Groups fear congressional bill could make euthanasia part of ‘palliative care’


UPDATE, 8/27/19: Live Action News was contacted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to this article. The USCCB stands in support of the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training (PCHETA) bill, and USCCB representative Greg Schleppenbach stated in an email:

There are two provisions that were added to PCHETA, at our request, to keep the philosophy that supports [physician-assisted suicide] out of the training funded by this bill. First, PCHETA has a provision (Sec. 5(a)) that ensures that “None of the funds made available under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) may be used to provide, promote, or provide training with regard to any item or service for which Federal funding is unavailable under section 3 of Public Law 105–12 (42 U.S.C. 14402).” 

The law cited is the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act (ASFRA) which forbids providing federal assistance to “any health care item or service furnished for the purpose of causing, or for the purpose of assisting in causing, the death of any individual such as by assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.” This provision forbids funding of any activity, which would include training under H.R. 647, aimed at causing or assisting in causing death. Euthanasia, mercy killing, and assisted suicide are mentioned as examples, but they are not exhaustive. The language of the ASFRA has prevented federal funds and federal health facilities from being used for assisted suicide for over twenty years. 

Second, an additional protective provision was added to Sec. 5 in the Senate version (S. 2080) this year. The House bill was introduced before this language was agreed upon, so it does not contain it, but the Senate version will prevail if the bill is passed in both Houses. This additional provision was added in response to some criticisms that the ASFRA reference was not sufficient to address activities (actions or omissions) not clearly covered by ASFRA.

The new protective language reads: “Sec. 5(b) ADDITIONAL CLARIFICATION.—As used in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act), palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason.”

Schleppenbach added that “This provision is important because for the first time anywhere in federal law or regulations it explicitly states that palliative and hospice care cannot be furnished for the purpose of causing or assisting in causing death.  These protective provisions were added as a condition of our support for this bill. Now, not only does the USCCB support this bill but (also due to these protective provisions) the Catholic Medical Association also supports the bill.”

The USCCB believes the bill is “worthy of passage,” according to Schleppenbach, who adds that “without PCHETA, there are currently NO SAFEGUARDS guiding the training of medical professionals in [palliative care/hospice].”

8/21/19: So-called advances in medicine are not always what they claim to be—and hospice care is no exception. This appears to be the case with The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), which the U.S. House of Representatives approved in 2018. Though it failed, it is now being rebranded as H.R. 647. The act, some say, is a backdoor to taking advantage of vulnerable individuals.

Julie Grimstad, President of the Board of Directors for HALO, the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization, refers to H.R. 647 as a “closet euthanasia” bill, in an article published by Pro-Life Wisconsin. HALO’s mission, according to the group’s websiteis to “promote, protect, and advocate for the rights of the medically vulnerable through direct patient and family interactions; through community education and awareness programs; and through promotion and development of concrete life-affirming healthcare—defined as medical care in which the paramount principle is the sanctity of life.”

HALO is vehemently against “all attempts to enact legislation promoting hospice and palliative medicine (HPM) that does not explicitly prohibit providers from committing euthanasia as traditionally defined.”

Tragically, the goal of HPM has been shifting from helping patients who are dying to helping patients die, notes Dr. Farr A. Curlin, a palliative medicine specialist at Duke University. “Many patients and their families don’t trust HPM and are resistant to it,” says Curlin, adding:

I encounter such individuals in the hospital and in the community, among people of all walks of life and social strata but particularly among ethnic minorities and members of religious communities. These individuals tell stories about loved ones who declined slowly over time, fighting the good fight with the support and companionship of their family members and friends. When HPM professionals became involved in their care, their loved ones were put on powerful drugs, became unconscious and unresponsive, and were soon dead.

These stories are clearly shared within communities and powerfully shape people’s perceptions of HPM, which many see as a sophisticated and seductive way of getting people to die.

HALO’s Grimstad warns, “If H.R. 647 becomes law, more people will be railroaded into being ‘helped to die’: people who are not otherwise near death—people YOU care about.”

READ: ‘Euthanasia parties’ wrongly celebrate suicide and send contrary messages

Equally worrisome, notes Grimstad, is the likelihood that HPM leaders partnered with the pro-euthanasia Compassion and Choices group and Death with Dignity National Center would be the ones designing “educational programs financed by government grants” to support the idea of assisted suicide and euthanasia. “Consider who these ‘educators’ might be,” she says. “When leaders in HPM are comfortable with deliberately ending patients’ lives, is hospice and palliative care safe for patients? These leaders must not be federally financed to educate others in the art of killing.”

There is a significant risk that this Act would establish “medical aid in dying as palliative care,” and would “legalize euthanasia as traditionally defined in federal centers throughout the nation,” says attorney Margaret Dore, as quoted by Pro-Life WI.

HALO president Julie Grimstad told Live Action News that the group is “concentrating on the Senate, because this bill died in committee there last time and our best hope of killing this bill is to stop it in the Senate HELP committee again this time.” However, “HR 647 has not passed the House yet, but it did last time and there is overwhelming support for it in the House, which is Democrat controlled.” Read the group’s action alert here, which contains information on contacting your Senators about the bill. According to the action alert:

The Senate bill, S 2080, has this proposed amendment: “ADDITIONAL CLARIFICATION.—As used in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act), palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason.” This amendment has no teeth—no provisions to ensure enforcement. This language will not stop the “stealth euthanasia”[1] deaths occurring in many hospice and palliative care settings. The federal government should be concerned about identifying dangerous palliative and hospice care, not promoting it.

The Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization (HALO) supports life-affirming palliative and hospice care that provides comfort and pain control, but we oppose government funding of education programs that will very likely be run by proponents of medical killing.

Editor’s Note, 8/23/19: Correction made, adding HALO’s action alert for contacting senators.

Editor’s Note, 8/27/19: USCCB statement added, title changed to reflect.

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