by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(May 30, 2008) A bill allowing medical practitioners and family members to authorize terminal sedation for depressed, confused or mentally disabled patients has narrowly passed the California Assembly.
Known as AB2747, the bill authorizes terminal sedation (TS) without nutrition and hydration for depressed or confused patients whether or not their natural death is imminent. It also allows family members to order the death of persons with mental disabilities when a medical practitioner believes they have less than a year to live.
The bill was passed on a 40-32 vote in the Democrat-controlled Assembly and was introduced by the same Democrats who have unsuccessfully piloted several physician-assisted suicide bills in the last three years.
“This deceptive bill will cause death and shorten life, despite its claims,” said Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, a leading California-based pro-life, pro-family organization, to LifeSiteNews. “Drying up and shriveling to death through dehydration is a fate worse than lethal injection. By transforming palliative sedation into a vehicle for assisted suicide, AB 2747 would transform doctors and nurses from healers and comforters into killers like Dr. Jack Kevorkian.”
Total or terminal sedation (TS) is a controversial new procedure that can too easily be used in place of physician assisted suicide.
According to Nancy Valko, R.N., former hospice nurse and spokeswoman for the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses, terminal sedation is defined as the deliberate “’termination of awareness’ for ‘relief of intractable pain when specific pain relieving protocols or interventions are ineffective’ and/or ‘relief of intractable emotional or spiritual anguish (existential suffering, psychological distress, emotional exhaustion)’. An essential component of TS is also the withdrawal of all treatment, including even food and water, so that death occurs as soon as possible.”
As Valko points out, “The issue is not really ‘intractable pain’, which those of us who have worked in hospice or with other dying patients know can virtually always be controlled.”
Instead, it is being used as a kind of “slow euthanasia,” a procedure that is far more prevalent than the public may realize.
“Even the few studies on TS report the prevalence of terminal sedation to range from 3 percent to 52 percent in the terminally ill,” wrote Valko in 2002. “When the unknown actual incidence of terminating awareness – or insuring unawareness – in patients with stroke, dementia or other serious illnesses is factored in, the use of TS as a form of ‘comfort care’ may well be approaching epidemic proportions, even outside the hospice area.
“As a former hospice nurse and now as an ICU nurse caring for some patients who turn out to be dying, I support the appropriate use of pain and sedating medications as ethical comfort care. However, even in circumstances where such medications are necessary, I have never seen a case where a patient ‘needed’ to be made permanently unconscious.”
The Vatican agrees. In the 1995 Charter for Health Care Workers issued by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, a clear warning is given about the use of narcotics to induce unconsciousness.
“Sometimes the systematic use of narcotics which reduce the consciousness of the patient is a cloak for the frequently unconscious wish of the health care worker to discontinue relating to the dying person. In this case it is not so much the alleviation of the patient’s suffering that is sought as the convenience of those in attendance. The dying person is deprived of the possibility of ‘living his own life’, by reducing him to a state of unconsciousness unworthy of a human being. This is why the administration of narcotics for the sole purpose of depriving the dying person of a conscious end is ‘a truly deplorable practice’.”
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The most humane way to treat the dying is with the love of Christ. Read “Midwife for Souls” by Kathy Kalina, R.N., a pastoral guide for hospice care workers and all who live with or accompany the terminally ill.