During a phone interview conducted February 16, 2001, Oregon Hospice Association President Anne Jackson responded to charges from opponents of legalized physician-assisted suicide about limitations on the hospice benefit in Oregon and the practice of euthanasia in that state. Anne Jackson specifically stated that the HMOs in Oregon are not setting caps or limitations on the hospice benefit. She stated that Pacc Health Plans (HMO) does not have a specific hospice benefit, but allows its patients to receive hospice care under other health plan benefits and that patients are not denied access to hospice services. According to her account, Kaiser HMO also does not set caps on the hospice benefit.
During the conversation, Ms. Jackson stated that the state of Oregon has begun scientific research studies to evaluate the practice of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, since it is one of the few sites in the world where physician-assisted suicide has been legalized. She also stated that there were relatively few actual cases of physician-assisted suicide performed in 1998-99 with a total of 63 cases reported. She did say that, in her opinion, the hospices and physicians involved closely evaluated each case and provided independent physician and psychiatric evaluation to assure the appropriateness of the physician-assisted suicides/euthanasias.
When requested to send a copy of the Kaiser HMO and Pacc Health Plans benefit description, Ms. Jackson changed the subject and stated that there were many plans within the HMOs and individual situations might vary. She did not offer to send a copy of the Kaiser or Pacc Health Plans actual benefit description even though directly requested to do so.
According to Ms. Jackson, the Oregon Hospice Association (and others) clearly support increased funding for hospice services, and amendment to the laws governing the administration of narcotic medications, so that physicians and nurses would not have to fear prosecution when they are sincerely attempting to relieve pain.
[Note: The Hospice Patients Alliance agrees that government should increase funding for hospice services (which has been shown to save money compared to caring for the terminally ill in the acute care hospital setting) and that laws governing the administration of narcotics for pain relief should be amended to assure physicians that they will not be prosecuted for sincere attempts to relieve the sometimes severe pain of certain end-stage disease processes.
Hospice Patients Alliance has not yet been able to obtain actual copies of the Kaiser and Pacc HMO hospice benefit plan descriptions. Whether all euthanasias in Oregon are performed within the standards of care is yet to be scientifically established. Research described in the JAMA and Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that there are problems with euthanasias: see
Comment: When considering Ms. Jackson's comments, I am reminded of the chemical companies and government enthusiastic promotion of DDT back in the World War II era 1940s: DDT was hailed as a wonder of science.
"DDT was promoted as a potent nerve poison on insects to combat yellow fever, typhus, elephantiasis, and other insect-vectored diseases. In India, DDT reduced malaria from 75 million cases to fewer than 5 million cases in a decade. Crops and livestock sprayed with DDT sometimes as much as doubled their yields. With the publication of the American marine biologist Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962, suspicion grew that DDT, by entering the food chain and eventually concentrating in higher animals, caused reproductive dysfunctions, ... In 1973 DDT was banned in the U.S. except for use in extreme health emergencies." [from Encarta 99 encyclopedia].
What does that have to do with the practice of physician-assisted-suicide and/or euthanasia? Well, we all now know that DDT was initially viewed as a benign insecticide helpful to mankind, but was later discovered to be devastatingly poisonous and something which may take years for its deadly chemicals to take effect. Just like DDT, euthanasia might, for some, be viewed in its ideal practice as having some desirable consequences (relief of suffering), but when fully evaluated, will be recognized as a horribly misguided and dangerous practice which will definitely result in human rights violations, patient rights violations and totally involuntary euthanasias.
Research shows that there are euthanasia cases that are not even terminal: some patients are depressed, some are disabled or chronically ill. Ms. Jackson's belief that "all" cases of euthanasia in Oregon were done in accordance with the regulations is very well contradicted by the research which clearly shows that many US physicians don't even report the cases of euthanasia that they participated in, that the physicians admit not following the sageguards and may not even inform the patient or get permission.
Linda Ganzini, MD, director of geriatric psychiatry at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Portland, Oregon has written: "Studies of dying cancer patients reveal that between 59-100% of patients wanting hastened death have major depressive disorder." Yet, during the first two years under Oregon’s physician assisted-suicide law, less than 35% (15 out of 43) of the patients who received lethal prescriptions were referred for a psychiatric or psychological consultation. [See: L. Ganzini, "Commentary: Assessment of Clinical Depression in Patients Who Request Physician-Assisted Death," Journal of Pain & Symptom Management, June 2000 and, the State of Oregon Health Division, "Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act: The Second Year’s Experience, Table 2, 2/23/00]. 59-100% of patients seeking physician assisted suicide are depressed, but less than 35% are referred for psychiatric consultation before being assisted to their death! What a contradiction, and what a direct challenge to anyone who says the safeguards are being followed!
The JAMA article noted above shows that only one third of physician assisted suicide cases are performed consistently with proposed safeguards. What is the obvious conclusion? Two thirds of cases are performed in violation of the safeguards (that's the politically incorrect, but accurate way of putting it.)
Should we expect a State Hospice Association President to admit to problems in the hospice industry? Well, California Supervising Deputy Atty. Gen. Nancy Stoner (speaking about hospitals reporting violations of the standards of care) has said "It is not in the hospital's best interest to let people know what went wrong inside their facility." [See Respiratory Care Workers Under Close Scrutiny, Feb 18, 2001 about involuntary medical killing in the hospital] The article goes on to say: "Underreporting of professional misconduct by hospitals is a broader problem, consumer advocates say." Just as hospitals may feel it's not in their best interest to admit to problems with violations of the standards of care, hospices and their lobbying/Public Relations groups: the state hospice associations, would naturally believe that they need to suppress information about the violations of standards of care within hospice agencies.
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