Hospice Patients Alliance: Consumer Advocates


When will Prosecutors Act?
The Facts Show that Thousands of Terminally Ill
Patients May be Murdered Before Their Time!


by Ron Panzer
President, Hospice Patients Alliance
July 12, 2000



The Salt Lake (City) Tribune announced July 11, 2000 in an article written by Stephen Hunt that in Farmington, Utah, "Jurors found psychiatrist Robert Allen Weitzel guilty Monday [July 10] of causing the deaths of five patients with morphine overdoses, convicting him of two counts of manslaughter and three counts of negligent homicide."

- (This article is available for a small $2.50 user fee from the Archives of the Salt Lake Tribune.)

At least in this case, a local prosecutor had the strength of conviction to stand up and defend the rights of future patients as well as those of the patients who had died and enforce the laws against killing, even by normally respected doctors.

An August 12, 1998 article (see footnote below) in the Journal of the American Medical Association conclusively reports that physician assisted suicide or hastening death is occurring and is not "unheard of" or a "rare" occasion. This report documents cases of physician assisted suicide.

In the above survey of 355 oncologists, "(15.8%) reported participating in euthanasia or physician assisted suicide." "Thirty-eight of 53 oncologists described clearly defined cases of euthanasia or physician assisted suicide." In the cases reported by that 15.8% of oncologists, "(60.5%) [of the patients] both initiated and repeated their request for euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, but 6 patients (15.8%) did not participate in the decision for euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. [emphasis added] Thirty-seven patients (97.4%) were experiencing unremitting pain or such poor physical functioning they could not perform self-care."

Let's Do the Math!

What does it mean that 15.8% of the patients did not participate in the decision for euthanasia or physician assisted suicide? Isn't the obvious conclusion: these patients died without having requested to be killed, without asking for their death to be hastened.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization's Fact sheet (located at: www.nhpco.org/facts.htm) reports that in 1998 there were approximately 540,000 hospice patients in the U.S. and that 60% of hospice patients (in 1995) were patients who had cancer. That is only a small portion of the terminally ill in our nation, because hospice does not reach the majority of the terminally ill. But if we use the smaller number of patients who were enrolled in hospice and multiply that by 60%, we get approximately 324,000 cancer patients in 1998 enrolled in hospice.

If 15.8% of the oncologists who treated cancer in all of these patients performed physician assisted suicide or euthanasia of some sort, then that would equal 51,192 (.158 X 324,000=51,192). Now we get to the interesting part for the prosecutors. The survey said that 15.8% of the cases involving euthanasia were done when the patients "did not participate in the decision for euthanasia or physician assisted suicide." 15.8% of the 51,192 patients who may have experienced euthanasia would equal approximately 8,088 patients throughout the US in one year who may not have participated in the decision, but the doctors did it anyway!

Of course, someone will argue that "you can't apply the research statistics that way." ... or that "the number of cases must be much smaller." Well, prosecutors, if the number was even one tenth of that figure (which is conservative by any imagination) there would still be approximately 809 patients who died at the hands of his or her physician without participating in the decision. What is "not participating in the decision to be killed" other than murder, plain and simple?

If we divided the 809 patients by 50 states, there might be 16 patients killed every year in each state, but of course, each state has a different percentage of the terminally ill population. Can we safely assume that at least one or two patients are murdered each year in each state of the USA? Certainly. So prosecutors, when family members complain that their loved one was killed by an overdose of morphine, don't just write it off, the physicians admit to doing it! and in the case before you, it may actually have happened!

Let's Calculate Involuntary Euthanasia Deaths
Based on Total Cancer Deaths Per Year

The American Cancer Society estimates that for the year 2000, "about 552,200 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year." If we use the percentage 15.8% (from the JAMA research article noted above) to calculate the number of cancer patients who receive euthanasia with or without the patient's knowledge, we get 87,247.6 cases where oncologists may have participated in euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. Of the 87,247.6, the survey statistics showed that 15.8% of those 15.8% of cancer deaths were without the knowledge of the patient. (15.8% of 15.8% = 2.496%) 2.496% of total cancer deaths equals 13,782.9 patients per year in the U.S.

That number divided by 50 equals an approximate number of 276 cancer patients per state (on average) who may be killed without their knowledge by oncologists who believe they know better. With these numbers, even if we hypothesize that only one-tenth of those cases were actually without the knowledge of the patient, that would still leave 27.6 patients in each state (on average) who were killed (euthanized) without their knowledge. It should be noted that the large majority of oncologists and physicians do not perform euthanasia or physician assisted suicide without the patient's knowledge. But the point is that some physicians do act independently of the patient's own wishes.

Non-Cancer Terminal Illnesses Increase the Number of Euthanasia Cases

While the conservative estimates above only include euthanasia deaths occurring in patients with cancer, there are many other diseases and conditions where a patient may be euthanized. In the case of Dr. Weitzel noted above, some of the patients had Alzheimer's disease or dementia. It is reasonable to conclude that euthanasia occurs when patients have diseases such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease, AIDS, and simply old age and depression. Research shows that doctors were willing to order increased dosages of morphine even when the patient had no pain, but simply was weak or depressed. (See HPA article on questionable deaths). In even more sinister circumstances, a patient may be euthanized in order to hasten the inheritance of large estates or life insurance policy awards.

Criminal Prosecutions on Record for Hastening Death

For a discussion of the criminal prosecutions of some cases involving the deaths of patients in health care situations, please refer to the following article posted at the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics website: "Criminal Act or Palliative Care? Prosecutions Involving the Care of the Dying" by Ann Alpers, JD. Ann Alpers is a professor at the University of California at San Francisco's School of Medicine and has taught Medical Bioethics, among other topics.

Need to File Complaints to Board of Medicine,
Board of Nursing and Find Plaintiffs' Attorney for Legal Advice

One important point to remember if you want to stop the medical killings: you will need to send a detailed complaint to the State Board of Medicine as soon as possible, because in some cases, the DEA will wait to see the findings of the State Board of Medicine. You can also file a complaint to the State Board of Nursing if a nurse was involved in administering a fatal dose of narcotic. It is wise to consult a medical malpractice attorney before filing your complaint to the Board of Medicine and it is also important to get a medical review by an independent physician.

If you wish to stop the involuntary euthanasias (medical killings of patients), you will need to get a copy of the medical record for an independent medical review of your loved one's case. Your attorney can assist you in that, because most hospices will fight tooth and nail to never give you the medical records if something truly terrible happened. If you don't have or know of a medical malpractice attorney in your area, you can search for a plaintiffs' attorney.

It is very important that you try to find an attorney who files claims as a plaintiffs' attorney to represent you. If you get an attorney who handles medical malpractice, but regularly represents the corporations, you may not get the legal representative you deserve! Hospices have been known to falsify documentation, delete information, send incomplete records, stall and many other tactics that infuriate the families of the victims. A plaintiff's attorney will be able to successfully overcome the obstacles that hospice corporations routinely throw in the way of families seeking the truth (and a full, accurate copy of the medical record).

Taking the step by step approach to achieving justice will help make it more likely that the truly egregious violations of standards of care are noted (some you may miss, not being a physician) and corrected through the government justice departments and local district attorney's office. Having a medical malpractice attorney help you will assure that the complaint to the Board of Medicine and Board of Nursing is written in such a way that the allegations are not capable of being misunderstood or brushed aside.

Footnotes:


A summary of the JAMA article is listed at: The practice of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the United States. [For complete article see JAMA and search from the JAMA site for the following article: 1998 Aug 12;280(6):507-13 entitled "The practice of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the United States: adherence to proposed safeguards and effects on physicians." written by Emanuel EJ, Daniels ER, Fairclough DL, Clarridge BR done at the Center for Outcomes and Policy Research, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Control, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Mass 02115, USA.]





The Hospice Patients Alliance provides information in the spirit of consumer advocacy, believing that informed consumers of healthcare are best able to protect their rights and obtain quality hospice care. If you have questions about the legality of certain health care interventions and are seeking legal or medical advice, we strongly encourage you to consult with a competent and experienced attorney or physician. In order to obtain completely objective and un-"politicized" advice, you may need to consult with an attorney or physician who is not located in the same area as the hospice or physician involved.




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