan Islander newspaper. In one column, she wrote that she’s had “dozens of conversations with people who’ve had terrible experiences because of religious doctrine — from the doctor whose career was threatened as she worked to honor the wishes of a dying patient to a woman who found herself feeling abandoned and alone at Swedish (Medical Center in Seattle) with a midterm pregnancy that needed to end for her health and safety. Rarely do people feel comfortable speaking publicly.” Swedish entered into an affiliation with Providence Health & Services last year.

Harrington grew up in a Catholic family but said she has left the Catholic Church. The church’s view of health care “is diverging from mainstream health care,” she said, “and the people who are most at risk are reproductive-age women and people at the end of life.”

When asked whether the ACLU was girding for a lawsuit, Dunne said the group is exploring all of its options. For now, it continues to research the issue, including asking patients and medical providers to take a confidential survey intended to pinpoint cases in which health services have been denied on religious grounds.

For its part, PeaceHealth says it’s focused on its mission to expand services and deliver improved care to the populations it serves. “I don’t think there’s a lot of disagreement over the positive contribution (the) hospital is making,” said Ulum, the PeaceHealth spokeswoman. And PeaceHealth’s policies against providing certain services, Ulum said, are based on “our conscience as an organization.”

Complete Article HERE!

Let’s talk about dying

Lillian Rubin lives and works in San Francisco. She is an internationally known writer and lecturer, who has published twelve books over the last three decades. Last evening her latest essay appeared in Salon. It’s brilliant and a must read.  This courageous woman breaks open a discussion we are all literally dying to have. But so much in popular culture avoids and even prohibits this essential death talk. I commend Lillian for breaking this cultural taboo. Perhaps now others in the media will do likewise.

Lillian Rubin

Complete Article HERE!

Assisted suicide measure narrowly defeated; supporters concede defeat

By Carolyn Johnson

A divisive ballot initiative that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with medication prescribed by physicians was narrowly defeated.

The Death with Dignity Campaign conceded this morning, as unofficial results tallied by the Associated Press showed that, with 95 percent of precincts reporting, 51 percent of voters had opposed the measure, compared with 49 percent in favor.

“For the past year, the people of Massachusetts participated in an open and honest conversation about allowing terminally ill patients the choice to end their suffering,” the campaign said in a statement released at 6:30 a.m. “The Death with Dignity Act offered the terminally ill the right to make that decision for themselves, but regrettably, we fell short. Our grassroots campaign was fueled by thousands of people from across this state, but outspent five to one by groups opposed to individual choice.

“Even in defeat, the voters of Massachusetts have delivered a call to action that will continue and grow until the terminally ill have the right to end their suffering, because today dying people needlessly endure in our Commonwealth and do not have the right to control their most personal medical decision.”

The ballot question has been the subject of a ferocious political battle. After a Boston Globe poll in September showed voters overwhelmingly supported the measure, support steadily eroded in the face of a last-minute effort by a diverse group of opponents, including religious leaders, anti-abortion activists, and conservatives who aired their message in aggressive television advertisements and at church services. The concerted opposition campaign, which also included a major physician’s group, raised more than three times as much money as proponents.

In a statement, Rosanne Bacon Meade, chairperson of the Committee Against Assisted Suicide, said that while some votes remain to be counted, the efforts to stop the measure had been successful. She added that she hoped the result would spark discussions about how to improve medical care at the end of life.

“We believe Question 2 was defeated because the voters came to see this as a flawed approach to end of life care, lacking in the most basic safeguards,” Meade said in the statement. “A broad coalition of medical professionals, religious leaders, elected officials and, voters from across the political spectrum made clear that these flaws were too troubling for a question of such consequence.”

“Tuesday’s vote demonstrates that the people of the Commonwealth recognize that the common good was best served in defeating Question 2,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley said in a statement.

Massachusetts would have followed Oregon and Washington, which have passed similar initiatives to allow terminally ill patients to seek life-ending drugs from physicians. Donations to opposition groups, which raised nearly $2.6 million, came from far-flung Catholic dioceses, fueled in part by fear of a domino effect if the measure were to gain a foothold in Massachusetts.

Proponents of the measure raised about $700,000.

Other efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide in New England have failed. In 2000, a ballot initiative in Maine lost by a close margin. Legislative efforts to pass a similar bill in Vermont and New Hampshire have been defeated in recent years.

Voters said they formed their opinions about the controversial ballot initiative after careful consideration, informed by personal experiences with family members and by concerns about the safeguards written into the law.

North End resident Paul Santoro, 42, cast a vote against the initiative.

“I’m actually in favor of assisted suicide, but not how this is written,” Santoro said, citing concerns about the proposal’s lack of required psychiatric evaluations and family notification and the lack of tracking for any leftover pills.

Santoro, who works in sales, said he has five children and worries about young people getting access to dangerous, untracked medications.

Alex Coon, 37, voting at the Dante Club in Somerville, said he voted for assisted suicide for a very personal reason.

“My grandmother was Dutch, and she always said, ‘When I get sick, take me home to Holland, because they’ll let me die,’ ” he said.

The Massachusetts ballot measure was modeled after similar legislation passed by voters in Oregon in 1994. If it had passed, it would have allowed terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to request medications to end their lives. Patients would have had to request medication from physicians multiple times verbally and in writing, be deemed competent to make the decision, and administer the lethal dose themselves.

Critics had said the measure was sloppily written and contained insufficient protection for vulnerable patients. Objections ranged from the difficulty of assessing how much time a patient has left to the failure to require a mental health screening by a specialist. Others opposed the initiative for moral reasons, or because it was counter to the fundamental do-no-harm ethos that governs physicians.

The legislation would have required the state Department of Public Health to write rules by March 20, 2013, to require physicians to report when the drug was dispensed, file copies of prescriptions, and help facilitate the collection of other statistical information.

Statistics kept by Oregon and Washington are frequently cited by proponents as evidence that the law is not being abused and poses no large-scale societal threat. Those detailed statistics show that the fatal doses of medication are requested by a small number of patients and used by even fewer.

Oregon’s law was mired in legal challenges for several years, but since 1997 when it was enacted, 935 people have requested prescriptions, and 596 have used them to end their lives. In 2011 in Oregon, most of the 71 people who used the medication were white, well-educated, and suffering from cancer.

In Washington last year, 103 people requested the prescriptions, with 70 using them and 19 dying without taking the drugs. Of those who requested prescriptions and died, nearly half were married, three-quarters had some college education, and the overwhelming majority had cancer.

Complete Article HERE!