Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A close call for the terminally ill in California

The California Legislature has been at it again. Since last May, politicians in my home state have been considering AB 2747, a bill that nearly opened the door for legalizing assisted suicide. Even without this, it still has a little crack through which euthanasia may still slip.

Fortunately, according to the California Catholic Conference, at least the allowances for "Pallative Sedation" have been removed from the bill.

Here is an example of one of those changes. The original paragraph read as follows:

(e) "Palliative sedation" means the administration of sedative medication to the point of unconsciousness in a terminally ill patient. It is an intervention of last resort to reduce severe, refractory pain or other distressing clinical symptoms that do not respond to aggressive, symptom specific palliation. Palliative  sedation is not intended to cause death or shorten life.

This still leaves the possibility that a feeding tube or other treatment would be withdrawn once the patient is sedated, leaving the patient vulnerable to the same kind of starvation/dehydration death Terri Schiavo endured.

The language was changed to keep euthanasia more clearly out of the picture.

(e) "Palliative care" means medical treatment, interdisciplinary care, or consultation provided to a patient or family members, or both, that has as its primary purpose the prevention of, or relief from, suffering and the enhancement of the quality of life, rather than treatment aimed at investigation and intervention for the purpose of cure or prolongation of life as described in subdivision (b) of Section 1339.31.

Also removed is the paragraph defining refusal of food and water (as opposed to nutrition provided through a feeding tube) as an "option" for a patient who wishes to "alleviate his or her suffering".

According to the California Catholic Conference, The bill, as currently amended,  is more limited to requiring doctors to provide information on currently legal options in end-of life care.

One aspect of this that concerns me still is the fact that it still leaves room for the patient to hasten his or her death by refusing artificial nutrition. 

Public outcry from organizations such as the California Catholic Conference and Californians Against Asisted suicide led to the acceptance of the amendments.

The original bill, including the pernicious sections that have been excised and amended, was co-authored by Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine, both Democrats.

Looks like pro-life California residents--especially those in the health care professions--still need to keep a close eye on their legislators.

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