The Judiciary Committee held a public hearing for the Patient Choice at End of Life Act on February 24, 2016. NFA team member Hallie Hamilton testified against the bill. Legalizing doctor prescribed suicide endangers the weak and vulnerable, corrupts the practice of medicine, betrays human dignity, compromises equality before the law, and promotes the view that the elderly and disabled are not people to be loved but burdens to be managed.

Video

Transcript

Thank you, Chairman Seiler and members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Hallie Hamilton and I’m a representative of Nebraska Family Alliance.

We echo the concerns of the many qualified individuals who have already testified. Legalizing doctor prescribed suicide endangers the weak and vulnerable, corrupts the practice of medicine, betrays human dignity, compromises equality before the law, and promotes the view that the elderly and disabled are not people to be loved but burdens to be managed.

This form of suicide, one where a doctor gives a prescription to a patient accompanied by instructions on how to overdose and friends and family members are perhaps notified, is often considered only in the vacuum of personal choice. But this is a bad solution for the wrong problem. Here are real problems faced in the end of life that are not solved by a poisonous pill:

  • Are written, official, end-of-life directives being ignored by well-meaning nurses and doctors?[1] That’s a problem.
  • Are terminally ill patients being denied access to medications that could truly alleviate their pain in their last days?[2] That’s a problem.
  • When the ill and elderly are no longer able to be contributing members of society – or help with the dishes, or take themselves to the bathroom, or cook their own food – do they feel abandoned by their friends, family and country? That’s a problem.
  • Are people ill-equipped to make informed end of life decisions about potential treatments, hospice care and palliative care?[3] That’s a problem.
  • The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that a recent major study indicated that 7-10% of the elderly experienced abuse in the prior year and only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever comes to the attention of the authorities.[4] That’s a problem.

 

Drs. Leon Kass and Eric Cohen were right when they said,

…how we age and die are not only private matters. Our communal practices and social policies shape the environments in which aging and caregiving take place—not only in moments of crisis, when life-or-death decisions need to be made, but in the long days of struggle and everyday attendance.[5]

Instead of doubling down on the woefully poor treatment people have experienced under current laws and systems by beginning to consider a prescription for suicide a medical treatment, we should reclaim true compassion, true dignity and true honor for the terminally ill and elderly.


[1] Span, Paula. June 24, 2014. “When Advance Directives are Ignored.” The New York Times. https://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/when-advance-directives-are-ignored/. Last accessed February 23, 2016.

“That large national study concluded that having advance directives had little effect on whether people were hospitalized and how often, or whether they died in hospitals. Yet where someone dies has considerable impact on how.”

[2] Berger, Jack M., May 2013. “Common Misconceptions about Opiod Use for Pain Management at the End of Life.” AMA Journal of Ethics. https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2013/05/ecas1-1305.html Last accessed February 23, 2016.

“Another common misconception about pain relief at the end of life is that it is necessarily wrong to help with pain at the cost of some consciousness or length of life… there is a distinct difference between giving a poison with the intention to end the patient’s life and giving medication to relieve pain or reduce suffering when that medication may have adverse effects leading to the patient’s death.”

[3] Mulcahy, Mary. November 13, 2012. “Advance care planning is crucial for preparing end-of-life decisions.” Al Jazeera English. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/11/2012111382019297736.html Last accessed February 23, 2016.

“As reported in the Journal of Palliative Medicine in April 2011, only 15.7 percent of patients with cancer being treated at MD Anderson Cancer Centre admitted to the intensive care unit had a living will and less than half had designated a health care proxy to speak for them if they were unable to speak.”

[4] National Center on Elder Abuse Statistics/Data. https://www.ncea.aoa.gov/library/data/#problem Last accessed February 23, 2016.

[5] Kass, Leon R. and Cohen, Eric. January 1, 2006. “Cast Me Not Off in Old Age.” American Enterprise Institute. https://www.aei.org/publication/cast-me-not-off-in-old-age/ Last accessed February 23, 2016.

Hallie Hamilton

Hallie Hamilton

Hallie is the Communication Director of Nebraska Family Alliance. She likes her coffee black, her bike-rides long, and her books epic.