Dignity, death, and dilemmas: A study of Washington hospices and physician-assisted death

Courtney S. Campbell, Margaret A. Black

Journal of Paint and Sympton Management

Abstract:

The legalization of physician-assisted death in states such as Washington and Oregon has presented defining ethical issues for hospice programs because up to 90% of terminally ill patients who use the state-regulated procedure to end their lives are enrolled in hospice care. The authors recently partnered with the Washington State Hospice and Palliative Care Organization to examine the policies developed by individual hospice programs on program and staff participation in the Washington Death with Dignity Act. This article sets a national and local context for the discussion of hospice involvement in physician-assisted death, summarizes the content of hospice policies in Washington State, and presents an analysis of these findings. The study reveals meaningful differences among hospice programs about the integrity and identity of hospice and hospice care, leading to different policies, values, understandings of the medical procedure, and caregiving practices. In particular, the authors found differences 1) in the language used by hospices to refer to the Washington statute that reflect differences among national organizations, 2) the values that hospice programs draw on to support their policies, 3) dilemmas created by requests by patients for hospice staff to be present at a patient’s death, and 4) five primary levels of noninvolvement and participation by hospice programs in requests from patients for physician-assisted death. This analysis concludes with a framework of questions for developing a comprehensive hospice policy on involvement in physician-assisted death and to assist national, state, local, and personal reflection.


Campbell CS, Black MA. Dignity, death, and dilemmas: A study of Washington hospices and physician-assisted death. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2013 Jul 3. pii: S0885-3924(13)00270-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2013.02.024. [Epub ahead of print]

Redefining Physicians’ Role in Assisted Dying

Julian J.Z. Prokopetz, Lisa Soleymani Lehmann

NEJM

Data from places with legal assisted dying have allayed concerns about potential abuses and patient safety, but a lingering challenge comes from the medical establishment. Creating a centralized mechanism for prescribing lethal medication could overcome this hurdle. . .


Prokopetz JJZ, Lehmann LS. Redefining Physicians’ Role in Assisted Dying.  N Engl J Med 2012;  367:97-99 July 12, 2012

Withdrawal of Artificial Nutrition and Hydration for Patients in a Permanent Vegetative State: Changing Tack

Catherine Constable

Bioethics

Abstract: In the United States, the decision of whether to withdraw or continue to provide artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) for patients in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) is placed largely in the hands of surrogate decision‐makers, such as spouses and immediate family members. This practice would seem to be consistent with a strong national emphasis on autonomy and patient‐centered healthcare. When there is ambiguity as to the patient’s advanced wishes, the presumption has been that decisions should weigh in favor of maintaining life, and therefore, that it is the withdrawal rather than the continuation of ANH that requires particular justification. I will argue that this default position should be reversed. Instead, I will argue that the burden of justification lies with those who would continue artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH), and in the absence of knowledge as to the patient’s advanced wishes, it is better to discontinue ANH. In particular, I will argue that among patients in PVS, there is not a compelling interest in being kept alive; that in general, we commit a worse violation of autonomy by continuing ANH when the patient’s wishes are unknown; and that more likely than not, the maintenance of ANH as a bridge to a theoretical future time of recovery goes against the best interests of the patient.


Constable, C. (2012), Withdrawal of Artificial Nutrition and Hydration for Patiens in a Permanent Vegetative State: Changing Tack. Bioethics, 26: 157–163

Freedom of conscience. Biojuridical conflicts at multicultural societies

Marta Albert Márquez

Cuadernos de Boetica

Abstract: The paper [in Spanish] analyzes the right of healthcare professionals to conscientious objection in multicultural societies. The ethical relativism characteristic of these societies abides with an apparently paradoxical reduction of the exercise of freedom of conscience. “Apparently” because, in the end, ethical relativism tends to adopt dogmatic attitudes. Special attention is paid to the situation of Spanish healthcare in relation to euthanasia and abortion. With regard to euthanasia, the “death with dignity” draft bill of Andalucía is considered. With regard to abortion, we will pay attention to the reform of the Penal Code in the context of a new regulation about “reproductive health” of women, which means the adoption of a system of time limits, and the characterization of abortion as a women’s right. It is concluded that freedom of conscience of healthcare professionals will probably be at risk if proposed legal policies don’t change.


Albert Márquez M. [Freedom of conscience. Biojuridical conflicts at multicultural societies]. Cuadernos de Bioetica : Revista Oficial de la Asociacion Espanola de Bioetica y Etica Medica. 2010 Jan-Apr;21(71):61-77. Spanish

Conscientious commitment

Bernard M. Dickens

The Lancet

In some regions of the world, hospital policy, negotiated with the health ministry and police, requires that a doctor who finds evidence of an unskilled abortion or abortion attempt should immediately inform police authorities and preserve the evidence. Elsewhere, religious leaders forbid male doctors from examining any part of a female patient’s body other than that being directly complained about. Can a doctor invoke a conscientious commitment to medically appropriate and timely diagnosis or care and refuse to comply with such directives?


Dickens BM. Conscientious commitment. Lancet [Internet]. 2008 Apr 12; 371(9620): 1240 – 1241

Clinical Problems with the Performance of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in the Netherlands

Johanna H. Groenewoud, Agnes van der Heide, Bregje D. Onwuteaka-Philipsen, Dick L. Willems, Paul J. van der Maas, Gerrit van der Wal

NEJM

Background and Methods

The characteristics and frequency of clinical problems with the performance of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are uncertain. We analyzed data from two studies of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the Netherlands (one conducted in 1990 and 1991 and the other in 1995 and 1996), with a total of 649 cases. We categorized clinical problems as technical problems, such as difficulty inserting an intravenous line; complications, such as myoclonus or vomiting; or problems with completion, such as a longer-than-expected interval between the administration of medications and death.

Results

In 114 cases, the physician’s intention was to provide assistance with suicide, and in 535, the intention was to perform euthanasia. Problems of any type were more frequent in cases of assisted suicide than in cases of euthanasia. Complications occurred in 7 percent of cases of assisted suicide, and problems with completion (a longer-than-expected time to death, failure to induce coma, or induction of coma followed by awakening of the patient) occurred in 16 percent of the cases; complications and problems with completion occurred in 3 percent and 6 percent of cases of euthanasia, respectively. The physician decided to administer a lethal medication in 21 of the cases of assisted suicide (18 percent), which thus became cases of euthanasia. The reasons for this decision included problems with completion (in 12 cases) and the inability of the patient to take all the medications (in 5).

Conclusions

There may be clinical problems with the performance of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. In the Netherlands, physicians who intend to provide assistance with suicide sometimes end up administering a lethal medication themselves because of the patient’s inability to take the medication or because of problems with the completion of physician-assisted suicide.


Groenewoud JH, van der Heide A, Onwuteaka-Philipsen BD, Willems DL, van der Maas PJ, van der Wal G. Clinical Problems with the Performance of Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide in the Netherlands. N Engl J Med 2000; 342:551-556 February 24, 2000 DOI:10.1056/NEJM200002243420805