Friday, May 18, 2012

Massachusetts: Legal Challenge to Ballot Measure

Disability Rights Group Challenges Language for Assisted Suicide Ballot Measure as "Misleading, Inaccurate, and Euphemistic"

CONTACT  John Kelly 617-536-5140 

(BostonMA) – On Thursday, May 17, 2012, Massachusetts voters including members of the disability rights group Second Thoughts filed a challenge before the Supreme Judicial Court regarding the proposed ballot language for the measure that, if approved, would legalize assisted suicide in the state.

"The ballot language is clearly misleading," said Second Thoughts director John Kelly of Boston. "We want the voters ofMassachusetts to know exactly what they are voting on this November," he said.

The petition asks the Supreme Judicial Court to remand the language to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of State William Galvin with the requirement that they amend the language for clarity and accuracy.

"The ballot language repeats the problems of the bill itself," said Second Thoughts member Paul Spooner of Taunton. "The title is euphemistic, with the word ‘medication’ twisted beyond recognition. People will be led to believe that the measure is about palliative care, when it is about taking a lethal overdose -- in other words, poison. Why not just call the act by its common and legal name, 'physician-assisted suicide?'"

"The way 'terminally-ill' is used in the description is clearly misleading ," said Kelly, "people will be encouraged to assume that being 'terminally ill' is a biological fact, rather than a human guess."

"People with disabilities are very familiar with so-called terminal diagnoses," said Second Thoughts member John Norton of Florence. "Everyone knows someone who has outlived their terminal diagnosis -- I was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease as a teenager; I'm alive and well fifty years later.  The ballot language misleads by implying that a 'terminally-ill' diagnosis actually leads to death within six months.  Instead, it should say ‘diagnosed as terminal’ or something similar in terms of accuracy."

"And what about choice?," asked Spooner. "There are no safeguards to protect patients from having the poison given to them by an heir or abusive caretaker. No witnesses are required under the law, so if someone else were to administer the drugs, who would know?"

The language submitted by the Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of State is:

Title: Prescribing Medication to End Life [11-12] - Petition G
A YES VOTE would enact the proposed law allowing a physician licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication, at the request of a terminally-ill patient meeting certain conditions, to end that person’s life.

Second Thoughts has taken a leading role in opposing the ballot measure, and has been featured in the Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and on local TV and radio.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Not Dead Yet: Minnesota Grand Jury Convening on Final Exit Network Member Charges

From Not Dead Yet:  

Right now, this latest story involving the Final Exit Network (FEN) is getting only local coverage, but it could become a national story, depending on the outcome.  From the story, by reporter Laura Adelmann:

Apple Valley woman may have killed herself using information from Final Exit Network

In a March 26 letter to a defense attorney, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom’s office stated it will convene a grand jury May 9-11 seeking an indictment to prosecute right-to-die advocates for their role in an Apple Valley woman’s May 30, 2007 suicide.
Doreen Nan (Gunderson) Dunn, then 57, suffered years of intense chronic pain and depression when she killed herself using a hood and helium gas, according to Robert Rivas, attorney for the Final Exit Network, a national nonprofit organization accused of assisting suicides and named in the investigation.
Before taking her life, Dunn had paid a $50 membership fee to Final Exit Network, according to a March 20 search warrant issued by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation detailing evidence forwarded to the Dakota County Attorney’s Office and obtained by Sun Thisweek.

The warrant cites phone records, documents, airline tickets and car rental contracts as evidence Dunn had contact with some Final Exit members months before taking her life and on the day she died.
Final Exit members named in the investigation are Thomas “Ted” Goodwin, former president of Final Exit Network; Roberta Massey, a Final Exit “case coordinator;” Jerry Dincin, then-Final Exit Network president; and Dr. Lawrence Egbert, Final Exit medical director who Newsweek dubbed “The New Doctor Death.”
Charges the grand jury will be asked to consider are aiding suicide, conspiracy to commit the crime of aiding suicide and interference with a dead body, according to the search warrant.
Those names should look familiar.  Goodwin and Egbert were both involved in the suicide of John Celmer, a man in Georgia who committed suicide after successful cancer treatment left him distressed about his appearance after surgery.  Massey and Egbert were defendants in the case involving Jana Van Voorhis, a woman with no serious physical problems but who had a long history of emotional and psychological issues.

The reporter is pretty careful in most cases in this story to qualify statements about FEN practices with wording such as "the website states."

That's important because not all of what the FEN website claims is true. Take this, for example, from the latest article:

A Final Exit Medical Committee reviews information, and if approved, an “Exit Guide” is assigned who provides detailed information how a person may purchase equipment and take steps to end their own life, according to the website.

“The Network never supplies equipment,” the website states.
That right there - about FEN never supplying equipment.  It's not true.  How do we know?  The overly-modest and zealous Dr. Larry Egbert told us so, in an interview that appeared in the Washington Post in January:

Egbert tells me that years ago he asked someone who was about to “exit” if he could reuse the hood to save future patients the cost of buying a new one. The patient was delighted with the idea, Egbert says. He started asking everyone.

The hood in my bare hands feels slightly slick. So, this one, the one I’m holding, has been used to end someone’s life? I ask. Egbert tells me it has surely been used at least once, and maybe several times, and the same could be said for most of the other 17 hoods in the garbage bag. 
So, Egbert, by his own admission, has provided equipment on a regular basis in his work as an 'exit guide.'  That might seem like a minor point to some in and of itself, but the fact is, there is no way for us - the public - to verify any claim FEN makes.  It's only when someone like Egbert gets to talking and bragging we get to hear some facts that depart from the established script.

We don't know who else has supplied equipment to 'clients.'  We don't know how many FEN members 'pushed' so-called 'clients' with second thoughts to get on with it, not wanting their valuable times wasted.  We don't know how if any of the FEN members have held down the hands of a person trying desperately to tear the bag off.

We don't know.  And even Robert Rivas (FEN atty.) and Jerry Dincin cannot swear that they know the parameters of what has gone on in each and every so-called 'peaceful exit.'  They weren't there and they don't know.  When they try to tell us that everyone is behaving responsibly, remind them that Egbert already revealed one lie about their practices and we're not inclined to believe any other unverified claims they make.  --Stephen Drake

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Washington Assisted Suicide Report: No Information About Consent

By Margaret Dore

Washington assisted suicide act was enacted via a ballot initiative in 2008 and went into effect in 2009.[1]  During the election, proponents claimed that its passage would ensure individuals control over their deaths.  A glossy brochure declared, "Only the patient — and no one else — may administer the [lethal dose]."[2]  The Act, however, does not say this anywhere.

Today, the Washington State Department of Health issued its annual report about Washington's act.[3]  That report, similarly, does not demonstrate that individuals are in control. The report provides no information as to whether the people who died under the act consented and/or acted voluntarily at the time of death.  The report instead talks about "ingestion" of the lethal dose.  A drug can be "ingested" while a person is asleep, sedated and/or not aware of his or her surroundings.

For more information about Washington's act, See Margaret Dore, "'Death with Dignity': What Do We Advise Our Clients?," Bar Bulletin, May 2009.[4]  

* * *
[1]  Washington's act was passed by in November 2008 as Initiative 1000 and has now been codified as RCW chapter 70.245.
[2]   I-1000 color pamphlet, "Paid for by Yes! on 1000."
[3]  See News Release here and report here.
[4]  Further information can be viewed here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Not Dead Yet: A Deeper Look at Elderly Homicide-Suicides

From Not Dead Yet.

"society cannot lose sight of the fact that a person's life was taken, often without their consent." 

May 1, 2012

Last September, this blog discussed an article from a Pennsylvania newspaper that took a thoughtful, in-depth look at the tragically growing trend of elderly homicide/suicides.  When that story was written, there had been three such cases in the state since June of that year.

The number is now up to at least 6 in the last year.  Terrie Morgan-Besecker takes another in-depth look at elderly homicide/suicides and interviews a number of people about the larger picture (including me) to get beyond the 'mercy killing' theme that dominates the coverage of these tragedies.

An excerpt that includes a bit from my interview is below.  From The Abington Journal, here is a sample of 'Loved to Death':

But researchers who have studied murder-suicides among the elderly say they're troubled by society's tendency to view such deaths as mercy killings.

"One of the concerns is you don't want to make it sound like it's a viable thing to do," said Sonia Salari, a professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah."  If we romanticize it, it makes it sound like it's OK."

Statistics regarding the number of elderly murder-suicides committed each year are difficult to come by, as no agency specifically tracks that category of deaths, Salari said.

In a 2005 study, Salari analyzed 225 intimate partner murder-suicides involving couples where either the victim or perpetrator was at least age 60. She gathered the data from news reports, police reports and obituaries published from 1999 to 2005.

The research showed that in 55 percent of the cases, health issues   involving either the victim or perpetrator were cited as a contributing factor. Approximately 7.5 percent of the victims had some sort of dementia.

Compassion or murder?

Salari said that, while she sympathizes with survivors who view the deaths as an act of compassion, society cannot lose sight of the fact that a person's life was taken, often without their consent.

"Some people don't consider it domestic violence, but we need to see it as that," she said. "You have two deaths. Most of the time the victim is not in on the plan."

Stephen Drake, a spokesman for Not Dead Yet, a nonprofit group that opposes assisted suicide laws, also expressed concern over how murder-suicides among the elderly are viewed.

"These are acts usually of desperation, not compassion," he said. "These are people who are feeling depressed or overwhelmed. It's often a consequence of an emotional crisis."
Please read the rest of the article here.  --Stephen Drake