Hospice nurses: mercy killers or predators?

Recently the controversial issue of euthanasia was tossed around in the news media due to the living will clause in the health care reform bill.  Democrats wanted health insurance to cover any patient who wished to have an “end-of-life consultation” with his/her physician, deciding ahead of time what to do if the patient’s condition was past hope and the patient no longer able to communicate his/her desires.

Critics of the bill distorted the issue, claiming that the clause would allow doctors to kill at their own discretion.  A ridiculous misrepresentation of the issue, it was eventually shown to be just that.  But what’s strange is that the issue of euthanasia itself was sidestepped. It was simply too volatile to take up amidst the already volatile issue of affordable health insurance, and most proponents of the “right to decide” wisely kept silent.

The “end-of-life consultation” clause would undoubtedly save money for insurance companies, but I have no desire to further that cause.  I think insurance companies are no longer useful for they no longer insure people against economic hardship. They get the money up front, rather like the way Mafia bosses collect protection money.  I think people ought pay doctors and hospitals a yearly membership and let the insurance companies disappear. But I digress.

The point I want to make is about how the illegality of euthanasia opens up family members to abuse from hospice workers.  Somewhere around 95% of hospice workers are asked, at some point in their careers, to assist with a suicide.  Hospice workers often have little medical training, indeed little professional training. They are not well paid, which means that many hospice workers have chosen their careers out of a pure and honest desire to be a comfort to those who need it during their last days.  Others, however, are just in it for the little money and they don’t have many other options.  It is this latter kind of hospice worker that presents a serious problem.  He or she often lives in the home with the bereaved family as the patient slips further and further away. In this situation the family members can become very vulnerable to someone looking to make some money by offering to assist in an illegal matter.  I don’t have to describe the kinds of abuses that are possible here. You can imagine.  My novel Naked Singularity describes one possible scenario if you have trouble imagining.

I do think euthanasia should be legal in all states so that such abuses can be avoided.  This is not to say that I think euthanasia is the best solution to all those who wish it.  But if the families were allowed to discuss the issue openly it might save a lot of indecision, confusion and heartbreak.

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5 thoughts on “Hospice nurses: mercy killers or predators?

  1. Leah

    Has no one commented on this intense issue?
    I feel very passionate about euthanasia and assisted suicide. I am an RN, but I do not work in hospice care, mostly because there is a lot of prayer and such with family member’s. I work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Years ago I worked with adults on a medical/surgical floor. The most honorable, loving and privledged moment in my career was giving a man, that was dying of cancer, his last dose of morphine. I ended his suffering. It is heartbreaking to watch someone, whose death is imminent, loose their dignity because they can no longer control their bodily functions or they’ve lost some or all brain function and to see the uncontrollable pain is unbearable. People do not hesitate to euthanize their pets because they don’t want them to suffer. Why in the whole universe would we not do the same for our loved ones or honor their decision to die with dignity? If only people could shift their perspective and see euthanasia as the ultimate gift of love.

    Reply
  2. torialexander Post author

    Leah,
    On behalf of all family members who have struggled with these issues and could find no one with your kindness and courage to help them, I thank you. I am moved by your conviction and selflessness when you say that ending one man’s suffering was “the most honorable, loving and privledged moment” in your career.

    If only more people in your position could speak up then we could get a better perspective on the issue. Instead mostly those against euthanasia are encouraged to speak as in these links:
    http://www.lifenews.com/bio186.html
    http://www.hospicepatients.org/hospic78.html

    With such characterizations out there it is more difficult for the truly caring and selfless individual to offer help. And so stigma brings opportunists and manipulators out of the woodwork. This is one of those situations where ignorance and fear help create the very thing feared.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: The “choice” issues in Health Care Bill « Tori Alexander

  4. AEF

    I agree something needs to be done about insurance companies. Anyhow I though about being in hospice but probably will not since it is not worth it. I want to get as mich knowledge as posible though. Crazy thing on tv sterotypes are hospice nurse get thier fun by killing thier patients (this is seen on Dexter) and nurses do drugs (nurse Jackie). Granted these are sterotypes but fiction is sometimes based on fact.

    Reply
  5. Steve

    Living in the UK, being a nurse and having watched my brother die in a hospice, I was left wondering whether the “care” he received in the last days of his life was in reality, a controlled ending of his life. My instinct, was that a considerable number of the medical and nursing staff were unprepared to challenge the practice of medicating without thought and, had become, through perhaps, the religious foundation of the hospice, infected with the notion that it was their duty to ease the person out. It seems to me that offering an alternative and more personal experience in the last days of their life is both highly challenging and lets face it expensive. I’m aware that this sounds extremely harsh and cynical, but I feel that the very nature of hospice care prevents those grieving from questioning the quality of the care a loved one may have received. This could be for a number of reasons, perhaps including not wishing to upset already grieving family members, fear and disgust that one could even contemplate such ideas, I guess there are a few more to add if given time. I feel that hospice and end of life care is shrouded in a whole lot of mystery and is felt to be perhaps like the asylums of old, best left on the periphery of health care and away from view of most. That is until the next awaiting scandal erupts.

    Reply

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