On November 2, terminally ill cancer patient, Brittany Maynard legally took her own life with a lethal dose of phenobarbital. She partnered with the organization, “Compassion and Choices,” which advocates for physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill.
However, I wonder if Brittany knew that the same organization that showed her so much “compassion” helps people kill themselves through dehydration and starvation. The practice, known as VSED (Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking), requires a ten day fast without food or water. The organization’s former employee, Judith Schwarz, opened up to The Daily Beast about her work with VSED.
“Several years ago, a 99-year-old woman called Judith Schwarz to her Manhattan apartment. The woman had shingles and severe arthritis, and her eyesight and hearing were diminishing. She could no longer go to the orchestra; she was confined to a wheelchair. She hoped Schwarz could give her a pill to end her life.
Schwarz is a veteran nurse specializing in end-of-life care. She explained to the woman that lethal drugs are illegal in New York, but she gently suggested an alternative: The woman could stop eating and drinking until she fell into a coma.
“That’s when she shut me down,” Schwarz recalls. “She said, ‘Absolutely not—that’s not what I’m interested in.” It sounded too painful, too slow.
Two weeks later, the woman called again. Her doctor had confirmed that her eyesight would never improve. She wanted more than ever just to die.
Schwarz arranged a conference with the family. She said the process shouldn’t take more than two weeks and likely wouldn’t involve much pain. They could always call off the fast if the woman changed her mind.
So the family threw her a 100th birthday party, then she entered her swift decline. Schwarz checked in with the woman’s daughter every day during the final stretch. The woman died peacefully, at home, surrounded by relatives. “It was the kind of death that people want,” Schwarz said.
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Schwarz, who is 70, estimates that she’s guided more than 100 patients through similar life-ending fasts. (Emphasis added)”
There are so many problem with Schwarz’s ideology; but for starters, it’s important to emphasize that Schwarz patients are not terminal. They are not dying and could have years left to live. This proves that the claim that “Compassion and Choices” only works with people who have 6-months to live is blatantly false; and assisted suicide is not used as a “last resort” as many argue.
Secondly, death by dehydration and starvation is in no way, shape, or form a painless death. Take, for example, how Bobby Schinder, the brother of Terri Schiavo, described his sister’s condition in her final days after her feeding tube was removed.
He said, “I watched my own sister, Terri Schiavo, anguish through almost two weeks without food or water and there are no words that can properly describe the inhumanity. In her last days, we would not permit our mother to visit Terri, in an effort to spare her additional torment, as blood pooled in Terri’s eyes, and her skin and lips were terribly cracked because her tissues were lacking any moisture. Terri’s body turned different colors of blue and yellow and her breathing became so rapid, it was as if she was outside sprinting. I could go on.”
Dr. David Stevens, the president of the Christian Medical Association, also explains the inhumane process of death by starvation and dehydration. Stevens said, “I have seen hundreds if not thousands of patients with dehydration and some of them so far gone, that despite resuscitation attempts, they died. As dehydration begins, there is extreme thirst, dry mouth and thick saliva. The patient becomes dizzy, faint and unable to stand or sit; has severe cramping in the arms and legs as the sodium and potassium concentrations in the body goes up as fluids go down. In misery, the patient tries to cry but there are no tears. The patient experiences severe abdominal cramps, nausea and dry-heaving as the stomach and intestines dry out.”
He concluded by saying that patients who die from starvation and dehydration have cracking skin and lips and their tongue swells. As mucous membranes dry out and break down, patients suffer from severe nose bleeds. Does that sound like a “peaceful way to go” as Schwarz claims?
Finally, Schwarz argues that she is confident that the patients she works with are not suicidal. She said, “There’s no choice about dying. These people aren’t choosing to die.”
However, is one person’s word, one person’s medical opinion enough to convince all of society that this is acceptable?
Consider these questions: How can she know that these patients weren’t coerced to kill themselves by family members (reasons for coercion could be the patient has money or is a “burden” for the family)? How can she be 100% certain that these people are not depressed or suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness? The answer is simple; she can’t. There is no way she can be certain of such matters, which why it is too dangerous of a practice to mess with. Of course there are moral and religious objections to this as well; but even if we put those aside, VSED and all forms of assisted suicide opens Pandora’s Box to a multitude of problems.
During Schwarz’s time with Compassion & Choices, she trained counselors along the East Coast and worked with patients directly. Two years ago she stepped down from her position but still works with patients on a private basis. In other words, she still helps people kill themselves and has taught others to do the same. How frightening!