Health Policy Topic
Legalizing Death with Dignity in the state of Arizona
Background and Significance of the Death with Dignity Act
The Death with Dignity movement made national headlines in 2014 when Brittany Maynard, a young woman with terminal brain cancer, chose to end her life with the assistance of a physician (through prescribed medications) on November 1, 2014. Brittany moved and established residency in the state of Oregon, which was the first state to pass the Death with Dignity Act in 1997. To date, their are four other states where patient-directed dying (PDD), also known as physician-assisted dying, is occurring either by mandated state laws (e.g., Vermont and Washington) or court rulings (e.g., Montana; and one county in New Mexico) (CNN.com, 2014); sparking the national debate of should terminally ill patients, deemed mentally competent, be allowed the choice to end their own life? Proponents for PDD, like the Death with Dignity National Center, want to proliferate the movement for people facing terminal illnesses to have control and options when facing end-of-life decisions, including PDD (Death with Dignity National Center, 2015). Some interesting statistics since the inception of these mandated laws or court rulings include:
- In Oregon, there have been 1,173 physician prescriptions written; and 752 deaths since 1997 (Oregon Health Authority, 2014).
- In Washington, there have been 549 prescriptions written; and 529 deaths since 2009 (Washington State Department of Health, 2014).
- In Vermont, there has been no deaths reported since the passing of the doctor-prescribed suicide bill in 2013 (CNN, 2014)
For those patients diagnosed with terminal illnesses in states with no Death with Dignity laws, it can be a frustrating journey. Most are dealing with painful and debilitating disease processes like cancer or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This is the case in the state of Arizona (AZ) where an Aid in Dying Bill (HB 2572) was proposed in 2007; and continues to remain in the Health, Judiciary, and Rules Committees (Life Issues Institute, Inc., 2014). In 2005, an AZ Opinion Poll conducted by the local new channels, KAET-TV/Channel 8 and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (ASU), telephoned 442 voters inquiring about a physician-assisted suicide law for people with terminal illnesses. The results revealed 53% of those polled were in support of a law being passed (Compassion & Choices AZ, 2005).
Establishing Death with Dignity laws can potentially do the following:
- Lower healthcare costs for those with terminal illnesses. Studies show 1 in 4 Medicare dollars, over 125 billion dollars, are spent on care at end of life (Time, 2014)
- Mandate safe and effective means over ending a person’s life. Stopping potential suicide attempts that are horrific and traumatic for all involved.
Significance to Me
My name is Leslie Moses-Grubenhoff; and I have been a registered nurse (RN) for the past 10 years. Currently, I am a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student at Arizona State University (ASU) concentrating in adult and geriatric primary care.
Working for a non-profit hospice in Phoenix, AZ for the last 9 years, I have encountered patients who have inquired or requested assistance with dying. Many had lost their abilities to feed, bathe, or toilet themselves; and all had lost their overall quality of life. They assumed being admitted to a hospice program would hasten the dying process due to the morphine the agency could provide. Clarification and education on what a hospice does never includes providing medications to end a person’s life. Comfort medications, like morphine, are only utilized for symptom management for issues such as pain and/or shortness of breath. This left some patients feeling hopeless because they were ready to die; and wanted control in when this would happen. One story that I will always remember is an admissions call I received for a man who attempted suicide with a helium tank and a paper bag, but failed. This man was suffering from terminal cancer; and had unrelieved pain. He told me he got all his affairs in order; said his goodbyes to his family and friends; and distributed out all his life savings only to receive an empty helium tank for a botched suicide attempt. He was angry and frustrated that the state of Arizona did not have laws in place to help him die with dignity.
Please watch the video below of an elderly man who shot his wife of more than 40 years as a “mercy killing.”
Looking forward to the upcoming weeks to discuss this topic further. See you in Week Two!
CNN (2014). Physician-assisted suicide fast facts. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/26/us/physician-assisted-suicide-fast-facts/
Compassion & Choices (2014, October 29). A new video for my friends. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lHXH0Zb2QI
Compassion & Choices AZ (2005). Arizona opinion polls. Retrieved from http://www.choicesarizona.org/azpoll2.htm
Death with Dignity Center (2015). About us. Retrieved from http://www.deathwithdignity.org/aboutus
Fox 10 News (2013, November 13). Man shoots elderly wife in ‘mercy killing.’ Retrieved from man shoots elderly wife in alleged ‘mercy killing’ – FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com
Life Issues Institute (2014). Current attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.lifeissues.org/euthanasia/current_attempts.htm
Time (2014). Cutting the high cost of end-of-life care. Retrieved from http://time.com/money/2793643/cutting-the-high-cost-of-end-of-life-care/