Entries in Assisted Suicide (8)


Advocates for Assisted Dying Deflated by Massachusetts Defeat

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More than 1.5 million Massachusetts voters said "no" to a ballot measure last week that would have allowed doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill, clinching a 51 percent majority.

Jim Carberry might have been one of them, had he not watched his cancer-stricken wife starve herself to death.

Margie Carberry had four surgeries and 44 doses of radiation for a rare spinal tumor before doctors said "there was nothing more they could do."

"By that point, she was just existing," said Jim Carberry of Natick, Mass., recalling the 16-year cancer battle that left his wife unable to walk, talk, eat and even breathe on her own.  "She started seeing the palliative care team at Mass General, as well as a social worker and her minister.  And she told them all on numerous occasions that after our youngest daughter's graduation, she wanted to die."

Margie made it to the graduation ceremony, a milestone she imagined at the time of her diagnosis when her daughters were 2 and 5 years old.  A week later, she decided to die by removing her feeding tube.

"She exercised the only option she had," said Jim of the agonizing process that spanned five weeks in the summer of 2011.  "It was horrendous watching her waste away, having my children watch her waste away.  I decided that if there was anything I could do to help another family avoid this, I would do it."

Jim became a voice for Death With Dignity, a national campaign to let doctors prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients.  Assisted dying laws have already been passed in Oregon and Washington.  And on Nov. 6, the issue was on the Massachusetts ballot as "Question 2."  The measure was met with fierce opposition by religious, medical and disability rights groups.

"I honestly thought we would win," said Jim, who was devastated by the narrow defeat.  "The fact that we lost by such a close margin, and the fact that the other side was funded by some outside groups who really didn't have a dog in this fight, I won't lie, I'm really angry."

One of the groups, the Committee Against Assisted Suicide, argued Question 2 was "poorly written, confusing and flawed," opening the door for depressed patients to take their lives before getting mental health counseling or seeking hospice care.

Assisted dying advocates argue data from Oregon, where the Death With Dignity Act was passed in 1994, refutes concerns about safeguards, and they plan to push for the ballot measure again in 2014.

"The foundation for support has been built, and we'll keep working to make sure voters in Massachusetts and other states get the facts they need for an open and honest debate about Death with Dignity," Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Death With Dignity National Center, said in a statement.

Jim Carberry admits his position on Question 2 was undoubtedly influenced by his personal experience, which he did his best to share in advance of the vote.

"If someone could watch what my family went through all the way to the end and say, 'That's how I want my loved one to pass away,' then there's nothing I can do," he said.  "But anyone who has an iota of compassion in the heart, I can't see them saying that."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Man Dies After Losing Fight for Assisted Suicide

Comstock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- A paralyzed man who fought to overturn Britain's ban on assisted suicide died today from pneumonia less than a week after losing his controversial court case.

Tony Nicklinson had locked-in syndrome after suffering a stroke in 2005. Trapped inside a paralyzed body and forced to communicate by blinking his eyes, the 58-year-old man asked three of Britain's High Court judges to grant him the right to end his "dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable" life with a doctor-administered lethal injection.

"I thought that if the court saw me as I am, utterly miserable with my life, powerless to do anything about it because of my disability, then the judges would accept my reasoning that I do not want to carry on and should be able to have a dignified death," the former corporate manager from Wiltshire said in a statement issued by his lawyer.

But on Aug. 16, the court upheld the law barring Nicklinson from dying with a doctor's help.

"It is not for the court to decide whether the law about assisted dying should be changed and, if so, what safeguards should be put in place," Lord Justice Roger Toulson said in his ruling. "Under our system of government, these are matters for parliament to decide, representing society as a whole, after parliamentary scrutiny, and not for the court on the facts of an individual case or cases."

A spokesman for British anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing applauded the ruling, saying, "it confirms the simple truth that the current law exists to protect those without a voice: the disabled, terminally ill and elderly, who might otherwise feel pressured into ending their lives."

For Nicklinson, the decision was devastating.

"I am saddened that the law wants to condemn me to a life of increasing indignity and misery," he said in a statement.

Nicklinson planned to appeal the court ruling, but his health quickly deteriorated. He "died peacefully this morning of natural causes," according to a tweet posted by his wife, Jane, and daughters Lauren and Beth.

"Before he died, he asked us to tweet: 'Goodbye world, the time has come, I had some fun.' Thank you for your support over the years. We would appreciate some privacy at this difficult time. Love, Jane, Lauren and Beth," they wrote.

Jane Nicklinson added, "I have lost the love of my life but he suffers no more."

In the United States, assisted dying is legal in Oregon, Washington and Montana.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Physician-Assisted Dying: Experts Debate Doctor's Role

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Peggy Sutherland was ready to die.  The morphine oozing from a pump in her spine was no match for the pain of lung cancer, which had evaded treatment and invaded her ribs.

"She needed so much morphine it would have rendered her basically unconscious," said Sutherland's daughter, Julie McMurchie, who lives in Portland, Ore.  "She was just kind of done."

Sutherland, 68, decided to use Oregon's "Death With Dignity Act," which allows terminally-ill residents to end their lives after a 15-day requisite waiting period by self-administering a lethal prescription drug.

"Her doctor wrote the prescription and met my husband and me at the pharmacy on the 15th day," said McMurchie, recalling how her mother "didn't want to wait."  "Then he came back to the house, and he stayed with us until her heart stopped beating."

But not all doctors are on board with the law.  In the 15 years since Oregon legalized physician-assisted dying, only Washington and Montana have followed suit, a resistance some experts blame on the medical community.

"I think it has to do with the role of physicians in the process," said Dr. Lisa Lehmann, director of the Center for Bioethics at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.  "Prescribing a lethal medication with the explicit intent of ending life is really at odds with the role of a physician as a healer."

More than two-thirds of American doctors object to physician-assisted suicide, according to a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care.  And in an editorial published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, Lehmann argues that removing doctors from assisted dying could make it more available to patients.

"I believe patients should have control over the timing of death if they desire.  And I suggest rethinking the role of physicians in the process so we can respect patient choices without doing something at odds with the integrity of physicians," she said.

Instead of prescribing the life-ending medication, physicians should only be responsible for diagnosing patients as terminally ill, Lehmann said.  Terminally ill patients should then be able to pick up the medication from a state-approved center, similar to medical marijuana dispensaries.

But assisted dying advocates say doctors should be involved in the dying.

"Patients deserve to have their physician accompany them there and not walk away," said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of the Denver nonprofit Compassion and Choices.

Coombs Lee, a nurse-turned-lawyer and chief petitioner for the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, said decisions about death should be no different than other treatment decisions.

"Physicians don't walk away from patients who make other intentional decisions to advance death, such as refusing a ventilator or a pacemaker," she said.  "Why walk away from a terminally ill patient requesting life-ending medication?"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


California Woman Charged with Helping Healthy Man Commit Suicide

ABC News(LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif.) -- A California woman is charged with illegally assisting a healthy 86-year-old World War II veteran commit suicide by giving him yogurt mixed with a lethal dose of Oxycontin, according to investigators.

Jack Koency, of Laguna Niguel, Calif., was found dead in his bedroom last September.  He was not terminally ill, bedridden, or immobile at the time of his death, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh.

Police said the "scene was suspicious" and continued their investigation until they recently discovered a motion-activated camera in Koency's home, which recorded Koency's friend Elizabeth Barrett allegedly mixing the lethal concoction.

Barrett, 66, of Laguna Woods, was arrested Wednesday and charged with one count of assisted suicide.  She faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison if convicted.

"The thing that is different about this case is that most people, when they think about suicide, think of somebody who is terminally ill or who has zero or close to zero standard of living," Baytieh said.  "Here we have a man who went to the funeral home, was able to sign paperwork, and went to the bank.  He is not somebody who was continuously in pain."

On Sept. 30, Barrett allegedly drove Koency to the Neptune Society so he could make his own funeral arrangements, according to Baytieh.  She then allegedly went to the store to buy yogurt, a bottle of brandy and over-the-counter heartburn medicine.  Heartburn medication is used to prevent acid reflux, which is common when a person takes a large dosage of medication or pills, according to a release by the police.

She is accused of then driving Koency to his apartment and giving him yogurt mixed with a lethal dose of Oxycontin.  Koency then went into his bedroom, laid down and died, the prosecutor said.

"It appears throughout our investigation that he wanted to die and she assisted him," Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, told ABC News.  The motive for Barrett to help Koency is unknown at this time, said Amormino.

Barrett allegedly removed Koency's WW II medals from his wall and put them in her car before calling police.  There is no evidence at this time that Barrett took any other possessions, Amormino said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Father of Oregon Suicide Law Takes Own Life

Compassion & Choices(NEW YORK) -- One of the first physicians to voice support for Oregon’s controversial assisted-suicide legislation in the early 1990s has used the state’s Death with Dignity Act to end his own life.

Dr. Peter Goodwin died March 11 after taking lethal medication. He was 82 and suffered from a fatal brain disease.

Goodwin was surrounded by his four children and their spouses, according to the advocacy group Compassion & Choices, which announced his death. The medication — a fast-acting barbituate — gave Goodwin a “peaceful death” in less than 30 minutes, they said.

“It was a good death and the family appreciated that,” organization spokesman Steve Hopcraft told ABC News. “Peter was unique.”

Hopcraft said the family was “grieving” and not yet giving interviews.

In 2006, Goodwin had been diagnosed with a rare and fatal brain disease known as corticobasal degeneration, which can affect balance, muscle control and speech, as well as cognition. By January, his doctors estimated he had six months to live.

Last year, he had talked about how he wanted to find the right time to end his own life, according to the Oregonian. “I don’t want to die,” he said then. “No way do I want to die. I enjoy life; I enjoy company; I enjoy my friends. I have many, many, many friends.”

Under the Oregon law, doctors can prescribe medication to hasten the death of a terminally ill patient with a six-month prognosis. The patients must be mentally competent and administer the medication themselves.

More than 500 people have used the Oregon law to end their lives. The initiative — the first in the country — has survived a Supreme Court challenge. Physician-assisted death is also legal in Washington State.

Born in London and raised in South Africa, Goodwin practiced as a family physician in Oregon and Washington for five decades.  In the fight to pass Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act in the early 1990s, he was widely credited for neutralizing the Oregon Medical Association, which could have seen the measure fail at the ballot.

Goodwin has said he first became interested in the cause 20 years ago when a patient asked for his help. The patient had a fatal spinal tumor and was in severe pain. The patient’s wife asked Goodwin if she could administer a prescription, but he ultimately refused, telling her it was against the law.

He retold the story to the Oregon legislature, saying his inability to act when the man was in such pain made Goodwin feel like a coward, according to the Oregonian.

“We cannot deal compassionately with people if we limit their options,” he reportedly said.

Goodwin later served as the first medical director of Compassion & Choices, which continues to fight for “death with dignity” efforts in states like Massachusetts and Hawaii.

“I was honored to call Peter Goodwin a compatriot and a friend,” said its president Barbara Coombs Lee. “Our hearts are broken at this loss. The state of Oregon, medicine and the world have lost a great leader. Most of all, our sympathies are with  his family, whom he dearly loved.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Assisted Suicide Debate Revived in the U.K.

AbleStock/Hemera(LONDON) -- A new report from the U.K.’s Commission on Assisted Dying has reignited the debate over assisted suicide in Great Britain.

The 400-page report, written by doctors, lawyers and a former police commissioner, called for legalizing assisted suicide in England and Wales, and outlined a set of safeguards to ensure a new law would not be abused.

“There should be a change for a tightly defined group of people who are terminally ill, of sound mind and not being pressured into a decision,” said commission member  Barbara Young.

Assisted suicide would only be allowed for people over the age of 18 who have 12 months or less to live and who are deemed mentally competent.  Dementia patients and those with locked-in syndrome -- a rare neurological disorder marked by complete paralysis except for eye movement -- would not be eligible. Assisted suicide would require the approval of two doctors and observance of a two-week waiting period after the decision was made.

Young said there was broad support for legalizing assisted suicide in England and Wales.  “About 80 percent of the public says they approve of assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill,” said Young, and those who wish to die, “should be given support in ending their life because they are in intolerable pain and suffering.”

The year-long study drew on evidence from 1,300 sources, but its funding has caused some controversy. Commissioned by the right-to-die group Dignity in Dying, the report’s funding came exclusively from well-known supporters of assisted suicide, such as best-selling author Terry Pratchett, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and businessman Bernard Lewis.

Critics of legalizing assisted suicide have cried foul, saying the report is biased and flawed.

The British Medical Association did not cooperate with the study and said it believed most doctors did not want to legalize assisted suicide.  A government spokesperson said there were no plans to change the law.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Oregon Senate Votes to Ban Suicide Kits

A helium hood like those sold by Sharlotte Hydorn is shown in this photo from the Journal of Medical Ethics. (Journal of Medical Ethics)(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- Oregon senators have unanimously voted in favor of passing a bill that would ban the sale or marketing of suicide kits. The vote came in response to a 29-year-old Oregonian named Nick Klonoski who used a suicide kit to end his life in December. Klonoski ordered the simple kit, which contained a hood and tube, through the mail.

"After learning of a young man who took his life using a helium hood he bought, it became obvious that there were no checks and balances of marketing suicide kits," said State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, who sponsored the bill. "Minors had access to the kits through the Internet, and I personally don't believe we need to be marketing an object like a suicide kit."

Prozanski said that he supports assisted suicide for those who are terminally ill and have been counseled on ending their life, but not for young people who are depressed but otherwise physically healthy.

The Daily Beast reported that Klonoski was not terminally ill, and would not have qualified for lethal prescriptions available to eligible Oregon residents under the Death with Dignity Act. Oregon is one of three other states in which assisted suicide is legal.

When Klonoski received his suicide package in the mail, it might have been anything: a simple white box decorated with a butterfly. But inside were the simple tools he would use to end his life. And even after Klonoski reportedly used one of Sharlotte Hydorn's homemade suicide kits to end his life in December, the 91-year-old entrepreneur said she makes no apologies for his death.

"I cannot take all the sadness of the world on my shoulders," said Hydorn from her home in La Mesa, Calif. "I feel so sorry for the mama, but I'm not at fault. That's his choice, not my choice."

While Hydorn believes she's "making the world better" by selling the kits to people who want to end their life, she took the news of the Oregon bill in stride.

"If I never sell anymore kits there, that's fine," said Hydorn. "Oregon is Oregon, and they can do as they please.

Hydorn said the homemade kits, which she has been selling for four years, are intended to assist the death of those who are terminally or in severe chronic pain. But anyone can request the $60 kit, and she does not screen her clients before sending out the device.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sharlotte Hydorn, 91, Sells Suicide Kits, No Questions Asked

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(LA MESA, Calif.) -- The package in the mail might have been anything: a simple white box decorated with a butterfly. But inside were the simple tools 29-year-old Nicholas Klonoski used to end his life, according to the Daily Beast.

But even after Klonoski reportedly used one of Sharlotte Hydorn's homemade suicide kits to end his life in December, the 91-year-old entrepreneur said she makes no apologies for his death.

"I cannot take all the sadness of the world on my shoulders," said Hydorn from her home in La Mesa, Calif. "I feel so sorry for the mama, but I'm not at fault. That's his choice, not my choice."

Hydorn said the homemade kits, which she has been selling for four years, are intended to assist the death of those who are terminally ill or in severe chronic pain. But anyone can request the $60 kit, and she does not screen her clients before sending out the device.

Business doubled after Klonoski's death made headlines, according to Hydorn, and she plans on continuing to grow her small company.

Hydorn first became interested in assisted suicide after watching metastatic colon cancer take over her husband's body in 1977. He died in the hospital, instead of at home, where Hydorn said he belonged.

"It's always been in my mind that people should have the right to die at home with a family around them, not in a strange place surrounded by strangers," she said.

But the Daily Beast reported that Klonoski was not terminally ill, and would not have qualified for lethal prescriptions eligible to Oregon residents under the Death with Dignity Act. Oregon is only one of three other states in which assisted suicide is legal.

Hydorn was sure to look into the legal side of things before starting her mail-order business, by making sure that she would not be implicated in any potential legal woes.

"The attorney told me, 'You're just the bag lady,'" she said. "So long as I'm not present when death occurs, and I'm not telling them to shut up and pull the bag down already, I am not accountable."

Three years after her husband's death, Hydorn met Derek Humphry, author of Final Exit and founder of the right-to-die organization the Hemlock Society. Hydorn believed in Humphry's mission and began to volunteer, and ultimately became a board member, for the organization.

But even if a person believes assisted suicide is ethical, Dr. Ken Robbins, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and director of psychiatry at Stoughton Hospital, said it is essential for a clinician to thoroughly screen patients to be sure they are not suicidal because of depression.

"You have to make sure they don't want to end their life because they are depressed because depression is treatable," said Robbins. "If the person goes through a good evaluation with a clinician, it's not that hard to decipher."

Hydorn said people call or write to her to request a kit, which includes a customized plastic bag and a tube intended to be connected to a tank of inert gas. Oftentimes customers provide little detail of their intentions. They usually tell her their name, the number of desired kits and the address where they'd like the kit to be sent. They enclose a check for the appropriate amount and sometimes include extra postage if they want the package delivered overnight or sent internationally. Hydorn said she has received requests for kits from all over the world.

Hydorn also said that the Daily Beast insinuated that, along with her kit, she sends the recipient a copy of Final Exit, the how-to handbook for terminally ill people who wish to end their lives, written by Humphry. Hydorn said she does not sell the book, but Humphry told her that Klonoski had bought the book more than a year before he ended his life. Hydorn said many of her clients are referred by Humphry.

Dr. Eric Hollander, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said it is critical that individuals with psychiatric disorders resist acting on suicidal thoughts or impulses by helping them view their situation in a more realistic perspective.

"The problem is that with increased access to such a device to terminate life, some individuals might be enabled to act on a whim or impulse to kill themselves, whereas if this was not readily available, patients might obtain help for their underlying mental disorder, or view their situation from alternative or more realistic perspectives," said Hollander.

But Hydorn doesn't see it that way, and the grandmother wipes her hands free of repercussions after her kit is sent out.

The Daily Beast reported that Hydorn makes $98,000 per year through her company, but she said that fact is wrong. Either way, Hydorn said she is not in it for the money.

"I get emotional satisfaction out of being able to help people," she said. "My motivation is to help people. If they misunderstand that, then so be it, but I'm not at fault for other people's choices."

If you or someone you know has contemplated suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio