The Alternative to Physician-Assisted Suicide: Respect Human Dignity and Offer True Compassion

first_imgHeritage Foundation 18 May 2015Family First Comment: Ryan spoke at our Forum last year. This is a superb article.Allowing physician-assisted suicide (PAS) would be a grave mistake for four reasons, as explained in a Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, “Always Care, Never Kill.”[1] First, it would endanger the weak and vulnerable. Second, it would corrupt the practice of medicine and the doctor–patient relationship. Third, it would compromise the family and intergenerational commitments. And fourth, it would betray human dignity and equality before the law. Instead of helping people to kill themselves, we should offer them appropriate medical care and human presence.This Issue Brief focuses on alternatives to physician-assisted suicide. People seeking PAS typically suffer from depression or other mental illnesses, as well as simply from loneliness. We should respond to suffering with true compassion and solidarity. For those in physical pain, pain management and other palliative medicine can manage their symptoms effectively. For those for whom death is imminent, hospice care and fellowship can accompany them in their last days. Anything less falls short of what human dignity requires. The real challenge facing society is to make quality end-of-life care available to all.Mental Health and Palliative Care: True Compassionate Treatment Instead of embracing PAS, we should respond to suffering with true compassion. Most people seeking PAS suffer from depression or other mental illnesses, physical illness, or simply loneliness. Dr. Aaron Kheriaty notes:Suicidal individuals typically do not want to die; they want to escape what they perceive as intolerable suffering. When comfort or relief is offered, in the form of more-adequate treatment for depression, better pain management, or more-comprehensive palliative care, the desire for suicide wanes.Rather than helping suicidal people to kill themselves, we should offer them treatment and support. For those in physical pain, palliative care and other pain management can manage their symptoms effectively. For those for whom death is imminent, hospice care and fellowship to accompany them in their last days is what a true death with dignity looks like. Victoria Reggie Kennedy has said it best:My late husband Sen. Edward Kennedy called quality, affordable health care for all the cause of his life. [PAS] turns his vision of health care for all on its head by asking us to endorse patient suicide—not patient care—as our public policy for dealing with pain and the financial burdens of care at the end of life. We’re better than that. We should expand palliative care, pain management, nursing care and hospice, not trade the dignity and life of a human being for the bottom line.Palliative care focuses on improving a patient’s quality of life by alleviating pain and other distressing symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care is an option for people of any age at any stage in illness, whether that illness is curable, chronic, or life threatening.When a patient receives a terminal or life-altering diagnosis, the subsequent life changes are not limited to the medical challenges. Patients encounter the physical trauma of the medical diagnosis while also experiencing psychological difficulties, social changes, and even existential concerns. In Oregon Health Authority research, 91 percent of those who were assisted with suicide cited loss of autonomy as their motivation to end their lives, and 71 percent cited loss of dignity as their motivation. Only 31 percent cited inadequate pain control. These needs require different forms of care. Palliative care seeks to take into consideration every facet of the patient’s situation—with professionals who can attend to all aspects of the patient’s needs.The most common structure in which patients receive palliative care is in hospice. Hospice care can be provided in patients’ homes, hospice centers, hospitals, long-term care facilities, or wherever a patient resides. By rejecting PAS and committing to palliative care and hospice care, we can better people’s lives at the end of life. As Dr. Leon Kass notes:We must care for the dying, not make them dead. By accepting mortality yet knowing that we will not kill, doctors can focus on enhancing the lives of those who are dying, with relief of pain and discomfort, moral and social support, and, when appropriate, the removal of technical interventions that are merely useless or degrading additions to the burdens of dying.Regrettably, palliative care is not as widely available as it should be. The United States has only one palliative care physician for every 1,200 persons living with a serious or life-threatening illness. Even with the aging population, only 63 percent of hospitals report a palliative care program.In order to increase the availability and understanding of palliative care, medical schools should ensure that students are trained in managing pain and other common distressing symptoms and that they learn how to talk to patients about palliative options at the end of life. As Drs. Hendin and Foley note, when there is a lack of comprehensive support for patients with terminal or life-altering diagnosis, “the focus shifts away from relieving the distress of dying patients considering a hastened death to meeting the statutory requirements for assisted suicide.” This we must resist.Conclusion: Always to Care, Never to Kill Doctors should help their patients die a dignified natural death, but doctors should not assist in killing or self-killing. Physicians are always to care, never to kill.Physician-assisted suicide endangers the weak and marginalized in society. Where PAS has been allowed, safeguards that were put in place to minimize this risk have proved inadequate and over time have been weakened or eliminated altogether.Introducing PAS changes the culture in which medicine is practiced. It corrupts the profession of medicine by permitting the tools of healing to be used as techniques for killing. It also distorts the doctor–patient relationship by reducing patients’ trust of doctors and doctors’ undivided commitment to the healing of their patients. Physician-assisted suicide also creates perverse incentives for insurance providers and the financing of health care.Worse yet, PAS negatively affects our entire culture. The temptation to view elderly or disabled family members as burdens will increase, as will the temptation for elderly and disabled family members to view themselves as burdens. Instead of solidarity through civil society and true compassion, PAS creates quick-fix, discriminatory, and lethal solutions.The most profound injustice of PAS is that it violates human dignity and denies equality before the law. Every human being has intrinsic dignity and is the subject of immeasurable worth. No natural right to PAS exists, and arguments for such a right are incoherent. A legal system that sought to vindicate a right to assisted suicide would jeopardize the real natural right to life for all of its citizens.For all of these reasons, citizens and policymakers need to resist the push for physician-assisted suicide.About the AuthorRyan T. Anderson, PhD, is William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center, of the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity, at The Heritage Foundation.http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/05/the-alternative-to-physician-assisted-suicide-respect-human-dignity-and-offer-true-compassionKeep up with family issues in NZ. Receive our weekly emails direct to your Inbox.last_img read more

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What we read is a picture of who we are

first_imgBooks are all about learning and escaping to alternate realities — past or future, real or imaginary, possible or impossible. So what do the books that we are reading say about the state of our reality? More importantly, what do they say about us?Best-sellers lists, in a way, could be reflections of the national mood or the mindset of a certain period. They clearly represent some of the most popular books of the time, but certainly not all. Many would say that the Nora Robertses and Danielle Steels of the world are best-sellers, but not literary greats. There is a difference.What seems to be eternally popular are exactly those kinds of fiction novels, in which thrill, murder, intrigue, love and drama dominate the pages. These might be referred to as the junk food of the book world, but everyone needs a little indulgence every once in a while.No matter the era, historical novels will also always be a literary staple. We seem to nurture an abiding obsession with returning to the past and escaping our present, no matter if it is leaving the 1960s for the Italian Renaissance — as readers apparently did in droves with Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy — or forgetting 2012 for the era of Vincent van Gogh in Sacré Bleu. We continually return to our pasts, determined to re-explore and re-appreciate.How much can one really say, however, about the significance of a list of books that is somewhat arbitrarily created — The New York Times has a secret formula used to derive their best-sellers lists, and not even the Book Review staff know how it fully operates — and is driven by so many uncorrelated factors? There are so many books, so many genres, so many different kinds of tastes and people that it becomes more conjecture than accurate analysis.It is interesting to think about best-sellers as a representation of the culture and people of a certain time. One hundred years from now, social scientists might look at The New York Times’ 2012 Best-sellers List to gain insight into what we and our world were like. Though it might give clues, it will never give the whole picture.The New York Times Best-Sellers List: A Glorified Sales Report, or  a Snapshot of Shifting Literary Tastes?50 years ago… 19621. Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger2. The Bull from the Sea, Mary Renault3. The Fox in the Attic, Richard Hughes4. The Agony and the Ecstasy,Irving Stone5. Ship of Fools, Katherine Anne PorterApril 22, 1962: Just as hippiedom and the civil rights movement were beginning to sweep through America, 1962’s best-selling fiction made a return to magical eras of the past — to early 20th-century New York in J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey to classical Athens in Mary Renault’s The Bull From the Sea to the Italian Renaissance via Irving Stone’s pseudo-biographical novel about Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy. But the list also reflects the darker times lurking beneath the magic, through the personal predicaments of a boy coming of age after World War I in Richard Hughes’ The Fox in the Attic.25 years ago… 19871. Fine Things,Danielle Steel2. Windmills of the Gods, Sidney  Sheldon3. Bolt, Dick Francis4. Destiny, Sally Beauman5. The Eyes of the Dragon, Stephen KingApril 19, 1987: Two authors who are still household names today graced the top five fiction best-sellers in 1987, Danielle Steel and Stephen King. Such thrilling, emotionally charged and intriguing novels took their place on the best-selling list quickly, but it was the authors who proved they were there to stay.10 years ago… 20021.Three Fates, Nora Roberts2. Everything’s Eventual, Stephen King3. The Nanny Diaries, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus4. The Summons, John Grisham5. 2nd Chance, James Patterson with Andrew GrossApril 21, 2002: The 2002 list of best-selling fiction again bore witness to some of the most popular, best-known names in the literary world claiming their spots on the list, with Nora Roberts, Stephen King, John Grisham and James Patterson all placing among the top five. The only authors not sold in your local grocery store? Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, co-authors of The Nanny Diaries, a satirical take on the culture of the rich and powerful in New York City through the eyes of a nanny in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.5 years ago… 20071. I Heard That Song Before, Mary Higgins Clark2. Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult3. Kingdom Come, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins4. Obsession,Jonathan Kellerman5. White Night,Jim ButcherApril 22, 2007: A focus on the dark underbellies of society is reflected in the 2007 list, with four out of the top five best-sellers relating to murder. In Mary Higgins Clark’s I Heard That Song Before, Clark’s protagonist marries a murder suspect; a New Hampshire town reels in the aftermath of a high school shooting in Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes; Jonathan Kellerman’s Obsession details an investigation of a deathbed murder confession; and in Jim Butcher’s White Night, a supernatural murderer preys on wizards in Chicago.Today… 20121. The Lost Years, Mary Higgins Clark2. Guilty Wives, James Patterson and David Ellis3. Sacré Bleu, Christopher Moore4. The Limpopo Academy ofPrivate Detection, Alexander McCall Smith5. The Shoemaker’s Wife, Adriana TrigianiApril 20, 2012: This year’s fiction best-sellers are all about investigation. Mary Higgins Clark’s protagonist in The Lost Years searches for her father’s killer and missing biblical documents. In Guilty Wives by James Patterson and David Ellis, four friends on a harmless girls’ vacation to Monte Carlo find themselves in prison, falsely accused of murder. In his novel Sacré Bleu, Christopher Moore sets out to answer a historical question: Did Vincent van Gogh really kill himself?last_img read more

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