Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Judge upholds Tennessee assisted suicide law.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

A Tennessee Judge, today, upheld the state law protecting people from assisted suicide. (Link to the decision).

Chancellor Carol McCoy, ruled today, that former Democrat politician, John Jay Hooker, does not have standing to bring action and challenge the Tennessee assisted suicide law.

The Tennessean reported McCoy as saying:

"The aid-in-dying prescription involves a script for a lethal dose of medication to cause quick death, not to provide palliative care to relieve physical pain and discomfort, as is allowed," 
"If the physicians intend to provide lethal drugs to end their patients' lives, they engage in criminal conduct."
Chancellor Carol McCoy
According to the Tennessean, Hooker will continue lobbying for assisted suicide.

Last week, Hooker appeared in a wheelchair before the Davidson County Grand Jury. He presented his case, and asked the grand jury to request the state legislature to support his request to end his life with the help of a willing doctor. 
The jury issued its report earlier this week. It showed support for aid-in-dying legislation. 
"This Grand Jury overwhelming supports Mr. Hooker's desire to have the laws of Tennessee amended to permit a severely ill patient to have option to end his or her life, thus ending all the pain and suffering for the patient and his or her family," the report reads.

Hooker said he has forwarded the grand jury's report to the members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
In the past year the New Mexico court of appeal and two California judges have upheld laws that protect people from assisted suicide.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Euthanasia: Theory and reality

By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

On Feb. 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s assisted suicide law, opening the door to assisted death (Carter v. Canada).

Canadians have been sold the theory that euthanasia can freely end one’s life at the time and place of their choosing. This theory assumes that euthanasia will be voluntary and that the decision and the act is controlled by the person who dies by euthanasia.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) contends that the theory of legal euthanasia and its practice are very different. Since euthanasia, by definition, means that the physician will cause the death of the patient, therefore misuse of the law resulting in a person’s death would normally be understood to be homicide.

Euthanasia in practice

A study published in March 2015 concerning end-of-life practices in 2013 in Belgium found that 4.6 per cent of all deaths were euthanasia. The same study also found that 1.7 per cent of all deaths were hastened without explicit request. This means that approximately 1000 people were intentionally killed without request in 2013. The data indicates deaths that were hastened without request were more likely to occur when a patient was in a hospital and incompetent to make medical decisions.

How did this occur?

The guidelines in Belgium and the Netherlands require the physician who causes death by euthanasia to report the euthanasia after the patient has died. Since the doctor who approves the death is the same doctor who submits the report, and since there is no third-party oversight of the law, therefore the system has been designed to “cover up” misuse of the law.

The same misuse of the law will likely occur in Canada. The proposed Quebec euthanasia guidelines also require the physician who lethally injects the patient to submit the report to the government. The Quebec system also provides no third-party oversight of the law, while enabling physicians to cover up misuse of the law when directly killing a patient.

The announcement that Quebec doctors will be sent euthanasia kits with step-by-step instructions is also rife with possible misuse of the law. The physician will receive the euthanasia kit, containing a double dose of lethal drugs. These kits will be used to lethally inject patients without third-party oversight of the use of the kit. Once again, reporting of the death will be done, after the death, by the doctor who lethally injects the patient.

The data in the Belgian study on end-of-life practices in 2013 also uncovered that almost half of the assisted deaths were not reported. The data in the study suggests that when the euthanasia death may not have followed the guidelines of the law, that Belgian physicians failed to report it.

Further to that, in January 2014, Dr. Mark Cosyns admitted in an article published in a leading Belgian newspaper that he does not report the euthanasia deaths that he does. Dr. Cosyns has not been penalized for his indiscretion.

The theory that euthanasia will always be voluntary

The Quebec government recently announced that doctors would need to falsify death certificates when the patient died by euthanasia (by representing the cause of death as the underlying illness of the person, rather than euthanasia). This is an affront to medical ethics, transparency and accountability.

When euthanasia becomes legal, doctors are given power to cause the death of their patients. Life and death decisions should require the highest level of oversight and transparency.

What about patients who are not terminally ill but living with psychological conditions such as mental illness, depression or loneliness?

In 2013, euthanasia for psychiatric reasons in the Netherlands tripled and euthanasia for dementia more than doubled.

The data from a study — published in July — concerning 100 requests for euthanasia for psychiatric reasons in Belgium indicated that: 58 people were depressed, 50 had a personality disorder, 13 had post-traumatic stress disorder, 12 were autistic, 11 had anxiety disorder and 10 had an eating disorder. The 100 requests for euthanasia resulted in 48 people with psychiatric conditions being approved for euthanasia.

The proposed Quebec euthanasia guidelines and the Supreme Court of Canada decision allows euthanasia for psychological suffering, a term that they did not define.

The practice of euthanasia is very different than euthanasia in theory.

In reality, legalizing euthanasia gives doctors the right, in law, to cause the death of their patients. The decision to lethally inject a patient is made by two doctors without third-party oversight and the doctor is required to report their decision after the patient has died.

The concept that euthanasia is about individual choice and autonomy is only a theory.

In other jurisdictions there is proof that the law is misused, that lives are ended without request, that the reporting procedure is intentionally ignored, and that euthanasia is regularly ending the lives of people who are depressed and/or incompetent.

In theory euthanasia appears to offer freedom; in reality, legalizing euthanasia is not safe.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dutch Doctor Sued for Saying No to Euthanasia

This article was published on Wesley Smith's blog on September 27, 2015.

Wesley Smith
By Wesley Smith 

I have been warning (with increasing intensity) about a pending medical martyrdom–forcing doctors to choose between killing and continuing in their profession–both from the contexts of statutory law and professional discipline. 

Now, in the Netherlands, we see a doctor reported to the medical board–essentially for malpractice–for recommending against a euthanasia killing. 

Milou de Moor had lupus and depression. She wanted euthanasia. Apparently receiving permission, the killing was called off because her GP didn’t agree, and she subsequently killed herself. 

From the PZC story story (Google translation): 
The good news was that the euthanasia of Milou was approved by the Ethics Committee. 
Note the culture of death’s insidious mutation of society and culture–the killing of a 19 year-old called “good news.” Back to the story: 
But the doctor, who had followed Milou disease from the sidelines for three years and knew the desire for euthanasia, was to the amazement of the family phoned the University Hospital because she did not agree with it. UZ tried to convince the doctor of necessity.  
“Because they did not know the disease. But they remained fickle. One minute she liked it, and then not again.” Eventually, she did not come back on its decision. For the family came to the reaction of the general practitioner therefore fall completely out of the air. “They had nothing to do with euthanasia, Milou was handled in Ghent.”  
To avoid that this can ever happen and that the GP here just get away with the family sought advice from a medical advisor. “Who says there’s a thing in it.” The complaint drawn up with the help of a lawyer. The Medical Disciplinary Tribunal will examine the facts and determine whether they start a case against the doctor. UZ is being investigated whether this can be prevented in the future. 
The participation of doctors–and their considered opinion whether euthanasia should be performed–has always been touted by euthanasia as an essential protective guideline. 

But now, even physician reticence as a protective safeguard it is under attack, both in an ethics opinion by the Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) and now, this complaint. 

Even if the physician is cleared of all charges, every doctor is now on notice in the Netherlands, refuse to kill or impeded a euthanasia, and risk the anxiety, turmoil, and expense of possible legal action against you. That, folks, is called a chilling effect, making agreeing to euthanasia the easier course. 

This kind of thinking also opens the door to possible civil suits for damages for refusing to kill, as doctors can be now for failing to provide proper pain control. 

The goal of the culture of death is “positive right” to be made dead, which requires a positive ”duty to kill” on the part of doctors to implement. 

The only other option is the establishment of a new profession of “lay executioners” as Jack Kevorkian once advocated. 

Once you open the door to assisted suicide/euthanasia, you are on the road to death on demand. The only question is how long it takes to reach the destination.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Quebec tells doctors they will be made to practice euthanasia

This article was published by OneNewsNows on September 25, 2015.

Alex Schadenberg
A Canadian province is getting tough with medical personnel who are opposed to doctor-assisted suicide.

In order to put doctor-assisted suicide into effect, Quebec must have the cooperation of doctors. Some are resisting, even refusing to refer patients to doctors who will use assisted suicide. Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition tells OneNewsNow of the latest edict from the province's health minister.

“The government of Quebec, which is planning to impose euthanasia upon its people starting on December 10, has basically told the doctors, You will do it,” Schadenberg explains. “This is a very concerning situation because they're not saying to the doctors, Oh, we will send somebody and we will [have it done]. No, they're saying, You will do this. This will be done. This is the law. If someone asks for it, you will carry it out.”
In addition, the health minister has a message to hospice programs that help people who are dying from natural causes.
“[The government is telling them if they're] not going to participate in euthanasia, then [it] will lessen the funding ... to palliative care centers who refuse to participate,” he tells OneNewsNow. 
“So therefore when your mother or your father is needing good care as they're nearing death, these doctors and nurses who are providing good care will have a tighter budget because they refuse to kill your mother or your father.”
Schadenberg says it's nothing short of coercing doctors, most of whom don't want to participate in euthanasia.

Governor Brown, do not sign the death warrant of unhappy people

This article was originally published by Careful on September 25, 2015.

Ask Governor Jerry Brown to veto the assisted suicide bill.

Nancy Valko
Nancy Valko, is 
a registered nurse living in St Louis, Missouri.

My daughter was the victim of assisted suicide, but she is not the only one.

In 2009, I lost a beautiful, physically well 30-year-old daughter, Marie, to suicide after a 16-year battle with substance abuse and other issues. Her suicide was like an atom bomb dropped on our family, friends and even her therapists.
Despite all of our efforts to save her, my Marie told me that she learned how to kill herself from visiting suicide/assisted suicide websites and reading Derek Humphry’s book Final Exit. Derek Humphry is the founder of The Hemlock Society, now included with other assisted suicide groups and known as Compassion and Choices. The medical examiner called Marie’s suicide technique “textbook final exit” but her death was neither dignified nor peaceful.

Marie was not mere collateral damage in the controversy over physician-assisted suicide. She was a victim of the physician-assisted suicide movement, seduced by the rhetoric of a painless exit from what she believed was a hopeless life of suffering.

Adding to our family’s pain, at least two people close to Marie became suicidal not long after her suicide. Luckily, these two young people received help and were saved, but suicide contagion, better known as “copycat suicide”, is a well-documented phenomenon. Often media coverage or publicity around one death encourages other vulnerable people to commit suicide in the same way.

Think of Brittany Maynard, the young woman with a brain tumour who moved to Oregon to kill herself last November with a doctor prescribed overdose. Weeks before she killed herself, Ms. Maynard partnered with the well-funded Compassion and Choices organization to raise even more money to promote the legalization of physician-assisted suicide throughout the US.

There was an immediate and unprecedented media frenzy surrounding Ms. Maynard’s tragic story that routinely portrayed her pending suicide as “heroic” and even counting down the days to her suicide. Personally, I thought this looked like a crowd on the street shouting for a suicidal person on a window ledge to jump, but the narrative worked with much of the public.

One problem with the media frenzy is that it violated well-established public health standards for how we talk about suicide. The National Institute for Mental Health has warnings about reporting on suicide that include “Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.” (emphasis added) Instead, the NIHM recommends including “up-to-date local/national resources where reader/viewers can find treatment, information and advice that promote help-seeking”.

However, Compassion and Choices even denies that physician-assisted suicide is suicide, insisting instead that the media use euphemisms like “aid-in-dying” and “death with dignity” in cases like Ms. Maynard's. However, this defies common sense and even the definition of suicide as “the intentional taking of one's own life.” Apparently, there are reasons for this:

A 2013 Pew Research Center poll showed that public opinion on physician-assisted suicide law is closely divided, with 47 percent of US adults approving and 49 percent disapproving. A Gallup poll article showed eliminating the term “suicide” in public polls on assisted suicide laws can increase support by as much as 20 percent. Changing the terminology of assisted suicide also allows immunity for assisting medical professionals and gets around standard life insurance policies that deny payouts for suicides occurring in the first two years of a policy.

I have been a registered nurse for 46 years, working in intensive care, oncology, hospice and home health among other specialties. Personally and professionally, I have cared for many people who attempt or consider killing themselves.

Some of these people were old, chronically ill or had disabilities. Some were young and physically healthy. A few were terminally ill. I cared for all of them to the best of my ability without discrimination as to their condition, age, socioeconomic status, race or gender. I will do anything to help my patients -- except kill them or help them kill themselves.

It is outrageous that physician assisted suicide laws support privatized lethal overdoses for some suicidal people without even the oversight and protections we insist upon for a convicted murderer on death row. Suicide prevention and treatment works, and the standards must not be changed just because some people insist their desire for physician-assisted suicide is rational and even a civil right.

My Marie was one of the almost 37,000 reported suicides in 2009. In contrast, only about 800 assisted-suicide deaths have been reported in the past 16 years in Oregon. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for Americans in 2012, with “More than 1 million people reported making a suicide attempt in the past year” and “More than 2 million adults reported thinking about suicide in the past year.”. The CDC estimates that suicide “costs society approximately $34.6 billion a year in combined medical and work loss costs”, not to mention the emotional toll on families.

Obviously our real health-care crisis here is a staggering and increasing rate of suicides, not the lack of enough assisted suicides.

Yet, the assisted-suicide movement relentlessly continues to demand the participation of medical professionals like me and the approval of society for at least some suicides -- for now. Those demands must be denied.

My daughter Marie was a victim of these demands to control life by embracing death. How many more people must we lose before we truly understand that evil never limits itself because evil always seeks to expand unless it is stopped. In the case of physician-assisted suicide, “No” can be a life-saving word.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director speaking in Chatham

This article was published in the Chatham Daily News on September 24, 2015.

When it comes to assisted suicide, the theory that the person whose life will be ended has the final say, is something Alex Schadenberg questions.

The executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Canada, based in London, will be in Chatham Oct. 14 to discuss the issue of assisted suicide during a presentation at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church from 7-9 p.m.

Schadenberg, who spoke with The Chatham Daily News while in Winnipeg, said he has been in demand as a speaker having recently been to New Hampshire, and has speaking engagements across the region.

He discusses the theory and reality of euthanasia.
“The theory is this is all about my personal choice, if I'm suffering, I should be able to die. It's all about what I want,” Schadenberg said. 
“The reality is, it's not like that at all,” he added.
Schadenberg plans to discuss the findings of a study of all deaths, over six-month period in the area of Flanders in Belgium in 2013 – where euthanasia is legal – that was released in March.

Of the 3751 deaths that were examined in the study, Schadenberg said 4.6 per cent were by euthanasia, but added 1.7 per cent were “hastened deaths without request.”

He noted 4.6 per cent of the deaths in the study equals about 2,800 by euthanasia, but there were only 1,450 reported euthanasia deaths, meaning about 50 per cent went unreported.
“You have to ask the questions: 'What happened to the other (euthanasia deaths) that were never reported? Why were they not reported?'”
Schadenberg also plans to present similar data from the Netherlands – where euthanasia is also legal – that shows there is about 23 per cent under reporting rate of assisted suicide deaths.

He noted the situation also exists in the United States.

In Washington State, he said the most recent data from 2014 “shows there were 27 assisted deaths that they have no idea what actually happened.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Not Dead Yet's letter to Governor Jerry Brown Urging Veto of Assisted Suicide Bill

This letter was published by Not Dead Yet on their website on September 22, 2015.

[NDY’s letter to Governor Brown enclosed a 1976 image of the Governor, during his previous stint as Governor of California, appointing Ed Roberts, considered the “father of independent living”, to head up the California rehabilitation agency.]

Ask Governor Jerry Brown to veto the assisted suicide bill.

September 21, 2015

Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Ed Roberts with Governor Jerry Brown
Dear Governor Brown:

Even though I was born with a disability, I didn’t become part of the disability rights movement until my early 30’s, when I joined the board of directors of the Westside Center for Independent Living in Los Angeles. One of the first stories I heard was about Ed Roberts and how you appointed him to head up the state rehabilitation agency. Your groundbreaking and courageous action in making that appointment flew in the face of common disability stereotypes and began a transformation that affected the whole country.

I met Ed several times over the years. As I’m sure you know, he went on to lead the World Institute on Disability, along with Judy Heumann. What you may not know is that the World Institute on Disability came to oppose the legalization of assisted suicide. The same is true of every other national disability organization that has taken a position on the assisted suicide issue.

It’s frustrating to see the issue portrayed as a progressive social cause. By the time disability rights activists entered the fray, well-funded assisted suicide proponents had already framed the debate for the media. Nineteen years ago, urged by friends and colleagues with whom I had struggled to be heard on this issue, I founded Not Dead Yet. We’re a national, grassroots disability group with activists in most U.S. states, including California, who oppose legalization of assisted suicide. We also promote policies that seek to ensure that the withholding and withdrawal of life sustaining healthcare is truly informed and voluntary, not the result of devaluation of the lives of old, ill and disabled people.

Initially, Not Dead Yet’s opponents told the media that we should be dismissed as mere “puppets” of the religious right. As our voices grew and that strategy worked less and less, we were dismissed as having unreasonable fears, unsupported by the facts. But the reality is that we live on the front lines of a health care system, with long term health issues that give us a better informed perspective on the weaknesses of that system and the ways that it too often fails to meet its stated goals.

Diane Coleman
On behalf of Not Dead Yet, and for the sake of all across this nation who may be impacted by public policy in a state as important as California, I’m writing to urge you to veto AB2X 15, the assisted suicide bill.

Many of us have spent a lifetime advocating for the rights of disabled people, young and old, to control our own lives and not have our choices dictated by doctors and other professionals. So you might wonder why we oppose a bill that is widely portrayed as giving people choice and control over their own death.

But who actually has choice and control under assisted suicide laws? Anyone could ask their doctor for assisted suicide, but the law gives the authority to doctors to determine who is eligible. Doctors make the determination that a person is terminally ill and likely to die in six months, and that the request for assisted suicide is voluntary and informed. The advertised “safeguards” in assisted suicide bills are entirely in the hands of doctors, from the diagnosis, prognosis, disclosures, request form, decision whether to refer for psychological assessment, prescription and report after death.

Who are the doctors who are giving lethal prescriptions? The public image is that one’s own doctor, someone who knows you and has taken care of you throughout your illness, will be the one who assists your suicide. But in Oregon, the majority of assisted suicides involve a doctor referred by Compassion and Choices (C&C). [See references under “Doctor Shopping” section of Why Assisted Suicide Must Not Be Legalized.] The state does not interview doctors who said “no” to the person’s request, so we don’t know why so many people had to go shopping at C&C.

The prescribing doctor’s also fill out a final report after the death, among other things stating the reasons for the request for assisted suicide. Among the top five reasons given are feelings of being a “burden on others” (40%) or feeling a “loss of autonomy” (92%) or “loss of dignity” (79%). These are not about pain from a terminal disease, but are psychological and social issues that cry out for meaningful supports and genuine care. Yet the assisted suicide law does not even require disclosures about consumer controlled home care options to address feelings of loss of autonomy or being a burden, much less require that those services be provided.

The bill specifically provides that depression is not a barrier to getting a lethal prescription. All that is required is that the depression is viewed as not impairing the person’s judgment, a subjective and speculative assessment at best. Psychiatrists and psychologists are not immune from prevailing social biases against people whose illnesses make them dependent on others for basic physical care. In some cases, they are just as likely as anyone to say, “If I were in your shoes, I might want to die,” and render an opinion that treatment for depression is not necessary, paving the way for a lethal solution.

Still, some might say, didn’t the person initiate the request for assisted suicide? Didn’t they have to self-administer the lethal dose?

I understand that the media has been flooded with images of Brittany Maynard, who held the lethal drugs in her hand, and appeared to be in full control with a loving family supporting her choice to die in the bedroom we saw on TV that she shared with her husband.

But most people who have been reported to use assisted suicide in Oregon do not resemble Ms. Maynard. Most are age 65-84, in a society where one in ten elders are abused according to federal figures. The abusers are usually family members. About half the people reported to use assisted suicide in Oregon did not have a health provider present at the time of death. With no independent witness required, there is no evidence that they self-administered the lethal drugs, or even that they consented at the time of death. These bills have to be considered in light of the sad reality that not all seriously ill people have loving family. Assisted suicide laws grant blanket immunity and effectively foreclose investigation of wrongdoing.

Moreover, as a person who has been disabled all of my life, I’ve learned that some of the health care that I’ve needed will not be covered by the available forms of insurance, because it won’t cure me and it “costs too much”, things that would have helped me maintain more physical function longer or reduced the help I needed from family. This is a common experience in the disability community. The idea of mixing a cost-cutting “treatment” such as assisted suicide into a cost-conscious health care system that’s poorly designed to meet a seriously ill patient’s needs is dangerous to the thousands of people whose health care costs the most — mainly people living with a disability, the elderly and chronically ill. It doesn’t increase my comfort to know that the California Medical Association has gone neutral. When push comes to shove over the health care needs of a disabled Californian, whose corner will the doctor be in? These realities undermine the image of “choice” that is being sold by assisted suicide advocates.

Finally, although I’ve been disabled all my life, the majority of people with disabilities acquire their disabilities through traumatic injury or a medical event or illness, such as a stroke or multiple sclerosis. The practical losses associated with acquiring a disability are multiplied exponentially by the crushing social oppression and internalized stigma of disability. In the early and uncertain phase of a disabling event, many of our activists, friends and colleagues, have been viewed as potentially terminal. The impact of a public policy of assisted suicide that, like Oregon, accepts psycho-social reactions to disability as justification for medically assisted suicide, poses perhaps the gravest threat to the tens of thousands of persons who are newly disabled each year.

There are many more reasons that an immunity statute for assisted suicide is bad public policy, too many to detail in one letter. But we hope that when you examine how this assisted suicide bill, that was rammed through a special session of the legislature, affects the vast majority of us, you will see that the dangers to the many far outweigh any alleged benefits to a few. Please veto AB2X 15.

Diane Coleman, JD

Kansas man found guilty of murder after claiming it was an assisted suicide.

Alex Schadenberg
By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The jury in Eudora Kansas found Ronald Heskett guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Vance Moulton, who lived with cerebral palsy. Heskett, who was a care-giver for Moulton, claimed that it was an assisted suicide. Heskett confessed to asphyxiating Moulton to death.

I was interested in this case because Heskett said that the death was an assisted suicide. It is possible to cause death and claim it was an assisted suicide, which tends to have a lesser sentence.

Last week I wrote about the first day of the Heskett murder trial, the second day of the trialthe third day of the trial, and the fourth day of the trial. This week I wrote about the fifth day of the trial, and the sixth day of the trial in Eudora Kansas.

According to the Lawrence Journal-World, today the jury heard the closing arguments, and then deliberated for 4 hours before finding Heskett guilty of second-degree murder.

Prosecutor, David Melton stated in his closing argument that:
Vance Moulton
“(Moulton) didn’t commit suicide. He wasn’t assisted to commit suicide. He was murdered,” Melton said. 
Melton said that even if jurors believed that Moulton asked Heskett to kill him, Heskett physically killing Moulton still constituted murder because suicide is “the deliberate destruction of one’s own life.” 
“It’s not suicide if someone asks me to shoot them and I point a gun at them a pull the trigger,” Melton said. “That’s not suicide; that’s murder.” 
Further, he questioned why few witnesses besides Heskett testified that they’d thought Moulton was suicidal. 
“Mr. Moulton was depressed for a full year and no one noticed except for the defendant,” Melton said.
Ronald Heskett
Defense attorney Mike Warner told the jury that:

Prosecutors over-charged Heskett’s case. He said that charging Heskett with first-degree murder or, in the alternative, second-degree murder, left jurors with a difficult decision, as Heskett already admitted to killing Moulton — but not with premeditation or with the motive in the prosecution’s theory of the case. 
“If the evidence in this trial does not support the crimes charged, you must find him not guilty,” Warner said. “You may think you can’t do that. It’s not your fault. It’s the way this case was charged.” 
Warner argued Tuesday to let jurors have the option of convicting his client of assisted suicide or voluntary manslaughter if they could not come to a unanimous decision on the first- and second-degree murder charges. Douglas County District Judge Peggy Kittel, however, said those charges did not count as lesser-included charges to the first-degree murder charge, so she did not allow them as options to be included in the jury instructions. 
“When you’re a defendant, it’s an up-hill battle and it’s lonely. But Mr. Heskett is a good man and he deserves to be treated with respect to the law,” Warner said. “It’s going to be tough to acquit him, but you must.”
After three hours of deliberation the jury asked the court if they were required to unanimously find him guilty of first degree murder or could they go to second degree murder?
The attorneys and the judge discussed the matter outside of the jury’s presence. They agreed the jury could legally consider the alternative charge of second-degree murder if they didn’t all agree on the first, but (Judge) Kittel said, “We can’t really tell them.” Instead, Kittel told jurors to refer back to their jury instructions for direction. A juror responded, “That’s what we thought.”

According to the Lawrence Journal-World:
Last month, prosecutor Eve Kemple said she had offered Heskett a deal to plead guilty to first-degree murder, and in return she would allow Heskett to argue at sentencing for a 25 years to life prison sentence, instead of first-degree murder’s mandatory “Hard 50” — or 50 years to life. The Hard 50 became mandatory in first-degree murder cases for crimes that happened after July 1, 2014, when the sentencing law changed. 
... Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said in a news release that the “jury agreed” with the prosecution’s motive theory. 
“We never believed that Heskett was trying to help his friend commit suicide,” Branson said. “Van Moulton was murdered by Ronald Heskett to cover up the fact that he had stolen money and used it to buy a car. The jury agreed.”  
Kittel ordered Heskett to stay in jail without bond until his sentencing hearing, which she scheduled for Nov. 6. 
Depending on his criminal history, Heskett faces anywhere from about 12 to 54 years in prison.

The jury was right to convict Heskett of murder. Heskett confessed to killing Moulton by asphyxiation. It was not an assisted suicide because Moulton did not die by suicide.

I am concerned that the jury convicted Heskett of the lesser charge of second-degree murder because Moulton was a person with a disability. Crimes against people with disabilities should be treated equally as crimes committed against able-bodied people. Nonetheless, there were extenuating circumstances.

Belgium euthanasia: Dateline special report: Allow me to die

This article was published on the HOPE Australia website on September 16.

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell

The documentary filmed by the Australian Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and made by their highly regarded European Correspondent, Brett Mason looked at the Belgian euthanasia regime through the lens of personal stories.

As the documentary unfolds we hear clearly from Mason, a voice of concern. To his credit, both in the documentary and in his blog story, he doesn’t put his own views nor conclusions. Clearly, however, the reality of euthanasia is very different from his initial conceptual thoughts as evidenced in these comments from the blog:

“I was taken aback - not for the first time in recent weeks - by just how mundane and unremarkable euthanasia is to those who perform it.” 
“I’m unable to bury a burning sense of anguish in the pit of my stomach. While I fully accept and respect that this decision was the patient’s and the patient’s alone, over these last nine months I’ve been filming in Belgium questions have repeatedly been asked about how this nation’s euthanasia laws are safeguarded.”
Tom Mortier
Reflection during the program came in the testimonies of Belgian, Tom Mortier, whose mother was euthanased without his knowledge and Dutch Professor, Theo Boer, who had formerly been a member of one of the Dutch euthanasia review committees. Both had formerly supported their countries laws. It would be wrong to suggest that Professor Boer is now totally opposed, but Tom Mortier most certainly is so. Both raised concerns that the Belgian and Dutch laws had moved far beyond any initial sense and remit as being only for terminally ill people and only at the end of life when all else had failed.

The documentary then follows two people contemplating euthanasia. Neither, it should be said, are terminally ill. From the SBS online profiles:

“Peter Ketelslegers is a 33-year-old father of two boys, Alex and Thomas, and suffers from a rare condition called cluster headaches. 
The intense headaches can last up to three hours, several times a day. He’s tried many different treatments, but nothing has worked. 
He used to run a farm with 300 cattle near Brussels alongside his wife Conny, but now the animals are gone as he’s no longer able to work. 
The headaches won’t kill him, but there’s no known cause or cure. He tells Dateline that the suffering is now so unbearable that he wants to be euthanised.” 
“Simona de Moor is a physically healthy 85-year-old. She lives in a care home in Antwerp, but is still active and on no medication. 
However, she’s been unable to accept the death of her daughter Vivian from a heart attack three months earlier, and sees no reason to go on.”
Peter Ketelslegers’ situation is intensely difficult and will draw appropriately compassionate thoughts and sentiments from every viewer without doubt. As the documentary went to air, according to the end credits, he is scheduled for an operation in October. We will all wish him well.

Simona de Moor suicides after being handed a lethal potion by well-known euthanasia doctor, Marc Van Hoey. Strictly speaking, an act of assisted suicide, Mason’s voice over makes it perfectly clear, as any thinking viewer will realise, that de Moor’s trigger for her desire for death is the recent death of her favourite daughter from a heart attack only a few short months earlier. She is grieving. We are told that she has another daughter who is estranged. As was the case with Tom Mortier’s mother, it was not deemed necessary that de Moor try to re-establish her relationship with this daughter and, like Tom’s situation, that daughter will only have learned about her mother’s death afterwards.

At this, I found myself raging inside. During a time of grieving it is never sound practice to make life-changing let alone life-ending decisions. Where is the simple, natural and normal thought to provide comfort, support and encouragement for this dear lady through the grieving process? Gone! Evaporated on the altar of autonomy and the Belgian love affair with personal choice.

Indeed, that is precisely how van Hoey puts it. After taking part in more than a hundred euthanasia deaths it would seem that this obviously caring doctor has perhaps become cold to other less drastic and more truly compassionate alternatives. A truly shocking counsel of despair: doctors as little more than dispensing machines for people’s darkest choices.

Peter Ketelslegers’ situation is tragic in the here-and-now. During the telecast last night I had contact from two people who wanted to provide help for this man and his family; including one who had found successful relief from the very same ailment. As with all these matters, things are never as black-and-white as they might seem and there is always hope.

As Ketelslegers’ story unfolds, we see the poignant interaction with his wife and his two children. His wife Conny, understandably seems wearied by Peter’s difficulties. He talks about being a burden on them. She is clearly loving and dedicated to Peter and the family. She tells Mason:

“At some point you would be enormously selfish to keep your husband with you when he knows that he’s in so much pain, so I stand behind him.” 
Mason: “You’ll let him have his wish?” 
Conny: “Yeah. With pain in my heart, but yeah.”
How incredibly difficult. There’s no sense of anything other than standing with Peter as she clearly has done so well and for a long time. But for Conny, there are no apparent choices.

A tweet came to me from a genuine inquirer: “if you had power to decline his request, what would you say to him (Peter). How would you justify he should continue to suffer?” A very good question and one I think that everyone who opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide needs to grapple with.

We cannot stand firm in opposing any changes in the law without doing whatever we can to pressure those in power to provide better care. As Mason and others observed, ‘unbearable suffering’ is entirely subjective; but that should not stop nor hamper progress nor the drive, from a compassionate disposition, to do everything possible to ease such distress.

But black-letter-law can never adequately describe nor restrict such laws to a particular cohort nor to a particular understanding about for whom the law is intended and under what circumstances. Nor can it ever account adequately for the necessary protections for vulnerable persons. Currently, absent euthanasia laws, Simona de Moor would hopefully had her real issues of grief addressed. She was indisputably vulnerable.

Congratulations to Brett Mason and SBS for this fine work.

View the documentary HERE
Read Brett Mason’s blog HERE
View ancillary footage and information HERE

Kansas murder trial, defense claims it was assisted suicide (Day 6).

Alex Schadenberg
By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Last week I wrote about the first day of the Heskett murder trial, the second day of the trial, and the third day of the trial, and the fourth day of the trial. This week I wrote about the fifth day of the trial in Eudora Kansas. Today's article focuses on what Heskett's did with the money that went missing from Moulton's apartment.

The trial concerns the death of Vance Moulton (65), who was living with cerebral palsy. Ronald Eugene Heskett (49), who was Moulton's care-giver, was charged with first-degree murder, but he claims that the death was an assisted suicide.

Ronald Heskett
The Lawrence Journal World reported:

Prosecutors in the case of Ronald Eugene Heskett have alleged that Heskett intentionally killed his disabled home-care client Vance “Van” Moulton, 65, of Lawrence, for financial reasons. Heskett, however, has maintained that the death was an assisted suicide. 
Heskett testified Tuesday that after persistent, highly emotional pleadings from Moulton to kill him on Sept. 12, 2014, Heskett ... asphyxiating him to death. Moulton had cerebral palsy and other serious health problems. 
The state has presented witnesses over the past week who said that Moulton before his death cashed $13,000 in government checks, which was never recovered in a search of his home. They showed recorded police interviews with Heskett in which Heskett denied entering any financial agreements with Moulton or taking his money, and they presented evidence of Heskett making uncharacteristically expensive purchases of a 1972 Chevelle and car parts. 
Throughout the trial, that $13,000 has been the crux of the state’s case. 
When Heskett ... testified Tuesday, he admitted the $13,000 had indeed been spent on the car — but only with the authority of Moulton as part of a plan to raise money to buy Moulton a wheelchair-accessible van. 
Heskett on Tuesday said, as other witnesses had testified over the past week, that Moulton yearned for a wheelchair-accessible van to ride in and gain more independence. Heskett said he’d gone to look for an accessible van at Moulton’s request, and told Moulton it would cost about $40,000 — an amount far greater than the $13,193.18 total received from his government checks. 
Heskett said Moulton knew Heskett restored old cars as a hobby, and the two would regularly watch car auction shows on TV together. So, when thinking about how to get more money for Moulton to buy a van, Heskett said he and Moulton devised a plan to invest in a 1972 Chevelle to fix up and sell for $25,000. 
Heskett said that he put in the work, the time and around $1,500 of his own money into the car, and that he and Moulton agreed to split profits, with Moulton receiving 75 percent and Heskett getting 25 percent. 
“We had an agreement. We worked toward getting his van,” Heskett said. “It was the only way that Van and I knew to increase his money.” 
When asked how much of the checks were spent, Heskett said, “All of it.” 
In Heskett’s recorded police confession shown to jurors last week, Heskett denied taking any money from Moulton. He also suggested the last time he saw the $13,000 in cash, it was in a dresser drawer of Moulton’s apartment — which he admitted Tuesday was not the truth. 
Heskett told jurors Tuesday that he was fearful to tell investigators about the car agreement because they were asking him whether Moulton had given him the money in exchange for killing him. 
“All (police) were talking about was, ‘Did Van give you money?’” Heskett testified. “I thought they were going to charge me with murder for hire and give me the death penalty.” 
Heskett said he and Moulton didn’t tell anyone else about the agreement. 
If the content in this article is causing you to have suicidal thoughts contact Your Life Counts.

The final part of the trial focused on how the judge would charge the jury. The defense argued that the jury should be given the option of convicting Heskett of murder or the lesser charge of assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide is when someone assists the suicide death that is carried our by the person who died. It can be done in many ways. Euthanasia is a form of homicide (murder) that is done when one person directly and intentionally causes the death of another person. 
According to the Lawrence Journal World, the defense argued that the Judge should:
let jurors decide between not only the first- or second-degree murder charges facing his client, but also have the option to convict Heskett of lesser charges of assisted suicide or voluntary manslaughter. 
Because Heskett confessed to helping Moulton die, “we don’t expect Mr. Heskett to walk out the door here, unless he’s acquitted based on the charges, which would be ironic.”
The prosecution stated that:
assisted suicide and voluntary manslaughter are not lesser included charges of first-degree murder and hence are not appropriate based on Kansas statute and case law. Kittel (the Judge) agreed with them, denying Warner’s request to include the lesser charges on the jury’s instructions.
I am interested in this story because Heskett says that the death was an assisted suicide. I am not stating that this didn't occur, but it is possible to cause death and claim assisted suicide as a defense. The trial will continue tomorrow with closing arguments.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Disability Activist Jean Stewart’s Letter to Governor Brown

This letter was originally published on the Not Dead Yet website on September 21.

[Editor’s Note: Jean Stewart is a long time disability activist, one of the earliest members of ADAPT and other social justice efforts that include civil disobedience, and author of the acclaimed book, The Body’s Memory. She is one of those who, over two decades ago, urged the formation of an organization like Not Dead Yet.]

Ask Governor Jerry Brown to veto the assisted suicide bill.

Jean Stewart
Dear Governor Brown,

I am a 68-year-old power wheelchair user and a resident of El Sobrante. I urge you to veto AB 2X-15, which I strongly oppose. I believe my life, and the lives of my disabled and elderly friends, will be directly threatened if AB 2X-15 becomes law. Physician assisted suicide, like the death penalty, is final and irreversible. When abuses are committed or mistakes are made, the dead person cannot be brought back.

The lives of people with disabilities are historically undervalued by American society. All too often, family members, caregivers, the medical establishment, and the courts regard us as a burden on society; this attitude becomes internalized, leading many of us to choose physician assisted suicide when, in our hearts, we would prefer to go on living with our disabilities. In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, 40% of people who died by assisted suicide reported feeling like a burden on their families and caregivers as a reason for requesting lethal drugs, according to the Oregon Public Health Division’s records. (By contrast, only 24% reported inadequate pain control, or concern about it, as a reason.) An overwhelming 91% cited “losing autonomy” as a reason. Those of us living productively with our “loss of autonomy” within a pervasively ableist society are inclined to translate this reason as fear of disability.

Passage of AB 2X-15 would provide society with legal cover to dispose of us. If we care about true justice, we must strive to provide elderly and disabled people with the supports necessary to live full, rich lives with comfort, pride, and, yes, DIGNITY. Such supports include affordable, accessible housing (NOT institutionalization in nursing homes), home care, and appropriate medical care, including comprehensive, compassionate palliative care.

I would remind you that a treatable condition or illness can quickly morph into terminal when the treatment is denied by one’s insurer; as you know, it’s commonplace for insurers to deny treatment, particularly to poor people—and disabled folks are statistically among the poorest populations in the country—and people of color, who are demographically underinsured and less skilled at navigating the bureaucratic jungle of red tape required to challenge an insurer’s decision. A number of cases in Oregon involve individuals who chose suicide when their insurers denied them treatment.

The “safeguards” provided in AB 2X-15 provide no guarantee against abuse. In Oregon, “doctor-shopping” in search of a physician who will support assisted suicide has become commonplace. Further, the so-called “safeguards” do nothing to prevent abusive family members or caregivers from steering an individual toward assisted suicide. Nor do the safeguards prevent economic pressures from driving an individual to “choose” lethal drugs, as has been documented in a number of Oregon cases.

There is nothing reasonable, fair, or compassionate in the rush to legalize physician-assisted suicide. This “choice” is not a choice.

Sincerely yours,
Jean Stewart
El Sobrante, CA

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kansas murder trial, defense claims it was assisted suicide (Day 5).

Alex Schadenberg
By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Last week I wrote about the first day of the Heskett murder trialthe second day of the trial, the third day of the trial, and the fourth day of the trial. This article concerns the fifth day of the Heskett murder trial in Eudora Kansas which focused on Heskett's defense.

The trial concerns the death of Vance Moulton (65), who was living with cerebral palsy. Ronald Eugene Heskett (49), who was Moulton's care-giver, was charged with first-degree murder, but he claims that the death was an assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide is when someone assists the suicide death that is carried our by the person who died. It can be done in many ways. Euthanasia is a form of homicide (murder) that is done when one person directly and intentionally causes the death of another person.

The Lawrence Journal-World news reported last week that jurors listened to a police recording where Heskett admitted to causing Moulton's death by asphyxiation.

Ronald Heskett took the stand and spoke in his own defense. According to the Lawrence Journal-World news:
On Monday, Heskett told jurors about his friendship with Moulton, 66, indicating their closeness went further than a worker-client relationship. For example, Heskett said he’d visited Moulton at the hospital after kidney surgeries in the spring of 2014 without pay, and also cooked Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for Moulton  
Heskett testified that Moulton’s outlook on life changed in the months leading up to his death. Heskett said Moulton grew increasingly concerned about his housing situation after an altercation between a former care attendant and his apartment manager. Moulton reportedly felt the manager had the care attendant fired, and Moulton had liked his care attendant. 
“When I first started working, (Moulton) was out and friendly,” Heskett said. “He was withdrawn after (the other care attendant) was terminated. 
In March and April 2014, Heskett said, Moulton had two surgeries on one of his kidneys. Moulton had previously had his other kidney removed, and Heskett said Moulton was worried he’d lose his remaining kidney as well. Heskett said this made Moulton “stressed” that he may lose his independence and have to live in a nursing home. 
“He worried about the dialysis machine if he lost a kidney,” Heskett said. “He knew he’d lose his ability to (figuratively) run around if he was on dialysis.” 
That’s about the time when Moulton began talking about having Heskett kill him, Heskett said. 
“He would tell me when I got in in the morning I might as well just shoot him in the head,” Heskett said. “Later in the day he’d say, ‘I wish you’d just shoot me.’” 
Heskett said he had mentioned the suicidal comments once to one of Moulton’s friends and another time to his Trinity In-Home Care supervisors. He also tried to have Moulton call a suicide hotline, but Heskett said he didn’t push the matter because he was afraid Moulton would stop his services if he did. 
“If I got a therapist for him, he was going to have Trinity quit providing care workers,” Heskett said. “He thought that if somebody would come in and talk to him, the next step would be he’d get shipped off to a nursing home.”
Vance Moulton with case worker.
According to the Lawrence Journal-World news occupational therapist Megan Roelofs also testified today. She said:

... independent living was important to Moulton and that he was unhappy living at his apartment complex. She said she worked with Moulton once or twice a week beginning when Moulton was released from a brief stay at a nursing home in early 2013. 
“Van was bummed out and depressed about his situation,” Roelofs said. “(Moulton) never wanted to do anything that might jeopardize his independent living and being released into a nursing home.” 
Roelofs said that she heard Moulton say things like, “I’m so mad” and “I’m sick of all this” in reference to his living situation. Roelofs said she had recently sought assistance from social workers to help him find a new place to live, but Heskett said the process didn’t move quickly enough to satisfy Moulton. 
Roelofs said that on one occasion Moulton was upset about housing issues when Heskett told her in front of Moulton that Moulton “was asking for a gun this morning.” But when Roelofs inquired further, she said that Moulton “shut it down” and “laughed it off.”
If the content in this article is causing you to have suicidal thoughts contact Your Life Counts.

Neighbor Helena Charron also testified Monday about Moulton’s attitude change in the months leading up to his death.
When she’d first met him in 2013, she said Moulton was charismatic and upbeat. But after his kidney hospitalizations, things changed, she testified. 
“After (his hospitalization), I wouldn’t see him out much. He was withdrawn and skinny,” Charron said. 
One time, Moulton told Charron, “I just don’t want to be here. I just want to die,” Charron said.

However former care attendant Ulysses Demby, testified that he didn’t believe Moulton was ever suicidal.
“I read in the paper that Vance had asked (Heskett) to help him commit suicide and God put it on my heart to call the police,” Demby said. “He showed no signs (of suicidal tendencies)."
Keith Slimmer, a friend and former college roommate of Moulton's, also testified that he did not think Moulton was suicidal.
“I have never known (Moulton) to be depressed,” Slimmer said. “He was very glad to be out of the nursing home and have an apartment of his own.”
I am interested in this story because Heskett says that the death was an assisted suicide. I am not stating that this didn't occur, but it is possible to cause death and claim assisted suicide as a defense. Testimony is scheduled to continue Tuesday.