Palliative Care Nurse Slams Assisted Suicide: We’re Supposed to Heal Patients Not Kill Them

International   |   Brad Mattes   |   Oct 25, 2017   |   10:16AM   |   Washington, DC

The issue of euthanasia/assisted suicide is hotly debated across America and around the world.

Its advocates oversell what it delivers under report its occurrences and complications and under-estimate its impact on those involved.

When the topic of euthanasia/assisted suicide comes up, typically our thoughts turn to the patient and the physician administering the lethal medication. Seldom have we stopped to consider how the process and procedure, plus its aftermath will affect the nurses involved.

Today, you’ll hear from a representative of those who would be intimately involved in the euthanasia process, but whose point-of-view is hardly considered.

Dr. Annmarie Hosie was a palliative care nurse for 30 years and is now a researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. She knows the dying process inside and out, backwards and forwards.

She spoke at a seminar on palliative care and assisted dying, sharing her concerns on how euthanasia will impact nursing, both personally and professionally. Her remarks were thoroughly documented with citations.

Euthanasia or assisted suicide, however you choose to describe it, is defined as any action or inaction with the intent to cause the death of a patient.

Healthcare is defined as providing the best health possible in the form of healing through cures, caring and comforting. A palliative nurse’s chief priority is to alleviate suffering, but not at the expense of his or her healthcare priorities.

Having been on the receiving end of nursing care multiple times, I can tell you without reservation that nurses are intimately involved in the healing process. They are a patient’s lifeline, regardless of the degree of illness or injury.

The last thing we need is anything that will negatively affect the patient-nurse relationship.

Euthanasia, says Annmarie, blurs the line between healing or comfort care and killing; and it creates confusion regarding fundamental ethics in healthcare. Palliative care follows the natural process of dying. In sharp contrast, there’s nothing natural about euthanasia. It intentionally kills.

What would a nurse do if she found a patient in serious physical distress after lethal medication had been taken or administered? Medical ethics call for intervention for the good of the patient. Would she be punished for doing her job?

One of the key parameters of assisted suicide is requiring patients be terminally ill, in which case they will likely be receiving palliative care. How can a nurse effectively care for patients with palliative care when it and euthanasia are diametrically opposed to each other? What about protecting nurses who ethically object to taking part in the euthanasia process?

A Belgium study of nurses and physicians exposed blurred boundaries between legitimate healthcare and euthanasia. There is the danger of easily transitioning — intentionally or otherwise — from ethical palliative care to deliberately killing the patient.

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A nurse in the study provided an example. “Sedation was frequently started with the understanding if the patient is still here tomorrow, then we will double [the dose]. That was commonplace.”

A study of nurses’ attitudes regarding euthanasia revealed conflicting emotions and a sense of vulnerability. In addition, there was a feeling that their opinions were being overlooked. Burdening nurses who already have demanding jobs exposes them to increased burnout and nurses leaving the profession.

Many euthanasia advocates oversell the process of dying as totally peaceful and serene. Annmarie doesn’t believe that the drugs facilitate a peaceful or gentle death and she doubts their techniques will become more refined in the future.

What are often overlooked are the unexpected positives that can come from the natural dying process. Goodbyes can be said; fissures in families repaired and last-minute memories created to sustain grieving family and friends left behind.

During her 30 years of nursing, Annmarie Hosie never had a patient request physician-assisted suicide. Her advice is that “we will continue to aim high and strive always for merciful nursing and healthcare, and a merciful society.”

Vulnerable human life can benefit from these experienced words of wisdom.

Take advantage of our free resources to protect you and your family from euthanasia. Note: Bradley Mattes is the President of Life Issues Institute, a national pro-life educational group.