Posts Tagged ‘Compassion in Dying’

Major New Developments In Physician- Assisted Suicide

MARCH 11, 1996 VOLUME 3, NUMBER 37

Although physician-assisted suicide has been much discussed in recent years, few legal developments have advanced the state of the law since Oregon voters approved an initiative measure in November, 1994. That changed dramatically this week, with two major developments. On Wednesday, a Federal Appeals Court ruled that Washington State’s ban on assisting with suicide is unconstitutional, at least as applied to “physician-aid-in-dying.” Then on Friday, a Michigan jury found Dr. Jack Kevorkian not guilty in his second criminal trial for allegedly assisting terminally ill patients to commit suicide.

Although the Kevorkian case is probably better-known, the Federal Court of Appeals decision is of far more significance, particularly in Arizona. The case, Compassion in Dying v. State of Washington, was decided by the Court of Appeals responsible for reviewing Arizona, California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho and Montana laws. Since it is based on the U.S. Constitution, the case stands as precedent for all those states, at least until the U.S. Supreme Court rules otherwise.

The Compassion in Dying case began after Washington voters turned down an initiative measure on physician-assisted suicide. In spite of the election results, a group of Washington doctors formed Compassion in Dying, a non-profit group, to help terminally ill patients effectively and painlessly end their lives.

Compassion in Dying, its doctor members, and three terminally ill patients sued in Federal Court to invalidate Washington’s criminal statute on assisting suicide. The patients, all three of whom have since died, are described in the Court of Appeals decision by pseudonyms:

  • Jane Roe, 69, a retired pediatrician. Ms. Roe had suffered from cancer for six years, and the disease had metastasized throughout her skeleton by the time the lawsuit was filed. She was in constant pain, and suffered from swollen legs, bedsores, nausea, vomiting, impaired vision and other effects of her illness.
  • John Doe, 44, an artist suffering from AIDS. Mr. Doe had been diagnosed three years earlier, and had lost 70% of his vision, suffered from pneumonia, skin and sinus infections, seizures and extreme fatigue.
  • James Poe, 69, a retired sales representative suffering from emphysema. Mr. Poe was connected to an oxygen tank at all times, constantly felt he was being suffocated and took morphine regularly to calm his panic reaction. Like the others, he was in the terminal phase of his illness.

The Court, in an eloquent and thoughtful decision, found that the U.S. Constitution permits a competent terminally ill patient to have aid from a physician in ending his or her life. Washington’s statute (which is nearly identical to Arizona’s) is therefore invalid as applied to physician-aid-in-dying.

In reaching its conclusion, the Court assayed the history of suicide in ancient times and modern opinion. According to the Court, ancient Greeks, Romans and Christians viewed suicide as acceptable, particularly where the victim was ill and in pain. And public opinion polls show a dramatic shift on the subject in recent years: while 37% of respondents favored permitting doctors to assist terminally ill patients to commit suicide in 1947, more than half were in favor in a 1973 poll. By 1983, 63% favored physician-aid-in-dying.

Although there is no guarantee that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the question, an appeal to that court is expected.

Choosing a Caregiver

JUNE 6, 1994 VOLUME 1, NUMBER 28

By Joan Ardern, Community Liaison, Care Coordinators, Inc.

(Third of three parts)

An advantage of case management firms is that they have developed personal relationships with many professionals in the community and therefore have a larger network of caregivers and services at their fingertips.

The case management company should also be checked for experience and reputation in the community. Unfortunately, case management is relatively new. There are no licensure requirements. Presently, there are reputable organizations such as the National Guardianship Association and the National Association of Geriatric Case Managers that are in pursuit of accreditation. However, until a form of accreditation is in place, here is a list of questions you can ask in a phone interview:

  • How many years total experience? (More is better)
  • Who are the officers in the company?
  • What are the hourly fees?
  • Does the company have liability insurance? (A must)
  • Does the company have employee dishonesty insurance?
  • Does the company have a 24 hour on-call service? (A must)
  • Does the company have an RN on staff?
  • Is the company bonded?
  • Does the company offer personal financial services? (bill paying and insurance papers can become cumbersome)
  • Can the company provide local references?

Take your time in choosing caregivers and case managers. Don’t let a crisis situation rush you into making hasty decisions. Ask all the questions you can think of and continue to research the material. The good news is there are a lot of good caregivers out there and among them is the right one for you. After walking through the telephone book, include a phone call to your Area Agency on Aging. In Pima County call the Pima Council on Aging, 790-7262 and Senior Resource Network, 795-7480.

Assisted Suicide

A Federal Court judge in Seattle has ruled that the State of Washington may not prohibit physicians from assisting their patients to commit suicide. The judge, in a ruling handed down May 3, found that the U.S. Constitution requires the State to permit competent, terminally ill patients to seek medical assistance with the decision to end their lives.

The ground-breaking lawsuit was brought by Compassion in Dying, a non-profit organization located in Seattle and established for the purpose of assisting a select category of patients to end their lives. In order to receive assistance from Compassion in Dying, a patient must be fully competent, must have been diagnosed as terminally ill, and must have an attending physician willing to remain involved during the suicide. In addition to Compassion in Dying, the lawsuit was brought by three terminally ill patients (two of whom have since died) and four physicians who treat terminally ill patients.

The judge found that the individual’s right to privacy includes the right to end one’s life when terminally ill, and that the Constitution’s equal protection clause prohibits different treatment of the patient based solely on whether the patient is receiving life-sustaining treatment (which can be refused). An appeal is being prepared.

[Arizona’s assisted suicide law is very similar to Washington’s. Still, the ruling has no immediate effect on Arizona law.]

©2017 Fleming & Curti, PLC