America’s oldest and biggest non-profit organization aimed at end-of-life choices, Compassion & Choices, has responded to the split verdict in a criminal trial that took place in Phoenix, Arizona. The verdict clearly shows up the need for rational public policy on end-of-life choices.

Dr. Larry Egbert was acquitted of conspiring to commit manslaughter in the April 2007 suicide of Jana Van Voorhis, a resident of Phoenix. Regarding Dr. Frank Lagsner, who also stood trial for conspiring to commit manslaughter in the same case, a unanimous decision by the jury was not possible.

Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, said:

“This case demonstrates the problem with vague ‘assisted suicide’ statutes such as Arizona’s. Terminally ill patients across the nation ask their physicians for aid in dying. Many doctors, in an uncertain legal environment, rebuff such questions and fail to discuss their patients’ concerns about pain and suffering. When patients cannot talk openly with their doctors they may seek assistance from others.

Sympathetic family members or friends are usually unequipped to assess a patient’s competence or end-of-life options. No one should have to risk prosecution to help a dying patient end life peacefully.”

According to media versions, Van Voorhis did not have a terminal illness and may have had a mental illness that clouded her judgment.

Any evidence regarding the patient’s psychological state was not allowed to be presented in court.

Coombs Lee said:

“In today’s legal framework, judges and juries do not distinguish between the choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill patient for a peaceful death via self-administered medication, and the act of a distraught individual who is not dying, who may be mentally ill and suicidal. The former is a practice known as aid in dying, which has strong and growing support among the public and medical professionals. The latter is suicide. Our nation’s laws should recognize the difference.”

According to Compassion & Choices, the only US states to have rational end-of-life choice policies are Washington, Montana and Oregon. According to studies, these states have superior communications among health care professionals, families and patients, as well as better palliative care.

There are choices for controlled and peaceful deaths across the USA. Compassion & Choices have an End-of-Life Consultation service that helps people and their loved ones navigate their options and see them through.

Source: Compassion & Choices

Written by Christian Nordqvist