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True Dignity Vermont is a grassroots, independent, citizen-led initiative in opposition to assisted suicide in Vermont. Vermonters deserve true dignity and compassion at the end of life, not the abandonment of assisted suicide. Killing is not compassion, and True Dignity Vermont will work to ensure our end-of-life choices respect the dignity of all Vermont citizens.

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Think there isn’t a slippery slope? We are in the first stages of a cultural move toward acceptance of euthanasia, driven by the slick PR efforts of Compassion and Choices and others of their ilk. This piece by Wesley Smith on First Things deftly summarizes how attitudes have changed in just 20 years:

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/10/of-michael-landon-and-brittany-maynard

This article, by Marilyn Golden, Senior Policy Analyst of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, appeared on CNN October 14, 2014.

Golden writes: “At less than $300, assisted suicide is, to put it bluntly, the cheapest treatment for a terminal illness. This means that in places where assisted suicide is legal, coercion is not even necessary. If life-sustaining expensive treatment is denied or even merely delayed, patients will be steered toward assisted suicide, where it is legal.”  Furthermore, “No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can properly prevent this outcome, one that can never be undone.”  With regard to so-called safeguards in existing laws , she asserts that “in practical terms, they provide no protection”, citing as an example  the case of Michael Freeland of Oregon, whose guns, but not his suicide drugs, were taken away from him after he was hospitalized with an outbreak of the depression from which he had suffered for many years.

True Dignity agrees with her that no imaginable benefit is worth the enormous risks legal assisted suicide presents to people made vulnerable by age, disability, or mental or physical illness.

Read the article here: http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/13/opinion/golden-assisted-suicide/

 

Written by a Compassion and Choices member whose mother committed suicide,  this article is right on in pointing out the hypocrisy (practiced every day by Compassion and Choices) of trumpeting autonomy while telling the old and people with disabilities that their lives are not worth living and their medical care not worth paying for.  It’s well worth reading, even though we at True Dignity disagree strongly with the author’s choice of affiliation and with her assertion that people should not interfere with a person who  expresses a wish to die even to tell the person you’ll miss him or her and you’d rather he or she stayed around.

The author writes that her mother’s suicide was hard for her to accept and that she has promised her children that she will not commit suicide.  Ezekiel Emanuel writes that his children are appalled at his proclaimed intention to die at age 75.  If all families were like theirs, if our society were not, as the author writes, “a cutthroat capitalist culture grappling with its own decline”, perhaps assisted suicide would not be as dangerous as it is.  It would, however, still be very dangerous, because minds change, as this article points out, and sometimes that change happens after a decision has been communicated and the individual who has made it can no longer speak for him or herself; people who are rescued after suicide attempts inevitably say they changed their minds after jumping off that bridge, and this author omits the fact that the New York Times article she cites describes how Brooke Hopkins thanked his wife every time she had his life support turned back on after he had said he wanted it cut off.  But not all families are like the author’s or Emanuel’s, and a day came when even Brooke Hopkins’ wife did not turn the support back on and allowed him to die.  We do live in a cutthroat, capitalist culture.

That’s why we need to prevent the spread of assisted suicide and euthanasia and repeal the laws that have made them available in a few places.  Perhaps  Compassion and Choices will one day be persuaded by its members whose eyes are being opened by what they read and see in the media to  join us in the fight to make that happen.  Then the autonomy they want will be real, not a sham.

http://silvercentury-org.cf1-princetonol-com.vps.ezhostingserver.com/new/polBlogs.cfm?doctype_code=Blog&doc_id=843&Keyword_Desc=families

 

On the heels of seemingly relentless media hype over a propaganda piece circulating from the pro-assisted-suicide group Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society), USA Today has published a story about the rise in suicides in the United States and the appalling lack of a unified effort to stop it.

We objected strongly to the exploitation by Compassion and Choices of Brittany Maynard, a young woman with a tragic diagnosis, whose plan to use Oregon’s assisted suicide law to end her own life has been featured in a slick video that promotes a romanticized version of suicide. Brittany’s tragic situation will only be compounded if her highly publicized plans contribute to a suicide contagion among young, depressed and impressionable teenagers and young adults. While Maynard says what she plans to do under Oregon Law is not “suicide,” many others who suffer from mental or other serious illnesses may not make the same distinctions she does. There has been a steady increase in the non-assisted suicide rate in Oregon since 2000 that we believe correlates to the acceptance of doctor-assisted suicide there.  One might wonder why States like Oregon and Vermont have wasted so much energy embracing something that is widely viewed as a public health crisis everywhere else.

In a hopeful note, the USA Today article highlights another situation that contrasts starkly with Brittany Maynard’s. Army Capt. Justin Fitch, 32, has been working tirelessly for the past several years to help prevent others from committing suicide, after he himself nearly succumbed to depression while serving in Afghanistan seven years ago. Fitch received a terminal diagnosis of colon cancer just 2 years ago, and is said to be in his last months of life. Despite this, “Fitch consulted his wife, Samantha Wolk, and reflected on the 22 veteran suicides occurring each day. He chose to devote his remaining time to prevent others from committing suicide. ‘I’ve always wanted to focus on trying to leave the world a better place,’ he says.”

Read the entire article here: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/longform/news/nation/2014/10/09/suicide-mental-health-prevention-research/15276353/

Did you know that many assisted suicides experience complications? Assisted suicide is wrongly marketed to the public as a flawless, peaceful escape from suffering. It can be a painful and scary death. It can include gasping, muscle spasms, nausea, vomiting, panic, confusion, failure to produce unconsciousness, waking from unconsciousness and a failure to cause death.

Just this week we saw a heartbreaking article about a woman named Brittany Maynard who has planned her assisted suicide death for November 1st. She is clearly terrified of a hard and painful death, and has been led to believe that assisted suicide is the best way out. However, Compassion & Choices (the leading advocates of assisted suicide) cannot guarantee Brittany the easy death they advertise.

The most comprehensive study on clinical problems with assisted suicide was conducted over a six year period in the Netherlands, where assisted suicide has been legal for many years. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Feb. 12, 2000. It found that over 18% of assisted suicides experienced problems severe enough to cause a doctor to step in and euthanize the patient. In at least 14% of assisted suicides the patient had problems with completion including waking up from coma, not becoming comatose, and patients not dying after becoming comatose. Another 7% of assisted suicides reported muscle spasms, extreme gasping for air, nausea and vomiting. (N Engl J Med 2000; 342:551-556).

The New England Journal of Medicine study insightfully mentions that all reporting doctors are practitioners and supporters of assisted suicide and euthanasia who are less likely to report unfavorable data. They “may have underestimated the number and seriousness of problems” causing complications to be underreported to an unknown degree.

Assisted suicide supporter, Dr. Sherwin Nuland from Yale University School of Medicine, refers to the above study in an editorial also printed in the New England Journal of Medicine:

This is information that will come as a shock to the many members of the public – including legislators and even some physicians – who have never considered that the procedures involved in physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia might sometimes add to the suffering they are meant to alleviate and might also preclude the tranquil death being sought.” (N Engl J Med 2000; 342:583-584).

Closer to home in Oregon, we’ve seen complications revealed though media outlets. Unfortunately, the state of Oregon doesn’t keep of track of, or investigate complications with assisted suicides so we only hear of some problems though the media. For example, 42-year-old Oregon man, David Pruiett, woke up three days after ingesting his lethal dose. In another case, Patrick Matheny’s brother-in-law admitted that he had to step in and complete the death when Patrick’s assisted suicide failed. Even assisted suicide advocate, Cynthia Barret, slipped up and discussed with the press a failed assisted suicide case where the patient was taken to a Portland ER and revived. (Idaho Mountain Express, Again With Feeling, The Pills Didn’t Kill, David Reinhard, 3/16/05).

Brittany Maynard has without a doubt been sold a false bill of goods. Death is always an unknown. It is a myth that we can completely control it. She has been promised a flawless death, better than any natural death could ever be, and she has been stripped of any possible hope. Her story has been shamelessly paraded all over the United States by Compassion & Choices. Compassion & Choices needs to learn how to show some real compassion. Embroiling a deathly sick young woman in a political fight is not compassionate. True compassion requires providing Brittany with quality care and supportive pain management, and shining light and love on every remaining day that she has, rather than assuming that her days are not worth living and exploiting her vulnerability for political gain.

 

 

 

Radio and tv networks and popular print media are saturated today with the news that Brittany Maynard, a twenty-nine year old California woman with a brain tumor that is usually fatal, having moved to Oregon because that state has legalized assisted suicide, plans to die on November 1, approximately six months after receiving a prognosis giving her that amount of time to live.

Brittany’s case is tragic, as serious illness always is in one so young, but even more tragic is the fact that she has fallen victim to Compassion and Choice’s well-crafted propaganda and has been enlisted to spend her last days, rather than enjoying time outdoors, as she says in her film she wants to do, in propagandizing for assisted suicide herself, perhaps recruiting more people to be victims.

We hope this post finds its way into Brittany’s hands, because we want her to know that she could find far more meaning, as well as more days with her family, more time to enjoy the things she loves, by turning away from this path and especially by becoming an advocate for suicide prevention rather than suicide enablement. What a difference she could make by doing so, not just for herself but for others whose very life is threatened by any publicized suicide.

Why do we fear that Brittany is a victim rather than the primary actor in this drama?

  1. We wonder if Brittany knows that a few people have survived glioblastoma for as long as 15 years.   A small amount of research on the internet led us to the following story: http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/MC_hope/Story_John.htm#.VDVYgBawTlc. Brittany has already or shortly will have outlived her own prognosis of six months. Her brain tumor is the same or very similar to that from which Senator Ted Kennedy died. His widow, writing in the Cape Cod Times, noted that he received a prognosis of 4-6 months but lived 15 very meaningful months before dying naturally with dignity: http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20121027/OPINION/210270347/0/SEARCH.   Why on earth would Brittany want to waste whatever time she has?
  2. Brittany says the answer to that question is that chemotherapy would make her lose her hair and that the tumor would eventually turn her into a different person. The man who has lived 15 years with a tumor the same as hers no doubt would have died had he refused treatment because of fear of its side effects. He says there were few, but even if there had been many, would 15 more years of life not have been a good tradeoff? Victoria Reggie Kennedy says nothing about Ted’s becoming a different person, but the man we saw at the Democratic Convention in 2008 had a disability, slurred speech and some difficulty walking, not a personality change that would have made him someone different.
  3. Does Brittany know what her public statement that she will commit suicide to avoid living with a loss of her perfect beauty or a disability says to those who lives with a disability every day, sometimes for many years, sometimes for their whole lives, lives which they are being told in contradiction to their experience are not meaningful? We suggest she read some of the plethora of articles like this one about how the disability rights community feels devalued, but also extremely threatened, because laws aimed at saving money are being added to pressure they already feel to die from doctors who do not consider their lives worth living: http://www.notdeadyet.org/2014/05/ndy-challenges-nys-medicaid-proposal-to-save-money-by-steering-people-to-choose-death-over-living-with-disability.html.
  4. Does Brittany know that the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/resource_media.pdf) and the US National Institutes for Mental Health (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/recommendations-for-reporting-on-suicide.shtml) have issued strong warnings against media romanticization of suicide, because there is evidence that it leads to suicide contagion? Does she know that the non-assisted suicide rate in Oregon, which had been declining for a decade, began to rise in the year 2000, a year after the first report on the implementation of legal assisted suicide, and has continued to rise, at a rate that is consistent with such contagion? Does she know that the chief cause of non-assisted suicide deaths among women is poisoning with prescription or non-prescription drugs? Does she realize that media coverage about her can affect other people? A nurse named Nancy Valko has been fighting assisted suicide since her daughter’s media-enabled non-assisted suicide death. She writes, “This is dangerous as well to other vulnerable people like my 30 year old, physically healthy daughter who visited these kinds of websites and read “Final Exit” before taking her own life using the suicide techniques she learned (quoted with permission; contact True Dignity for Ms. Valko’s contact information).” Compassion and Choices does know, and its choice to finance and produce suicide “ads”, complete with soft music and beautiful people like Brittany, strongly indicates that it does not care, but does Brittany know and not care?
  5. Brittany says she will die with only her family and one friend present, but has she considered that the failure of the three US state assisted suicide laws to require disinterested witnesses to be present at the time the drugs are taken leaves anyone who has filled that prescription and has the drugs in his possession completely vulnerable to pressure, to being forced to take the lethal dose, or even to being given it without his or her permission? We are told that many people who get the prescriptions never use them, but there is no way we can know that all those who do die from the drugs do so willingly. As elder care attorney Margaret Dore has said, “Even if the patient struggled, who would know?” Does Brittany know about Thomas Middleton of Bend, Oregon, suffering from ALS, who appointed a realtor friend the trustee of his estate, then moved into her home and died within a few days of assisted suicide drugs he had already acquired? The realtor immediately sold the house and put the money into her own accounts. She and her husband are serving long sentences after being convicted on multiple counts of financial fraud in other cases, but the Thomas Middleton case was dropped, not because of lack of evidence but because the state said there was no more money to be recovered and prosecuting it would be too expensive: http://www.ktvz.com/news/state-dropping-tami-sawyer-fraud-case/22719618.   Who knows how Thomas Middleton actually died?  Does Brittany Maynard know that the assisted suicide laws she wishes to champion may be enabling murder?  Has she thought about the fact that not all families are as nurturing and selfless as hers seems to be?  Wealth is not a guarantee of non-vulnerability to abuse of the Oregon law. In fact it may be an indicator of the opposite.

We at True Dignity express our deepest sympathy to Brittany Maynard and her family. We also call on them urgently not to compound a tragedy by allowing themselves to be used to advance the “movement” to enact assisted suicide in more US states than Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. She might or might not be one of the people with glioblastomas who live lives much longer and much more meaningful than she seems to have been led to believe she can., but she will never know if she commits suicide on November 1. If she is absolutely certain about her decision and cannot be persuaded to change her mind, we are compelled to tell her that we believe that by getting a lethal prescription and publicizing it, she has shirked a responsibility to protect the autonomy she claims to want for each of us, because the media coverage of her will have a deleterious effect on the autonomy of people with existential problems other than terminal disease, and of those made vulnerable to abuse by age, sickness, or disability that requires care. Whatever her own decision, we call on Brittany to undo some of the damage already done by immediately announcing either that she has decided to show the watching world what a dignified natural death can be or that she is cutting off all publicity about the rest of her days. To Compassion and Choices, we say: Shame, shame, shame on you.

 

 

Ezekiel Emanuel has spent his life building an impressive resume and now, at age 56, he wants the world to know that by 75 he plans to stop working so hard. In fact, he says that if he is still alive at 75, his master plan is to “stop all medical treatment” with the goal of avoiding such horrors of old age as frailty and forgetfulness.  Emanuel told Judy Woodruff on PBS News Hour October 3 that he doesn’t believe in assisted suicide or euthanasia, and yet he also said he doesn’t want his grandchildren to “remember me as frail, or demented, or repeating myself—that would be a tragedy.” One wonders what he will do if stopping medical treatment doesn’t bring the hoped-for results.

It is very hard to take nonsense like this seriously, even when it comes from a bioethicist –physician with impressive credentials—and one who helped develop the Affordable Care Act.   His views are fleshed out more clearly, though no more reassuringly, in an Atlantic Monthly article published last month that can be found here: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/09/why-i-hope-to-die-at-75/379329/

Unfortunately, his position has a following and must be taken seriously.   Emanuel claims that he has heard from scores of people who agree with his views, and says that “at least 50 percent of them are in the health care professions.” (Now *that* is something to take seriously, especially if you are looking for a health care provider after age 75.)

Although he stops short of saying he thinks all people should eschew medical care after age 75, the implication is clear. In Emanuel’s opinion, once you are no longer a creative, contributing member of society, you owe it to yourself and others to check out, sooner rather than later. His definition of creative and contributing, by the way, appears to be narrow and limited. It could be argued that many of today’s able-bodied Americans would not meet his criteria, never mind those who are physically or mentally challenged in some way.

He told Woodruff that he disagrees with those who have “made a religion” out of pursuing longevity, through obsessive diet and exercise regimens, as if that extreme is the only alternative to his approach.

What about a third way? What about re-thinking the way we look at aging, and more than that—the way we treat the aged and disabled?  To hear the Ezekiel Emanuels of the world tell it, the post-75 years are a frightening morass of physical and mental disability best avoided if at all possible. And yet it is easy to find countless examples in everyday life of people who live meaningful lives with the “frailties” that Emanuel wishes to avoid.

Perhaps the experience of aging is as much colored by the attitudes of the people that surround an individual as it is by that person’s objective physical and mental condition. When the people who love you actually love *you* and not your resume alone, when the people around you treat you as an individual of worth and not primarily a life to be judged, a burden to be carried, or a problem to be solved, you are more likely to tread more easily into the twilight years.

Each stage of life brings challenges different from the one before, and the last stages of life certainly can bring the physical and mental declines Emanuel talks about. But, not unlike the fall colors that are quickly disappearing from our landscape today, being “past peak” doesn’t mean being without value. Discovering that meaningful life continues even when you aren’t the center of attention can be a difficult lesson for high achievers like Emanuel, but it’s one worth learning.

 

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