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EPISODE#122
OC CATHOLIC RADIO: GUEST IS DR. VINCENT NGUYEN

Host Rick Howick interviews guests on a variety of topics. On this week’s program, Rick welcomes Dr. Vincent Nguyen to the studio. Dr. Nguyen is the Director of Palliative Care at Hoag Hospital in both Newport Beach and Irvine. Among the topics discussed today are physician-assisted suicide and end-of-life care. Be sure to listen in to this powerful discussion!

 

 

 

 

Originally broadcast on 11/16/17

OC CATHOLICS JOIN FIGHT AGAINST NEW STATE LAW PERMITTING PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE

Editor’s Note: To learn more about ABX2-15, to view frequently asked questions about the new law and to review talking points concerning its impact, click here.


 

Orange County Catholics are joining individuals and organizations statewide in working to gather signatures for a ballot proposition to overturn California’s new law allowing physician-assisted suicide. To qualify for next year’s election, 365,800 signatures must be submitted by Jan. 4, 2016.

One of the leaders of the referendum filed Oct. 20 by Dr. Mark Hoffman and Seniors Against Suicide is Stephanie Packer, a terminally ill mother of four who lives in Orange and is an outspoken advocate for the rights of vulnerable patients.

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“Gov. Jerry Brown failed California in a big way when he signed ABX2-15,” Packer said. “It’s sad for people facing terminal illness now and for those later on, and for people with disabilities concerned about what their future might hold.”

Packer said she particularly is disturbed that the law, originally known as SB 128 and pulled from consideration in July by the Assembly Health Committee, was reconsidered and quickly passed in a special session. As a result, she said, lawmakers did not have time to consider the complex financial, medical, ethical and public policy questions involved in terminal illness and end-of-life care.

“It felt so wrong for an issue of this magnitude to be rushed into law that way,” she said. “An issue this important should never have gone through the way it did. So many patients out there don’t agree with this, so many terminally ill people are fighting to live and can’t travel to give their testimony. The referendum will give them the opportunity to vote from their homes.”

If passed, the referendum will not create a law or ensure that there can be no law dealing with this issue, Packer noted. “It just gives us another chance to give people a real voice and a chance to educate people about the issue. The people of this state should have a say in things and use their voice. Our system should be about that.”

Ned Dolejsi, Executive Director of the California Catholic Conference, said the new law has great moral significance. “It indicates the shifting dynamics of health care in the state, in which people are invited to take their own lives,” he said. In fact, the Catholic Church teaches that human life is a gift from God that all people have a duty to preserve. Assisted suicide stands in contradiction to the Catholic understanding that all life bears God’s image and has inherent dignity.

Nationally, the Patients’ Rights Action Fund provides financial and strategic support throughout the U.S. to protect the rights of patients and people with disabilities by opposing assisted suicide legalization efforts. J.J. Hanson, the fund’s president, is a terminal brain cancer survivor who was once given four months to live and has fought since May 2014 to oppose legalized assisted suicide.

“I understand that this issue is very emotional for people and very personal,” Hanson said. “I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about it. I understand on a logical level about how this is dangerous for our country. As you provide people with information and facts, people agree that this is dangerous.”

Unlike proponents’ insistence that assisted suicide is about an individual’s choice, Hanson explained, legalization greatly impacts more than the patient. “When people talk about ‘choice’ it needs to be understood that this has a lasting impact on our society,” he said. “My personal choice can negatively impact you, hurt the future of your children and family – and that is fundamentally wrong. For those who are vulnerable and most in need of our support, utilization of that term ‘choice’ is dangerous.”

Physicians opposed to the law fear that it will be abused. Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, a longtime adviser to President Obama, has studied the experience with legalized assisted death in the Netherlands and found widespread abuse. “The Netherlands studies fail to demonstrate that permitting physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia will not lead to the non-voluntary euthanasia of children, the demented, the mentally ill, the old and others,” Emmanuel wrote in The Atlantic. “Indeed, the persistence of abuse and the violation of safeguards, despite publicity and condemnation, suggest that the feared consequences of legalization are exactly its inherent consequences.”

Closer to home, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a UC Irvine Health psychiatrist whose clinical interests include medical ethics, wrote in the October issue of Southern Medical Journal that overall suicide rates in states where physician-assisted suicide is legal increased by a total of 6.5 percent. In individuals older than 65 years, the rate increased by 14.5 percent.

“You do not discourage suicide by assisting suicide,” Kheriaty wrote, noting that the theory of social phenomena suggests that legalization and the resulting media attention to the practice could inspire clusters of copycat cases in vulnerable populations.

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“This law is corrosive to the practice of medicine,” Kheriaty said in a recent interview. “It permits physicians to do the opposite of what medicine is supposed to do. It’s a form of medical abandonment in response to the cries for help from people suffering from potentially reversible conditions. We are misreading their requests for suicide.”

From his own experiences counseling seriously ill patients, he noted that suicide is often an impulsive and ambivalent act. “Studies show that when we get patients through this difficult period, they are grateful – even if at the time they didn’t want our treatment and assistance.”

Orange County Catholics who want to join in the referendum effort may pick up petitions for signatures at the Diocese of Orange Pastoral Center at 13280 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove. More information is available at the Diocese website, www.rcbo.org. For a complete list of resources on the subject, click here.

 

ASSISTED-SUICIDE BILL ALIVE AGAIN UNDER NEW NAME

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange is calling on all who are opposed to the former SB 128, known as the Assisted-Suicide Bill, to rally once again to help defeat efforts to legalize assisted suicide in the state of California.

SB 128, which would have allowed physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients, was pulled from the Assembly Health Committee in early July after it was clear that not enough votes were behind the bill to pass it in the 19-member committee.

Today, it was announced that supporters of the bill have reintroduced it under a new name: AB X2 15, End of Life.

The Compassion and Choices group, formerly named the Hemlock Society, intend to push AB X2 15 cloaked within a “special session,” a process that is normally reserved for emergency actions, such as disaster recovery funding.

AB X2 15 is identical to the former SB 128 in every way except in its name.

“This is a heavy-handed attempt to force through a bill that could not get any traction at all in committee,” the coalition Californians Against Assisted Suicide said in a statement.

According to the Californians Against Assisted Suicide website: Assisted suicide is opposed by a broad coalition including Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, California Disability Alliance, Association of Northern California Oncologists, Medical Oncology Association of Southern California, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, Alliance of Catholic Healthcare, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, National Council on Independent Living, ADAPT, American Association of People with Disabilities, United African American Action Ministerial Council , The Arc California and dozens of others.

In a message to all opposed to assisted suicide, the Diocese of Orange is requesting a strong show of opposition to the reintroduction of the bill under the name AB X2 15.

Those opposed are urged to do the following:

Contact Your Legislator

To send an email click here .

To get the phone number of your local Senator/Assembly member’s office click here .

 

 

COMPASSION IN PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE ‘HOLLOW’

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — After the California Senate voted to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez called it the wrong response to a “public health crisis.”

“The compassion that doctor-assisted suicide offers is hollow. And this legislation has dangerous implications for our state, especially for the poor and vulnerable,” Archbishop Gomez said.

“There is no denying that in California and nationwide we face a public health crisis in the way we treat patients who are terminally ill and at the end of life,” he added. “But the answer to fear and a broken system is to fix the system and address the fears. It is not to kill the one who is afraid and suffering.”

Archbishop Gomez made his comments in an essay, “Dying with dignity in California,” posted June 9 on the website of the Tidings, Los Angeles’ archdiocesan newspaper.

The state Senate had approved the bill June 4 by a 23-14 vote. The bill was sent to the state Assembly for consideration. A planned June 23 hearing in the Assembly on the bill was postponed the night before; no new date was immediately offered.

“It is a failure of public leadership and moral imagination to respond to human suffering by making it easier for people to kill themselves,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Helping someone to die — even if that person asks for that help — is still killing. And killing is not compassion, it is killing.”

He added, “The debate over doctor-assisted suicide is a distraction that is preventing us from confronting the real issues that we face in public health,” citing Americans’ longer lives and the growing incidence of such age-related illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Under the bill passed by the Senate, doctors will be allowed to prescribe life-ending drugs to those with a terminal illness expected to live less than six months longer.

The bill has a conscience clause permitting individual doctors to refuse a patient’s request to prescribe the drugs. It is believed this clause is what caused the California Medical Association to drop its objections to the bill.

Patients must be assessed by two independent physicians, provide two written and one verbal request for the lethal drugs, and wait 15 days before a doctor writes a prescription.

Disability rights advocates campaigned against the bill, but lawmakers might have been more swayed by the parents and husband of Brittany Maynard, a California woman who, upon learning she had a terminal illness, moved to Oregon last year so she could take advantage of that state’s physician-assisted suicide law.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a position on the bill, but his aides said Brown had talked to Maynard before she died.

One California woman facing a terminal illness is using her remaining days to defeat the bill.

Stephanie Packer, 32, a wife and mother of four, was told in 2012 she had three years to live. She is affected with scleroderma, which is a hardening of the skin and connective tissues. All the scarring caused by the disease has paralyzed her gastrointestinal tract, requiring her now to take all of her nutrients through a tube.

“If everyone had a doctor who cared, no one would even consider ending their own life,” she posted on her website, stephaniesjourney.org. “Patients don’t know how to find that doctor or how to navigate the complicated health care system and they don’t have the tools or information they need. They’re so tired and don’t have the strength to deal with the fight. Instead, they’ll take the assisted suicide option because it’s easier.”

Packer added, “We don’t hand a gun to someone who’s suffering from depression. So we shouldn’t give the dying a handy tool to end their lives. It’s important instead to give terminally ill patients the tools to live. There is beauty in their lives; perhaps more even than before their diagnoses. You see life differently when death is imminent.”

A bill was last introduced in the California Legislature on physician-assisted suicide in 2007, but the bill never came to a vote.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: SB 128, ASSISTED SUICIDE BILL

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‘A BOND OF COMMON CONCERN FOR THE HUMAN PERSON’

ANAHEIM—A group of medical professionals and Catholic clerics, speaking to an audience of nearly 500 at Servite High school, examined in depth one of the most contentious questions currently facing state lawmakers—physician assisted suicide—and called for the defeat of a proposed law that would legalize the practice in California.

The presentations were part of an April 11 conference titled “Dignity and Courage at the End of Life: A Compassionate and Faith-Filled Response to the Push for Assisted Suicide.” The event was a comprehensive response to SB 128, the so-called “End of Life Option Act” that is currently under scrutiny by the State Legislature. The bill would allow California physicians to prescribe lethal drugs on request to patients with terminal illnesses.

Calling the push for the bill’s defeat a “bond of common concern for the human person,” Bishop Kevin Vann called on the audience to be “a voice for the voiceless” in advocating compassionate end-of-life care for those with limited resources or means.

Much of the content of the speakers’ presentations were concerned with debunking misconceptions surrounding such end-of-life issues as pain management, depression and the intrinsic worth and dignity of individuals, as well as illuminating the numerous potential problems—political, social, economic, moral and ethical—raised by the possibility of legal physician-assisted suicide.

Advocating compassionate hospice care, Father Robert Spitzer, S.J., the president of The Magis Institute, said that 90 percent of requests for assisted suicide are reversed “if pain and depression can be adequately treated. And hospice is really very good at it. People don’t want to die [by suicide], and this is what we’ve got to defend.”

Acceptance of assisted suicide, said Father Robert, puts “pressure on the disabled and vulnerable” and moves society “toward a culture of death. This is really a disaster area. Dealing with challenge bravely is a part of our lives.”

Many current approaches to end-of-life issues brand disability or dependence as undesirable, “that if you need assistance there’s something wrong with you,” said Father Robert. “We’re moving toward an indignity of assistance. But there’s nothing wrong with needing people.”

Passage of SB 128, said Father Robert, would initiate a “slippery slope” that would further legitimize the idea of suicide. “What becomes legal becomes socially acceptable and soon becomes moral,” he said. “This is crazy. We will undermine not just the sacredness of life, but the goodness of life. We will become nothing more than the stoic Roman culture that imploded under its own cruelty. This is not just a darkening of the culture, but a darkening of the souls within it.”

The true duty of those caring for terminal patients, according to Catholic teaching, is not to unnecessarily prolong life by artificial means, nor to cut it short by assisted suicide, but to “soothe suffering,” said Father Joseph Nguyen, the lead chaplain at UCI Medical Center. “Palliative care is the proper Christian response to suffering,” he said. “Our first duty is to alleviate pain.”

Noting that suicide is the third leading cause of death for persons in their teens and 20s and the tenth leading cause for adults, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, the director of the Program in Medical Ethics at UCI, asserted that a request for physician-assisted suicide “is almost always a cry for help. It’s not a desire to die. These people don’t want to die. They want to escape what they see as intolerable suffering.” However, he added, SB 128 would weaken efforts at suicide prevention.

Worse, he said, the law would “lead to the medical abandonment of vulnerable individuals” such as the poor, the disabled, the suggestible, the depressed or those pressured by family and others. In some documented cases, he said, insurance companies have shown a willingness to pay for lethal drugs to be used for suicide, but not for more compassionate—and more expensive—end-of-life medical treatment. This practice, he said, “is against medical ethics and contradicts our role as healers. We must communicate to each and every patient: You are not a burden.”

Dr. Vincent Nguyen continued to emphasize the significance of the individual patient in his presentation about the state of palliative care. Nguyen, a palliative care specialist who has treated, by his estimation, more than 20,000 patients over two decades, said that terminally ill patients often fear becoming a burden to their families, suffering a loss of autonomy and being unable to do the things they once enjoyed, in addition to the fear of suffering—real or imagined—that accompanies death. These fears, he added, can create a desire for more control, and assisted suicide can become a more attractive idea as a result.

Palliative care, particularly in a hospice environment, he says, “is about life. It’s about how to help the person live with whatever time they have left and giving them the best life possible.” Physicians practicing palliative care “help patients to discover the meaning and the purpose of life.”

Assisted suicide, said Nguyen, “is fundamentally incompatible and conflicts with the physician’s obligation” to alleviate pain and treat the whole patient in a comprehensive and compassionate manner.

“Do not be afraid,” he said. “We have the technology to help you.”

Watch the entire conference below

 

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MAGGIE’S STORY: LIVING (AND DYING) WITH A TERMINAL ILLNESS

Maggie Karner has terminal cancer. Watching her own father die with dignity has inspired her to do the same, leaving her family with a legacy of respect for life.

Her powerful testimony is thought to have contributed to the state of Connecticut turning away from physician-assisted suicide once again.