Tag Archives: End of Life

European Court of Human Rights to Decide on Case Involving French Quadriplegic

Cedric Simon of BizNews reports that later this week, Europe’s human rights court will weigh whether a man in a vegetative state should be taken off life support in France:

Vincent Lambert, 38, who was left severely brain damaged and quadriplegic as a result of a 2008 road accident, has for months been at the centre of a judicial drama over his right to die.

In January 2014, Lambert’s doctors, backed by his wife and six of his eight siblings, decided to stop the intravenous food and water keeping him alive in line with a 2005 passive euthanasia law in France which allows treatment maintaining life to be withheld.

His 33-year-old wife, Rachel, who is a psychiatric nurse, said he would never have wanted to be kept alive artificially, while doctors said that their patient was “suffering”.

However, his deeply religious Catholic parents, half-brother and sister won an urgent court application to stop the plan. In an appeal, the French supreme administrative court, known as the State Council, ordered three doctors to draw up a report on Lambert’s condition and in June ruled that the decision to withdraw care from a man with no hope of recovery was lawful.

Lambert’s parents then took the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which ordered France to keep Lambert alive while they decided whether the State Council’s decision was in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

You can read more here.

Denver Post: Pass Upcoming Bill Legalizing Assisted Dying for Colorado’s Terminally Ill

With a bill soon to be introduced in the Colorado state legislature, The Denver Post editorial board has come out firmly in support of legalizing assisted dying for the state’s terminally ill citizens:

State Reps. Lois Court and Joann Ginal proposed the measure after  reading in The Denver Post of the plight of Charles Selsberg.

A Denver resident and retired real estate agent, Selsberg wrote of his last days in  dealing with a quickly advancing case of of ALS and how it left him on life support.

“I never thought I would be this person, really just this mind now, trapped in a dead body,” he wrote, with the assistance of his daughter Julie Selsberg.

He asked Colorado to “show its compassion” and consider adopting a law similar to the one Oregon passed in 1997. It allows terminally-ill patients to self-administer lethal medications prescribed by a doctor.

And we agree: Those facing situations like the one Charles Selsberg endured should have a reliable and peaceful way to end their lives if and when they want, surrounded by family and friends if that is their choice.

Court Rules Brain-Dead Woman’s Life Support Can Be Shut Down

The BBC reports on a recent legal battle over an end-of-life situation in Ireland:

A judge in Dublin’s High Court has ruled that a life-support machine may be switched off in the case of a brain-dead woman who is 18 weeks pregnant.

The woman’s family had wanted her life-support machine to be turned off.

Doctors had not granted their wishes as they were unsure of the legal status of the unborn child under the constitution in the Republic of Ireland.

The woman in the case was declared brain-dead on 3 December.

The court had heard that the chances of her unborn child being born alive were small. …

Lawyers for the unborn child had told the court that it must be satisfied that there was no real possibility of the foetus surviving before allowing the machine to be turned off.

Lawyers for the Health Service Executive (HSE), the body which runs all public health services in the Republic of Ireland, had argued that it would be lawful to withdraw life-support in this case.

The woman is in her late 20s and has two other children.

The judge ruled that to “maintain and continue” support would “deprive her of her dignity in death”:

“It would subject her father, her partner and her young children to unimaginable distress in a futile exercise which commenced only because of fears held by treating medical specialists of potential legal consequences,” he said.

You can read the full article here.

New Jersey Assembly Advances Death With Dignity Legislation

By Nicholas Little
Legal Director, Center for Inquiry

On Thursday, November 13, the New Jersey State Assembly, the lower legislative house, voted 41-31 to pass a bill permitting physician-assisted suicide in the Garden State. The bill was originally intended to be voted on in June of this year, but that vote had been dropped, and the bill finally came to the floor in the recent aftermath of cancer sufferer Brittany Maynard making use of Oregon’s humanitarian law permitting death with dignity in that state.

The New Jersey law closely follows those already in place in Montana, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. It requires a diagnosis from two separate doctors that a patient is suffering from a terminal disease, which will cause death within the next six months. In order to take advantage of the law, a patient must be a New Jersey resident, over the age of 18, and possess the capacity to make health care decisions. The bill includes multiple safeguards, including a requirement that the patient is referred for counselling if depressed or suffering from a psychological or psychiatric disorder, that the patient’s next of kin be notified (unless the patient declines said notification), and that no medical personal be required to participate in the process.

For patients who meet the requirements, and make the informed decision to request, the law permits them to be provided with medication which they can self-administer in order to end their lives. The medication must be requested both orally and in writing, and, at least 15 days after the initial oral request, the patient must make a second oral request. At that point, the physician is required to offer the patient the opportunity to rescind the request. After this, and at least two days after the signed written request, the physician may prescribe the medication.

The passage of this bill is a major step forward for the rights of terminally ill patients in New Jersey. However, its future passage is far from clear. While the New Jersey Senate has a Democratic majority of 24 out of 40 seats, it is not clear whether the bill would gain approval there. New Jersey has a plurality (40%) of Roman Catholics, a church whose leadership is inextricably opposed to assisted suicide legislation. Lay opinion amongst Catholics, as on other issues, varies, with significant support for the rights of terminally ill patients to control their passing. Even if the bill were to pass both chambers, it seems likely that Republican Governor Chris Christie would veto it. Governor Christie has stated repeatedly that he is pro-life, and has vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood in New Jersey multiple times. Current reports from the pro-life movement indicate he has pledged to them he will veto this bill. Such a veto seems particularly likely if Governor Christie is planning to seek the Republican nomination for the Presidency for the 2016 election. To override such a veto, the bill must receive the votes of two thirds of the members, requiring thirteen further Assembly members to grant their support.

Americans of All Ages Divided Over Doctor-Assisted Suicide Laws

In light of rising discussion about assisted dying legislation in the United States, Pew points to a 2013 poll that showed overwhelming support for allowing patients to die, but far less support for doctor-assisted suicide.

[T]wo-thirds of Americans say there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die, as opposed to doctors and nurses always doing everything possible to save the life of a patient. But U.S. adults are more divided about laws that allow doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, with 47% in favor of such laws and 49% opposed. Views on doctor-assisted suicide are little changed since 2005.

By religious demographic, the unaffiliated lead the way in supporting assisted-dying, with 66% in favor. White mainline Protestants and Catholics follow, with 61% and 55% in support, respectively. Opposition is centered on black Protestants (72% oppose), white evangelical Protestants (67% oppose), and hispanic Catholics (63% oppose).

Surprisingly, the youngest group measured, 18-29 year olds, disapprove of assisted dying (54% oppose) nearly as much as the oldest group, those 65 years and older (56% oppose). Relatedly, 18-29 year olds also report having given end of life issues the least amount of thought, with 41% having given “no thought at all” or “not very much thought” and only 25% having given them a “great deal of thought.”

These numbers are somewhat dispiriting in light of last month’s poll showing that 84% of Canadians favor legalized assisted dying in their country.

Pew’s full review can be viewed here.

Canada: New Poll Shows 84% Support Legalized Assisted Dying

A new poll of 2500 Canadian citizens—the largest poll to date—shows resounding support for assisted dying in the country. Conducted by Canadian nonprofit Dying With Dignity, the poll found 84% of Canadians in favor of legalizing doctor-assisted dying.

As is often the case on the topic of assisted dying, the influence of religious belief and practice provided for some significant differences among respondents:

• The largest divergence in support was by degree of church attendance. Those who attend church most frequently are least likely to support assisted dying. While even those who attend church once a week or more are still in support overall, the size of that majority (58%) is smaller than for those who go less frequently (86%) or never (92%).


Those who never attend a church were most in support of legalizing assisted dying, with 92% supporting it. Overall though, even the Christian majority in Canada are strongly in support of assisted dying:

• There were high levels of support from both the religious and non-religious. In total 80% of all Christians support assisted dying, including 83% of Catholics support assisted dying. (Sample sizes for other religious affiliations, though reflective of the Canadian population, were too small to draw conclusions.)

Interestingly, church attendance also changes how respondents perceive support for assisted dying across Canadian society:

• Those who attend church more than once a week are much more likely to think most Canadians oppose assisted dying (35%) than those who never do (16%).

An executive summary of the poll is available here. The full poll results can be examined here.

Death-With-Dignity Movement Springs Back to Life in California

Emboldened by favorable poll numbers, the nonprofit Compassion & Choices has begun efforts to legalize assisted dying in California. The Los Angeles Times reports:

It’s not going to be easy to pull this off, proponents concede, and the process could take years. In the past, statewide attempts have been shot down by heavily financed religious groups — primarily the Catholic Church — and some physicians. But advocates are encouraged by a recent poll of 500 likely voters, conducted for Compassion & Choices, that asked this question:

“The Death with Dignity Act would give a terminally ill person, who is mentally competent, the right to request and receive a prescription for life-ending medication from a physician. If the election were held today, would you vote to favor or to oppose this ballot measure?”

Nearly two-thirds of those polled said they were in favor, including 53% of Republicans.

“I think our polls indicate the state is ready,” said Rev. Ignacio Castuera, a United Methodist minister in Pomona. Castuera said he thinks the gathering storm of baby boomers who grew up in “the age of Aquarius” are likely to want the freedom to make such personal choices when they near the end.