Michigan Hospice Organization Expresses Concern Over Physician-Assisted Suicide Ballot Proposal

LANSING, Mich., May 27 /PRNewswire/ -- The Michigan Hospice Organization (MHO) learned today that a group known as Merian's Friends had delivered the required volume of signatures to the Secretary of State's Office in Lansing, to place their proposal for physician-assisted suicide on the November ballot. Speaking as the voice of the state's hospice community, the MHO announce that the potential for physician-assisted suicide to become an election-year issue is of deep concern to all hospice programs in Michigan.

Hospice professionals and caregivers have given the issue of physician-assisted suicide much thought and consideration over the past several years, and adopted an organizational position on the issue as early as February of 1992. Last year, when the debate increased in intensity, the MHO not only reaffirmed its earlier position, but strengthened it. The Organization's Resolution clearly states, "That assisted suicide is not a component of hospice are; ..." and "That the Michigan Hospice Organization does not support the legalization of voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide in the care of the terminally ill." Hospice workers, likely more than any other group of care providers, deal with the desperation that many individuals feel when they accept the fact that their illness is likely to be the cause of their death. In that process, hospice staff deal not only with the physical pain of the illness, but also the emotional pain of facing leaving one's family, the social pain of enduring what may be considered indignities, and the spiritual pain associated with one's cultural and personal beliefs about life after death. Through an interdisciplinary approach that is unique to hospice care, patients who elect hospice receive treatment for all their concerns. Hospice care givers have discovered three central reasons a terminally ill person may want to discuss suicide.

One is a fear of uncontrolled pain. Another is fear of abandonment, of being left alone to die and feeling there is no one to care. The third is concern over financial pressures that may leave a family devastated by the last illness. Hospice addresses these concerns as quickly in the disease process as is possible, and hospice workers everywhere will tell the public that when these issues are under control, the desire to end one's life becomes a non-issue. Hospice workers dedicate their professional and often their personal lives to successfully resolving those issues. The hospice community is very concerned that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide will provide an option that will prevent people with a serious illness from seeking proper help, and from discovering the goodness of life that can be found, even while dying.

The MHO is also concerned that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide will cause the ill elderly to begin to feel an obligation to die, when they consider themselves no longer productive to society. Providing a legal option to end one's life as soon as an illness becomes terminal will certainty put heavy pressure on older citizens, who must rely on others for their care. And if that option were chosen, what a loss to their children and grandchildren!

The ballot proposal establishes the physician as the legal "assister". We are aware of many, many physicians -- thousands in Michigan -- who do not wish to be named as the source of assistance if such a proposal should become law. Physicians who do not want this task state that it is incompatible to the physician's role as a healer to place this duty on their shoulders. Hospice physicians throughout Michigan work daily to relieve pain and to help the hospice team manage the dying process, so that patients do not have to think about ending their lives early. The election of hospice care by Michigan citizens who are terminally ill has increased every year since hospice became a state-funded program, in 1984. This has happened because of the remarkable care that hospice offers to patients and their families. To encourage an early end to one's life by creating a law that would legalize assisted suicide is to take a giant stop backward regarding the care of the terminally ill in Michigan.

There are many other concerns related to the petition that would legalize assisted suicide, all of which will be addressed over the next several months by the MHO and other organized groups of providers and citizen advocates. There are sections of the petition, that when thought through, would alarm most people. We and others will address those issues if the signatures submitted are found adequate to place the issue on the November ballot. In the meantime, we would encourage all citizens who would like more information on this very complicated issue to contact the MHO office or the executive director of their local hospice to learn more about the problems with the ballot proposal.

Dame Cicely Saunders provided the philosophy that still permeates hospice today "... we will do all that we can ... to help you live until you die." There is no room for assisted suicide in that statement.

SOURCE Michigan Hospice Organization

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