PHYSICIANS FOR COMPASSIONATE CARE NEWS
Affirming An Ethic That All Human Life is Inherently Valuable
Vol.1, No.1, Winter, 1997-1998
PCC OPPOSES ASSISTED SUICIDE
November 4, 1997, the minute the drop boxes closed on the vote-by-mail
election, local TV broadcasting networks flashed computerized results
that had been ready most of the day. Reporters told Oregonians that
voters were rejecting Measure 51 by a 20 % spread. Measure 51 would
have overturned Measure 16, a law that legalizes doctor-assisted
suicide. The exact figures were released on the state’s Internet
web page, December 5th: Yes on 51 -- 445,830 votes; No on 51 -- 666,275.
Dr. William Toffler, Physicians for Compassionate Care (PCC) president,
declared that the election sent "a profound shock wave over the entire
state, the country and, indeed, the world." He said legalization
of assisted suicide would undermine "the medical ethics that safeguard
patients and assure that all human life is treated equally, and with
dignity and respect."
PCC's formal efforts to oppose medical killing actually began in
March of 1997, when the organization sent Dr. Gregory Hamilton to
Washington, D.C., at the invitation of the U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Health and Environment. Hamilton presented PCC’s
testimony against assisted suicide. In preparation for that testimony,
the PCC Board compiled and refined medical data that would eventually
lead to Oregon's repeal effort (Measure 51). PCC’s testimony
in Washington, D.C. contributed to passage of a federal law forbidding
use of any United States funds for suicides.
In April of last year, PCC members from across the state used these
same facts to inform the Oregon Medical Association House of Delegates
about Measure 16's many medical flaws. This concerted educational
effort by PCC members who were also OMA delegates resulted in enlisting
the OMA's vital, if tentative, support of repealing Measure 16.
Armed with documents and new facts, PCC physicians, such as Drs.
Miles Edwards, William Petty, Benneth Husted, Richard Thorne, Paul
Stull, Don Shroeder, William Toffler, Gregory Hamilton, Kenneth Stevens,
and many others, marched to Salem and testified before the Oregon
legislature. Because of the work of PCC members and others who agree
with our views, the Oregon legislature voted to send Measure 16 back
to the voters, recommending repeal. Thus Measure 51 was created.
The legislature chose this route rather than outright repeal, because
that action would have faced the governor's certain veto.
During the summer of 1997, PCC officers met with organizers of the
Yes on 51 campaign to discuss both message and strategy. Careful
polling after the 1994 campaign led to the conclusion that ethical
issues, while central, would not succeed in this state at this time
in its history. Therefore, physicians were asked to take the lead.
The message would be a medical one: the risks of barbiturate overdose
were dangerous to the public; doctors can’t predict when patients
will die; patients may be suffering from depression; patients may
not be “terminal.”
PCC members accepted the challenging request to take the lead. A
PCC speakers bureau was formed with over fifty physicians from all
geographical areas of the state. These dedicated doctors set aside
their accustomed privacy, in the midst of already busy schedules,
to educate the public whenever and wherever they were asked to do
so. Our speakers delivered succinct and powerful, yet dignified talks
to unprecedented numbers of Oregonians. To combat false claims that
some of our data might be incorrect, PCC sent studies to every doctor,
nurse, and pharmacist in the state. Our physician speakers handled
personal and political attacks with firmness and composure. All our
speakers should be heartened to hear that post-election polls indicate
that wherever our doctors spoke the overwhelming majority of those
voters listened and voted to repeal doctor-assisted suicide.
At a gathering at the Benson Hotel in Portland, November 4, as the
votes rolled in, our physicians were sincerely grieved for the vulnerable
patients who would no longer be protected against medical killings.
Yet, all were proud. The message from the speakers bureau was loud
and clear, "We have done everything possible to stop one of the worst
social movements in the history of America. We will always be proud
of what we have done." After the election, PCC doctors immediately
began planning their future steps in improving and expanding this
organization of dedicated, ethical, and compassionate physicians.
Now PCC is needed in Oregon more than ever.
Physicians for Compassionate Care swung into action after Measure
51 went down. Within days, PCC issued recommendations to it’s
members on ways to uphold their principles. The PCC recommendations
have been well received by members and were given front page coverage
in The Oregonian. Standing firm in our principles is both more important
and more difficult now that the state government approves assisted
suicide and thus attempts to make it “an acceptable response” to
Our past president, Dr. William Toffler, wrote to the U.S. President
and Attorney General, as well as to key U.S. Senators supporting
the DEA's position that prescribing controlled substances for assisted
suicides is not a "medical purpose." PCC also opposed the Oregon
Medical Association executive committee’s decision to support
Oregon doctors who write lethal prescription. We did this by making
a clear statement of dissent, on behalf of our members, and delivered
by our new President, Dr. Gregory Hamilton, at the Oregon Medical
Association Interim House of Delegates Meeting in November.
The PCC president and numerous PCC members wrote letters of support
to the pharmacists’ association, when it took the laudable
step of requiring the purpose of lethal prescriptions to be clearly
marked. The pharmacists took this action was taken to allow principled
pharmacists to refuse participation in medical killing.
We continue communicating with key attorneys in the state and nationally
to look for judicial remedies to the discriminatory threat legalizing
assisted suicide creates for patients.
PCC has met with organizational consultants to explore ways both
to expand and strengthen Physicians for Compassionate Care. The Board
of Directors met at a series of two evening retreats to set goals
for 1998 and begin their implementation. Clearly, Physicians for
Compassionate Care is called upon to take an active role in Oregon
RIGHT-TO-DIE FEDERATION MOVES TO OREGON
Barbara Coombs Lee, executive director of Compassion in Dying Federation,
has set up headquarters in Portland. Calling themselves “counselors,” her
group plans to have a networks of volunteers around the state, advising
patients about how to commit assisted suicide. The federation touts
a 10 page protocol telling doctors how to “help” them
carry it out. Coombs Lee’s organization says she won’t
release the protocol to just anyone. Only doctors who have a patient
who wants to commit suicide under Measure 16, and presumably, those
doctors who plan to participate in the suicide can see it. Doctor
Greg Hamilton, PCC president, remarked that “What Coombs Lee’s
Federation is doing lends a stamp of approval to a new kind of suicide.”
Lee has produced volumes of documents on assisted suicide for the
state of Oregon, in preparation for this most recent move. Not only
did she co-author Measure 16, she was appointed by the state to help
write the ballot title and summary statement of Measure 51. Coombs
Lee is also listed as a co-author of the State of Oregon’s
Health and Law Manual; Volume 2, Chapter 8, “Life and Death
Decisions,” which originally stated, with regard to assisted
suicide, “The physician should counsel the patient that although
most deaths occur within three hours, death may take longer in the
patient’s case and may not occur at all with oral medications.” However,
sources from the Oregon State Bar say they have now retracted this
particular statement from Chapter 8.
The most recent right-to-die protocol coming form Coombs Lee’s
group is reported to include: do not resuscitate orders for the patients
who overdose and detailed recipes for overdoses. Reportedly, some
journalists have seen a copy of the protocol, while interested medical
experts are being denied access to the document.
Hamilton says, “Legitimate medical protocols are always open
to scientific scrutiny. The fact that a protocol to be used for lethal
human experimentation is being held in such secrecy is unconscionable.” He
says that the secrecy exists because participating in suicides is
the wrong thing to do: what patients need is good care. PCC stands
firm in its ethical belief that all Human life is inherently valuable.
PCC LAUNCHES NEWSLETTER
Now, more than ever, physicians who base their practice on honesty
and the principle that all human life is inherently valuable need
to communicate with and support one another. With assisted suicide
legalized by the state, pressures are mounting that threaten to reshape
how doctors think and practice. Such pressures jeopardize our patients
and even our own right to practice conscientious medicine based on
our ethical principles, and for many of us, our moral beliefs.
Along with the pressures created by the assisted suicide law will
come opportunities to articulate, clarify, refine, and defend our
principles and practices. This newsletter will provide a forum for
your thoughts and comments. It will keep you informed of the latest
developments at the local and the international level as physicians
around the nation fight the movement that seeks to eliminate medicine's
most profound dilemmas and duties by eliminating the patients who
most call upon us for help, the chronically and seriously ill. PCC
News will keep you apprised of the activities of the organization
and will keep you in touch with your colleagues who oppose medical
killing. This is a quarterly newsletter of dedication, hope, and
compassion. Articles or reviews for submission can be sent directly
NEW OFFICERS ELECTED
Doctor Gregory Hamilton was elected the new president of Physicians
for Compassionate Care. His administrative, as well as public speaking
and writing experience, will serve him well in helping PCC achieve
its new goals. He expressed his gratitude to outgoing president,
Dr. William Toffler, who has so energetically built our membership
over three years and created opportunities for many of us to speak
effectively about our approach to caring for patients and about the
dangers of assisted suicide. Doctor Toffler will move into a new
role -- PCC National Medical Director. He will respond to broad interest
that our state activities have generated across the country.
Doctor William Petty has agreed to serve another term as vice-president.
Doctor Mark Kummer will take over the task of treasurer, and Doctor
Miles Edwards will begin as secretary. All of these roles promise
to be demanding in the coming year.
GOALS FOR THE FUTURE
In a series of two winter retreats, PCC Board of Directors outlined
plans to expand our efforts and our organization. Goals include regional
organizational development within the state, collaborating with ethical
palliative care programs, developing a patient advocacy and referral
service, responding to national interest in PCC, holding an annual
meeting at our next PCC Palliative Care Conference, and developing
administrative support to enhance effectiveness and communication.
A fund raising campaign has been initiated to help meet these goals.
Drs. William Petty and Pam Edwards will help other PCC members around
the state begin to meet on a regular basis. This step will provide
improved communication statewide and will allow PCC members to share
information and support with one another and with PCC leadership.
Dr. Paul Stull from Astoria, with his long experience in hospice
and palliative care, will work with other PCC members to explore
collaboration with palliative care programs which share our values.
Development of our patient advocacy and referral service will be
ongoing. It’s purpose is to meet the needs of those Oregonians
who face loss of health and need practical or emotional support.
Legalized assisted suicide offers an early death, but care is what
patients need. We will continue to refer patients, healthy or ill,
who call us requesting a doctor who respects human life. This process
of referral currently takes place informally by our volunteer physicians.
We hope that soon this much requested service will be centralized
and streamlined through the development of PCC administrative support.
Dr. William Toffler, who facilitated formation of the Washington
state PCC chapter, will focus on the national level. His November
and December trips to Colorado and California and his national contacts
with like-minded colleagues will prove an invaluable asset in his
new role as PCC National Director.
Dr. Chuck Bentz, who organized our overwhelmingly successful Palliative
Care Conference, October 4, 1997, in collaboration with Providence
Medical Center, will arrange our next conference.
Development of a fundraising program needed for administrative support
will be directed by Dr. Gregory Hamilton. Funding and obtaining administrative
help, improving telephone access for our members, patients, and the
media, and facilitating correspondence with the many medical, educational,
governmental, and patient advocacy organizations are all important
steps in organizational development. It is time for PCC to take some
giant steps in its growth.
Each of these goals contributes to our overall mission of promoting
a practice of medicine based on honesty and the principle that all
human beings are inherently valuable regardless of their health or
life phase. The fact that key local medical organizations have passively
relinquished this principle makes it imperative for PCC to continue
developing a solid infrastructure and expanding its efforts to support
ADVOCACY REQUESTS WELCOME
If you or one of your patients believe that implementation of doctor-assisted
suicide is infringing upon your rights or your patient's rights,
call PCC vice-president, Dr. William Petty (503-292-2672).
CONTRIBUTIONS ARE WELCOME
Please make a contribution to PCC today. Unlike other medical organization
you may belong to and which demand annual dues, PCC has been run
for the past three years entirely as a volunteer effort with no dues
collected and no paid staff. Many members have made generous financial
contributions and many others plan to do so. You can write a tax
deductible check to PCC Educational Foundation in an amount equivalent
to what you may pay another medical organization. Contributions of
$50, $100, $500, or $1,000 can be mailed to:
Physicians for Compassionate Care Educational Foundation
P.O. Box 6042
Porland, Oregon 97228
N. Gregory Hamilton, MD
William M. Petty, MD
Mark Kummer, MD
Miles J. Edwards, MD
William L. Toffler, MD
Pamela J. Edwards, MD
Thomas Pitre, MD
Kenneth R. Stevens, MD
Paul D. Stull, MD
Gerald B. Ahmann, MD
Thomas Comerford, MD
Carl R. Jenson, MD
Marvin M. John, MD
Robert DuPriest, MD
Richard M. Thorne, MD
George Middlekauf, MD
P.O. Box 6042
Portland, Oregon 97228
PCC News Editor: Catherine Hamilton