Monday, March 18, 2019

Fabian Stahle: A letter from Sweden to Maryland Senators concerning assisted suicide.

Dear Senator,

Maryland Senate.
I write to you from Sweden regarding HB 399 and SB 311 because these bills are similar to the Oregon law that is proposed here in Sweden. After contact with Oregon Health Authority I found disturbing information that was not available before and is highly relevant for HB 399 and SB 311 (below referred to as the ”Bills”).

In this letter I would like to draw your attention to a dangerous passage in the Bills regarding the eligibility criteria that the patient shall be diagnosed with a ”terminal illness” that will result in death within 6 months.

Regarding how this 6 months criteria must be interpreted, I have crucial information revealed from a correspondence I had with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) in the end of 2017. I believe this information is very significant as the Bills definition of "terminal illness" is almost identical with the Oregon definition.

In my correspondence the OHA acknowledged – for the first time officially - that they always had interpreted the 6 months criteria as ”without administration of life-sustaining treatment”, A3 and A8 in the correspondence (Link to the correspondence).

See also my comments (Link to the comments).

This interpretation is counter-intuitive because most people would take for granted that the meaning of ”terminal illness” is a disease for which there is no treatment or medication, i.e. that all hope is gone. But the interpretation is logically inevitable also for the Bills - and
the implications are far reaching.

As a patient has the right to refuse to receive treatment, any patient having a disease that potentially may develop into a terminal condition can make themselves eligible for assisted death – 'for any reason whatsoever'. Hence a trap-door for suicidal patients is imbedded in the Bills.

This is unavoidable because the patient's autonomy ensures that it must be the patient himself who has to decide when enough is enough.

For those who believe in the basic idea of these Bills, it is obviously unreasonable to request that, for example, a cancer patient who is exhausted by radiation and several unsuccessful chemotherapy treatments should be forced to undergo additional painful treatments with dubious results to gain access to assisted death.
But where should we draw the line? Isn’t it also obviously unreasonable that a patient who has very good prospects to be cured can get assisted death by refusing treatment? Shouldn’t we require that a cancer patient accept at least one treatment before talking about assisted death – or at least to account for reasonable motives for their wish to die? Or what about a young diabetic who, in the despair of a broken relationship, wants to die and stops insulin so as to be able to obtain legal suicide assistance - shouldn't we regard that as unacceptable and ask for some sort of limitation?

However, all such attempts to conditions intrude on patient autonomy – the very autonomy the Bills are intended to expand, not decrease – and leads to insoluble demarcation problems. The Oregon Health Authority has also come to this conclusion. (Link to the conclusion). (A4 and A5).

So in the face of these two contradictory positions the Bills must surrender to the patient's autonomy - just as all other laws like the one in Oregon already have.

As a result the obvious interpretation of the central concepts of “terminal” does not apply – but is left open to the patient's own decision, and hence the door is also opened to pure absurdities as to which people can be legally killed:

A cancer patient who has very good prospects to be cured, but denies treatment. An important reason is that she does not want to lose her hair. We are now in Oregon a while after their law for physician-assisted suicide came into force and the patient in question is Jeanette Hall. Her physician, Dr. Stevens is opposed to the law but was forced to acknowledge that his patient would be eligible to get the death pills she wanted because her cancer was likely to lead to death within 6 months if she was not treated. He managed however to convince her to take treatment and many years later Ms. Hall said: "It is great to be alive."
But nor all doctors are like Dr. Stevens.
Dr. Charles Blanke, an oncologist with Oregon Health and Science University, told The Bulletin about one of his cases, a young patient with Hodgkin lymphoma with a more than 90 percent chance of survival with treatment. She did not believe in chemotherapy and feared its toxicity, despite Blanke’s efforts to convince her otherwise. After cleared by a psychiatrist Blanke approved her for assisted death, holding firm to his belief that doctors should not force patients to receive treatment. But afterwards Blanke asked himself:

“Why doesn’t that patient want to take relatively non-toxic treatment and live for another seven decades?”
The answer to Dr. Blanke’s question is just as simple as disturbing in the context of medical killing:
It is because a law that encourages sick people to commit suicide - by the obvious reason that for a suicidal person a socially accepted and smooth death administered by society is much more attractive than dying on one's own in loneliness, just as the young suicidal Belgian woman testifies in this video (Link to the video).
For any reason whatsoever.
A person could, as Dr. Blanke’s cases, fear the possibility of side effects or future disabilities. But it could also be a parallel life crisis that is indirectly linked to the disease. And what about those patients who cannot pay for a potentially effective treatment? These Bills allow and encourage people that are not necessarily dying to commit suicide.

These Bills allows and encourages people that are not necessarily dying to commit suicide. Please reject these dangerous Bills!

Fabian Stahle, Sweden

1 comment:

Risa! said...

Thank you, Fabian, for speaking out. It is unfortunate that the miasma of death has clogged so many people's brains. We need to continue to fight for them until clarity returns.