Doctor Fired after Suing Catholic Hospital over Assisted Suicide

National Review

Wesley J. Smith

Colorado doctor Barbara Morris wants to assist her patient’s suicide. She works at Centura Health, a Catholic/Seventh Day Adventist-owned hospital that prohibits its employees from participating in assisted suicide, legal in Colorado.

Morris sued to be allowed to participate in her patient’s suicide by doctor — which would not happen in the hospital. The hospital responded by firing Morris for violating the terms of her contract by seeking to engage in acts in the context of her employment that violate the hospital’s religiously based moral beliefs.

Morris contends she can’t be prohibited from assisting her patient’s suicide because the Colorado law only allows health care facilities to opt-out if the suicide will occur on-site. The hospital is seeking shelter in the Trump administration’s medical conscience protection policies.

Expect more of these kinds of disputes as many U.S. hospitals are Catholic or otherwise religiously affiliated with churches that reject abortion and assisted suicide doctrinally. From the Kaiser Health News story:

More doctors and patients in the country are providing and receiving health care subject to religious restrictions. About 1 in 6 acute care beds nationally is in a hospital that is Catholic-owned or -affiliated, said Lois Uttley, a program director for the consumer advocacy group Community Catalyst. In Colorado, one-third of the state’s hospitals operate under Catholic guidelines.

The ACLU has already sued several Catholic hospitals over the last few years seeking to force them to violate Church doctrine on issues ranging from sterilization, to abortion, to sex-change surgeries.

Medical conscience disputes are going to become far more common as health care becomes immersed in our accelerating cultural conflicts and vexing questions of federalism. Bottom line: The ultimate goal of those who seek to force medical professionals and institutions to violate their religious beliefs, I believe, is to drive pro-lifers and Hippocratic Oath-adherents out of medicine.

Australia’s legislative laboratory for euthanasia

BioEdge

Michael Cook

The Labor-majority Parliament of the Australian state of Victoria passed assisted dying legislation in December 2017. This came into effect in June and the first patient has already died. Applications from a dozen or so Victorians have already been approved. Two other Labor states are also debating euthanasia – and it appears that their legislation will be even more permissive than Victoria’s.

According to critics of euthanasia interviewed by The Australian, this is “death creep”, the slippery slope in action.

“There is serious concern about this slippage,” the chair of the Australian Medical Association’s ethics and medico legal committee, Chris Moye, says. “A lot of this (change) was happening even before the Victorian law, which is only two months old, has actually been tested. At this point, we haven’t seen how assisted dying works in Victoria and yet the slippage is happening across these various jurisdictions. I think there are two reasons: people were always going to be looking at it (the Victorian law) and the tendency always is to relax legislation.”

Critics focus on details of a proposed bill in the parliament of Western Australia. In Victoria, doctors are not allowed to raise the topic of assisted dying. But in WA, doctors would be permitted to suggest the possibility of euthanasia and no specialist has to be involved.

Conscientious objection is more difficult as well. In Victoria, objecting doctors are not obliged to refer the person on; in WA they would be.

In Queensland, a parliamentary committee is studying draft legislation. This is even more permissive than Victoria’s or WA’s. There is no time requirement – only that the patient have an incurable terminal illness which is causing intolerable and enduring suffering.

However, Professor Ben White, who helped write Queensland draft bill,  dismisses fears of a “slippery slope”. “When people talk about a slippery slope in terms of the law, they are talking about law X in a particular state or country that is enacted and over time gets changed,” he says. “We live in a federation … and there are differences in laws from one state to another, reflecting a range of factors, including geography. What might be appropriate for a state like Victoria might … require different solutions in Western Australia or Queensland.”


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Firing Doctor, Christian Hospital Sets Off National Challenge To Aid-In-Dying Laws

Kaiser Health News

JoNel  Aleccia

DENVER — A Christian-run health system in Colorado has fired a veteran doctor who went to court to fight for the right of her patient to use the state’s medical aid-in-dying law, citing religious doctrine that describes “assisted suicide” as “intrinsically evil.”

Centura Health Corp. this week abruptly terminated Dr. Barbara Morris, 65, a geriatrician with 40 years of experience, who had planned to help her patient, Cornelius “Neil” Mahoney, 64, end his life at his home. Mahoney, who has terminal cancer, is eligible to use the state’s law, overwhelmingly approved by Colorado voters in 2016.

The growing number of state aid-in-dying provisions are increasingly coming into conflict with the precepts of faith-based hospitals, which oppose the practice on religious grounds. . . [Full text]

Bergenfield Doctor’s Lawsuit Halts NJ Physician-Assisted Suicide Act

Jewish Link

Bracha Schwartz

Rabbi Yosef P. Glassman, MD, of Bergenfield, has won a lawsuit to temporarily stop the New Jersey Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act that had been scheduled to take effect on August 16. The law would allow physicians, under certain conditions, to prescribe drugs to terminally ill patients for the sole purpose of ending their lives. But the battle has just begun.

In an email interview, Rabbi Dr. Glassman explained why he initiated the lawsuit. “I was motivated to act by the chilling prospect of being a part of the suicide process, which strongly conflicted with both my professional and religious values. I was fortunate enough to engage in meaningful discussions with several concerned Jewish community members on the topic, and I decided to take a firm position, being involved in the field of geriatrics. Some people who may oppose my action may say that I want dying patients to suffer, chas v’shalom. Quite the opposite—we as physicians have ample tools to alleviate the suffering for the living, even for the terminally ill, without the need to license suicide.” . . . [Full text]

David Seymour hits back at National MP seeking ‘protections’ for institutions over euthanasia

News Hub

Zane Small

David Seymour, whose proposed assisted dying law is going through Parliament, has hit back at a National MP asking for institutions like hospices to have the right to conscientiously object. 

Seymour, leader of the ACT Party, responded by saying his End of Life Choice Bill “doesn’t require any organisation to do anything other than the Ministry of Health”. 

“You can’t really be exempted from something you’re not required to do in the first place, but that seems to be what they’re asking for,” he told Newshub. . . [Full text]

Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Perils of Empirical Ethical Research

JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(8):e198628. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.8628

Daniel P. Sulmasy

Al Rabadi et al1 compare statistics on physician-assisted suicide (PAS) available from public databases for the states of Washington and Oregon and find similar profiles and trends, which is unsurprising given the similarity of the laws and demographic characteristics of these states. Among the unanswered questions are what such a study can contribute to medical ethics (about PAS or any other ethical controversy) and what the limits are of such work.

Cautions

First, it should be noted that the medical literature is, in general, favorably disposed toward the empirical and the new. Although this predilection is often advantageous for scientific progress, it introduces a problematic bias when applied to ethical questions. The appeal of the study by Al Rabadi et al1 is that it is empirical, and by comparing data from 2 states for the first time, it can be considered novel. Because there are new reports each year and the practice of PAS is legal in only a few states, descriptive reports about PAS are published frequently. This means, however, that articles defending the ethical status quo (ie, against PAS) tend to be shut out of the medical literature because they are not reporting anything new and, therefore, cannot have any data. The result is an impression of growing acceptance of PAS, but it really represents an artifact of a scientific bias. . . . [Full text]

WA’s take on assisted dying has many similarities with the Victorian law – and some important differences

The  Conversation

Ben White, Katrine  Del Villar, Lindy  Wilmott, Rebecca Meehan

Western Australia may soon become the second Australian state to permit voluntary assisted dying, with the release on Tuesday of its Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019.

As in Victoria, whose law is now just under two months old, the bill was the product of reviews by a parliamentary committee and ministerial expert panel. It’s expected to be debated in the Western Australian parliament in three weeks.

So how does what’s being proposed compare to the law in Victoria? . . . [Full text]

Euthanasia bill falls short on freedom of conscience

Objecting students unprotected, refusal may incur civil, criminal liability

Sean Murphy*

Western Australia’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 includes provisions intended to protect all registered health practitioners who refuse to participate for reasons of conscience. By virtue of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Western Australia) this includes nurses, midwives, pharmacists, radiologists, psychologists and other professions.

However, the bill explicitly excludes students, probably to ensure that only non-student practitioners are permitted to accept and process requests, assess patients and provide euthanasia or assisted suicide (EAS).  Unfortunately, the effect of this exclusion is that nothing in the bill prevents students from being required to participate in all aspects of EAS delivery under the direction of a fully qualified registered health practitioner, or making such practical training a requirement for professional qualification.  This would be inconsistent with one of the guiding principles in the bill (Section 4(1)j), so it may be an oversight that will be corrected during the legislative process.

Fully qualified registered health practitioners may refuse to participate in the request and assessment process, prescription, supply or administration of lethal drugs, and to be present when the drugs are administered (Section 9(1)).  The bill further states that, by identifying these actions, it does not intend “to limit the circumstances in which a registered health practitioner may refuse” to do them (Section 9(2)).  This would seem to extend protection to include refusal to do do things not specified in the section, but obviously related to providing euthanasia or assisted suicide, like setting an intravenous line for administration of lethal drugs.  That interpretation is consistent with the definition of voluntary assisted dying, whichincludes “steps reasonably related to such administration.”  Clearly, this would include any of the actions explicitly required by the law, such as assessments, notifications, acting as a witness, dispensing lethal drugs, filing reports, etc., as well as setting intravenous lines and other technical preparations for providing EAS.

Sections 112 and 113 provide protection from civil and criminal liability and disciplinary proceedings for those involved in processing and fulfilling EAS requests if they act in accordance with the law. Section 113(4) extends this protection to omissions in accordance with the bill, but not to the refusals it permits.  Since “omission” does not mean “refusal”, this may reflect either an oversight in drafting or a deliberate decision to expose objecting practitioners to liability.

What could prove to be most contentious is the requirement in Section 19(5)b that an objecting physician give a patient “information approved by the CEO” of a public service department, perhaps a health department.  Whether this will be acceptable to objecting practitioners will depend entirely on the substance of the “approved” information.  It is unlikely to be problematic if it consists of general information about how to contact other physicians or health authorities.  On the other hand, resistance is likely if the “approved” information portrays euthanasia and assisted suicide as morally acceptable services or directs patients to EAS providers.  Objecting practitioners may refuse to comply if the law effectively compels them to express support for moral views they reject, or forces them to facilitate what they consider to be immoral or unethical acts by directing patients to EAS providers.

“Do or Refer” Doctors Are Not Allowed to Use Their Best Judgment for Individual Patients (No More Jeanette Halls)

Choice is an Illusion

Margaret Dore

Yesterday, a doctor asked me about “do or refer” provisions in some of the newer bills seeking to legalize assisted suicide in the United States. For this reason, I now address the subject in the context of a 2018 Wisconsin bill, which did not pass.

The bill, AB 216, required the patient’s attending physician to “fulfill the request for medication or refer,” i.e. to write a lethal prescription for the purpose of killing the patient, or to make an effective referral to another physician, who would do it.

The bill also said that the attending physician’s failure to comply would be “unprofessional conduct” such that the physician would be subject to discipline. The bill states:

[F]ailure of an attending physician to fulfill a request for medication [the lethal dose] constitutes unprofessional conduct if the attending physician refuses or fails to make a good faith attempt to transfer the requester’s care and treatment to another physician who will act as attending physician under this chapter and fulfill the request for medication. (Emphasis added).[1]

The significance of do or refer is that it’s anti-patient, by not allowing doctors to use their best judgment in individual cases.

Consider Oregonian Jeanette Hall. In 2000, she made a settled decision to use Oregon’s assisted suicide law in lieu of being treated for cancer. Her doctor, Kenneth Stevens, who opposed assisted suicide, thought that her chances with treatment were good. Over several weeks, he stalled her request for assisted suicide and finally convinced her to be treated for cancer.

Yes, Dr Stevens was against assisted suicide generally, but he also thought that Jeanette was a good candidate for treatment and indeed she was. She has been cancer free for 19 years. In a recent article, Jeanette states

I wanted to do our law and I wanted Dr. Stevens to help me. Instead, he encouraged me to not give up and ultimately I decided to fight the cancer. I had both chemotherapy and radiation. I am so happy to be alive!

If “do or refer,” as proposed in the Wisconsin bill, had been in effect in Oregon, Dr. Stevens would have been risking a finding of unprofessional conduct, and therefore his license, to help Jeanette understand what her true options were.

Is this what we want for our doctors, to have them be afraid of giving us their best judgment, for fear of sanction or having their licenses restricted or even revoked?  

With proposed mandatory “do or refer,” assisted suicide proponents show us their true nature. They don’t want to enhance our choices, they want to limit our access to information to railroad us to death.

Notes

[1] AB 216 states:

156.21 Duties and immunities. (1) No health care facility or health care provider may be charged with a crime, held civilly liable, or charged with unprofessional conduct for any of the following:  

(a) Failing to fulfill a request for medication, except that failure of an attending physician to fulfill a request for medication constitutes unprofessional conduct if the attending physician refuses or fails to make a good faith attempt to transfer the requester’s care and treatment to another physician who will act as attending physician under this chapter and fulfill the request for medication. (Emphasis added).

Margaret Dore is an attorney in Washington State where assisted suicide is legal. She is also president of Choice is an Illusion, a nonprofit corporation opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia worldwide.

Survival of Patients With Liver Transplants Donated After Euthanasia, Circulatory Death, or Brain Death at a Single Center in Belgium

Nicholas Gilbo, Ina Jochmans, Daniel Jacobs-Tulleneers-Thevissen, Albert Wolthuis, Mauricio Sainz-Barriga, Jacques Pirenne, Diethard Monbaliu

Abstract

Journal of the American Medical AssociationTransplantation of organs donated after euthanasia may help alleviate the critical organ shortage.1 However, aside from preliminary data on lung transplantation,2 data on graft and patient survival following transplantation of organs donated after euthanasia are unavailable. Because donation after euthanasia entails a period of detrimental warm ischemia that hampers graft survival, similar to donation after circulatory death,3 results after transplantation of this type of graft need to be carefully evaluated.


Gilbo N, Jochmans I, Jacobs-Tulleneers-Thevissen D, Wolthuis A, Sainz-Barriga M, Pirenne  J, Monbaliu D.  Survival of Patients With Liver Transplants Donated After Euthanasia, Circulatory Death, or Brain Death at a Single Center in Belgium. JAMA. 2019;322(1):78-80. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.6553