Hospice And Assisted Suicide

Jun 8 2011 @ 1:05pm

A reader writes:

So far I've followed every single post on this issue and have yet to read the word "hospice." My wife is a hospice social worker, and has been one for over ten years. Most people in hospice are against assisted suicide because they know death doesn't have to be bad. The whole point of hospice is to make sure people die not only with dignity but also with a minimum of pain and discomfort, even though they die naturally, rather than through assisted suicide.

It would be nice to have hospice be a part of this thread, because surely other people will email once you mention hospice, and we could learn a lot more – as we always do when the Dish raises issues.

Another reader is already on the ball:

As a hospital chaplain, I can tell Douthat that every hospital, including Roman Catholic hospitals I have worked at, has programs in place that, while studiously avoiding any term that implies assisted suicide, are essentially just that.

In many places it is called "Comfort Care". Comfort Care patients are terminally ill and have DNRs [Do Not Resuscitate]. They are provided hydration, pain medication, O2 therapy, and given medications that they can tolerate taking. We do what we can to make them comfortable until they pass. There is no CPR, no intubation, no defibrillation, and no code medication. And frequently, almost invariably, morphine is administered in very large quantities. It can be argued that the morphine greatly, and mercifully, accelerates death.

I have been present at many deaths. Some people, because of religious views, or sadly because of the views of their families, choose to fight until the end. Some of these deaths have been blessed experiences for the patient, the family, and for me. Others have been horribly gut-wrenching and left everyone involved shaken and disturbed. I have experienced the same thing with people on Comfort Care (but with far less of the gut-wrenching).

Ross Douthat can comfortably conflate Jack Kevorkian and the merciful practices that hospitals practice to relieve indescribable agony. However, he does so from the perspective of a healthy person who reflexively falls back on his theological black-and-white view of reality. He needs to volunteer at a hospice, not to spread his views, but to see some of the gray areas that face people with terminal diseases.