Tag Archives: End of Life

The Apparent Murder-Suicide of a Death-With-Dignity Advocate and His Ailing Wife

The Washington Post reports on a heartbreaking story out of Florida:

One gunshot.

Then another.

Within minutes, a prominent death-with-dignity advocate was shot dead along with his ailing wife in an assisted living center in Florida.

Eighty-one-year-old Frank Kavanaugh — who served on the national advisory board for the Final Exit Network, an advocacy organization in the right-to-die debate — was discovered dead in the early morning hours Tuesday alongside his wife, 88-year-old Barbara Kavanaugh.

The couple was found at the Solaris HealthCare Charlotte Harbor center in Port Charlotte, Fla. Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Skip Conroy said the case is being investigated as a murder-suicide.

But those who knew the Kavanaughs said it may have been their only option.

“It was a rational suicide,” Final Exit Network President Janis Landis told The Washington Post. “Both of them made this decision. It was not murder.”

You can keep reading here.

Effort to Legalize Assisted Suicide Fails in Maryland Senate

The Washington Post reports that a year-long push to make Maryland the sixth state in the country where physician-assisted suicide is legal has failed:

Sen. Ronald Young (D-Frederick) told reporters that he decided to withdraw the legislation after concluding it did not have the votes to pass out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. A vote had been scheduled for Thursday.

The bill — which would have allowed doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to patients believed to have less than six months to live — needed six votes to move out of committee and come before the full Senate. It was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and advocates for the disabled.

“Had I thought it still had a chance I would have let it go,” Young said. “But I got word that it wasn’t going to pass.”

You can read the full article here.

My Right to Die: Assisted Suicide, My Family, and Me

Kevin Drum, writer for the website and magazine Mother Jones, has penned an excellent article for the January /February 2016 issue on physician assisted dying which has been posted online:

EVERY STORY HAS A BEGINNING. This one starts in late 2001, when my father-in-law fractured three of his ribs. Harry was a retired physician, and after a thorough workup that he insisted on, it turned out that his bone density was severely compromised for no immediately apparent reason. Further tests eventually revealed the cause: He had multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

Harry’s cancer was caught early, and it progressed slowly. By 2007, however, it had taken over his body. When my wife saw him in early 2008, she remarked that he looked like someone in a lot of pain but trying not to show it—despite the fact that he was taking oxycodone, a powerful opiate.

During a career that lasted more than three decades, he had watched all too many of his patients struggle with their final months, and this experience had persuaded him that he would take his own life if he found himself dying of an agonizing and clearly terminal illness. Now he was. Finally, on the evening of January 29, he stumbled and fell during the night, and decided his time had come: He was afraid if he delayed any longer he’d become physically unable to remain in control of his own destiny.

This was important. Since Harry lived in California, where assisted suicide was illegal, he had to be able to take his life without help. Because of this, he initially intended not to tell either of his daughters about his decision. He wanted to run absolutely no risk that merely by being with him in his final moments, or even knowing of his plans, they’d be held responsible for his death.

Luckily, neither my wife nor her sister had to learn of their father’s death via a call from the morgue. A friend persuaded him to call both of them, and on January 30 we all drove out to Palm Springs to say our last goodbyes. After that, Harry wrote a note explaining that he was about to take his own life and that no one else had provided any assistance. It was time. He categorically forbade any of us from so much as taking his arm. He walked into his bedroom, put a plastic bag over his head, and opened up a tank of helium. A few minutes later he was dead.

You can read the full article here.

California Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Physician-Assisted Dying

We have some breaking news to share from Patrick McGreevy of the Los Angeles Times:

Caught between conflicting moral arguments, Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student, on Monday signed a measure allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to hasten their deaths.

Approving the bill, whose opponents included the Catholic Church, appeared to be a gut-wrenching decision for the 77-year-old governor, who as a young man studied to enter the priesthood.

In considering it, Brown said he had to “reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.”

California becomes the fifth state to allow so-called assisted suicide, following Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.

You can read Gov. Brown’s signing statement here.

California: Tell Gov. Brown to Sign Bill Legalizing Patient Choice at End of Life

An action alert from the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy:

The California legislature has just approved a bill that would legalize physician-assisted dying, and the Center for Inquiry (CFI) urges you to contact Gov. Jerry Brown right now and urge him to sign this measure into law. 

Senate Bill 128, the End of Life Option Act, would authorize “an adult who meets certain qualifications, and who has been determined by his or her attending physician to be suffering from a terminal illness, as defined, to make a request for medication prescribed pursuant to these provisions for the purpose of ending his or her life.” The bill would also establish procedures for making these requests.

Many people who are terminally ill want the option of meeting their death on their own terms, so that they can spare themselves and their families needless suffering. CFI firmly believes competent, terminally ill patients have a right to determine whether to prolong their life or hasten their death. Accordingly, CFI strongly supports legislation that authorizes physician-assisted dying.

However, adamant and well-financed opposition from religious institutions — especially the Catholic Church — has frustrated such efforts. We believe that at the end of a person’s life, no one else’s religious views should affect their medical care, including how or when they choose to die. Our lives don’t belong to any church, politician, or cultural tradition. Our lives are our own.

Five states have already authorized physician-assisted dying: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico. With your help, California could become the next.

You can take action here.

Washington Post Editorial Board: Assisted Dying ‘A Humane Way To End Life’

Following a hearing on a bill in the District of Columbia—modeled on Oregon’s law—to allow physician-assisted dying, the Washington Post editorial board has come out in favor of the measure:

The issue stirs strong emotions. Some opponents, including the Catholic Church, cite religious or moral grounds, seeing any form of assisted dying as anathema to teachings that life is never to be taken. Some physicians believe the practice violates their oath only to heal, and some disability rights activists fear that they will be vulnerable to abuses. Others warn of a slippery slope to euthanasia.

Oregon’s 18 years of experience do not confirm any of these fears. Enacted in 1997, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill adults who are residents of the state to obtain and use prescriptions from their physicians for self-administered lethal doses. Stringent protections include a life expectancy of less than six months, a finding of mental capability, a concurring opinion from a second doctor, mandatory discussion of hospice and other options, waiting periods and more.

Oregonians have made sparing use of the law, with 859 deaths as of Feb. 2 . The state collects data on each case, and there have been no reports of coerced or wrongly qualified assisted deaths. The typical patient is about 71, suffering from terminal cancer, well-educated, with health insurance and enrolled in hospice. About one-third of prescriptions were never used, suggesting some terminally ill people are comforted by knowing they have an alternative to extensive suffering should they need it.

Read the full article here.

California: Tell Your State Senator to Support Patient Choice at the End of Life

Today the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy launched an urgent advocacy alert regarding a piece of legislation under consideration in the California Senate:

Time is running out! The California Senate has until June 5 to approve a bill that would legalize physician-assisted dying, or else the bill will automatically lapse — and the Center for Inquiry (CFI) needs your help to get it passed before the deadline.

SB 128, the End of Life Option Act, would authorize “an adult who meets certain qualifications, and who has been determined by his or her attending physician to be suffering from a terminal illness, as defined, to make a request for medication prescribed pursuant to these provisions for the purpose of ending his or her life.” The bill would also establish procedures for making these requests.

You can read more and take action here.


NPR Host Diane Rehm Emerges as Key Force in the Right-to-Die Debate

Michael S. Rosenwald writes in The Washington Post on an emerging leader in the debate  over end-of-life care:

Diane Rehm and her husband John had a pact: When the time came, they would help each other die.

John’s time came last year. He could not use his hands. He could not feed himself or bathe himself or even use the toilet. Parkinson’s had ravaged his body and exhausted his desire to live.

“I am ready to die,” he told his Maryland doctor. “Will you help me?”

The doctor said no, that assisting suicide is illegal in Maryland. Diane remembers him specifically warning her, because she is so well known as an NPR talk show host, not to help. No medication. No pillow over his head. John had only one option, the doctor said: Stop eating, stop drinking.

So that’s what he did. Ten days later, he died.

For Rehm, the inability of the dying to get legal medical help to end their lives has been a recurring topic on her show. But her husband’s slow death was a devastating episode that helped compel her to enter the contentious right-to-die debate.

“I feel the way that John had to die was just totally inexcusable,” Rehm said in a long interview in her office. “It was not right.”

Keep reading here.

Canada’s High Court Rules Doctors Can Help Ill Patients Die

Breaking news from the Associated Press:

Canada’s highest court struck down a ban on doctor-assisted suicide for mentally competent patients with terminal illnesses Friday, declaring that outlawing that option deprives dying people of their dignity and autonomy.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision reverses its own decision two decades ago and gives Parliament and provincial legislators a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of consenting adults who are enduring intolerable suffering to seek medical help ending their lives. The current ban on doctor-assisted suicide stands until then.

The judgment said the ban infringes on the life, liberty and security of individuals under Canada’s constitution. It had been illegal in Canada to counsel, aid or abet a suicide, an offense carrying a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

You can read more about the decision here.