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Monday, February 23, 2015

My commentary in Baltimore Sun: Assisted suicide is not "death with dignity"


Published in the Baltimore Sun, Feb. 21, 2015
An advocate for a Maryland "death with dignity" bill complains, "Why is it that I can put my dying pet to sleep to end its suffering, then have to sit with my dying spouse at a hospice?" ("Md. needs a death with dignity law," Feb. 18).
The comments suggest exactly why assisted suicide is far from "death with dignity."
Unlike animal pets, human beings possess the ability to transcend their physical bodies to achieve dignity and purpose.
The fact that a caretaker expresses regret at "having to sit with my dying spouse at hospice" unwittingly illustrates the pressures that can be brought to bear on the vulnerable, the disabled and the dying to end their lives prematurely.
The unpleasant truth is that when sick, elderly or disabled individuals are experiencing challenges that render them weak, depressed and extremely vulnerable, their caretakers will all too often prefer emotional relief to persevering in care-giving; insurers and governments will save money with a quicker end to life; overeager heirs may want to cut care short to preserve their inheritance; and coldly pragmatic health workers may want to clear the bed that patients nearing the end of life "uselessly" occupy.
As former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop observed, the "right to die" becomes the duty to die. We should instead focus on palliative care, assisting families with vulnerable patients and upholding the true human dignity that transcends our frail bodies.

California assisted suicide bill opens door to unchecked abuse

In a commentary entitled, "Let's call physician-assisted suicide what it is," Los Angeles Times
reporter Karin Klein rightly decries the deceptive rhetoric of the assisted suicide movement and California Senate legislation. However, the commentary ignores the legislation-mandated cover-up of assisted suicide details that could trigger abuse detection and whistleblowing by media, watchdog groups and investigators focused on protecting actual patients.
Under the senate bill, any information that if reviewed might lead to questions about whether the patient had been coerced, disabled or depressed; whether an autopsy had proven the diagnosis incorrect; whether the lethal medication failed to immediately kill the patient; or a host of other known dangers associated with assisted suicide, would be deliberately hidden from observers. Even the state government is only required to collect a "sample of certain records" of an act, otherwise prohibited by state anti-suicide law, in which a person actually dies.
This assisted suicide bill is not a ticket to individual freedom but to unchecked abuse.

Obama administration enforces its abortion ideology in grant program for child refugees

Undaunted by its Supreme Court loss in the Hobby Lobby religious freedom case, the Obama administration continues to discriminate against faith-based organizations in matters regarding moral convictions. The latest assault on religious freedom comes in a new regulation that requires referring refugee children for abortions and providing pills that can end the life of a developing human embryo.
In announcing new "Standards To Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment Involving Unaccompanied Children," the Office of Refugee Resettlement asserts, "ORR is mindful that some potential and existing grantees and contractors may have religious or moral objections to providing certain kinds of services, including referrals (for example, for emergency contraception). ORR is committed to providing resources and referrals for the full range of legally permissible services to UCs who need them, helping to facilitate access to these options, and doing so in a timely fashion...."
Translation: We're going to enforce our abortion ideology and nothing is going to stop us.
ORR then goes on with a bunch of politically required language about welcoming applications by faith-based groups. The agency offers as a solution that faith-based groups wanting to help children should forget about getting the main grant from the government and just hope that other organizations willing to do the dirty work will ask faith-based objectors to serve sub-grantees.
For more details, read this report by C-FAM.
I responded today to the administration by submitting the following comment on behalf of the Christian Medical Association:
The 15,000-member Christian Medical Association strongly objects to the administration's unilateral requirement of even faith-based organizations to adopt its ideology regarding abortion and sexuality, as dictated in "Standards To Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment Involving Unaccompanied Children," a rule by the Children and Families Administration.
The new rule asserts that while faith-based groups technically may still apply for grants, they should be prepared to sit in the back of the bus as sub-grantees due to their unwillingness to participate in abortions, provide pills that can cause the death of a developing embryo and other activities deemed morally impermissible by many in the faith community.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) asserts that such discrimination is necessitated because "ORR is committed to providing resources and referrals for the full range of legally permissible services."
Just because something is legally permissible, however, hardly certifies that it is helpful to anyone or especially helpful to children, and thus required for an effective grant program. No respectable physician provides patients with literally anything the patient requests simply because the item requested is legally permissible. No government program should be constructed under the baseless assumption that every legally permissible item or action is necessary or beneficial for the recipients of help.
So to require, then, that all grantees must be willing to "provide resources and referrals for the full range of legally permissible services" is a fundamentally unsound approach driven not by evidence, research or medical justification. Rather, the requirement is simply a blunt political instrument to force compliance with the administration's peculiar ideology and to discriminate against its ideological opponents--most conspicuously in the faith community.
Given this administration's defiance of America's history of religious toleration, its determination to eradicate conscience protections in healthcare and its radical approach to issues regarding sexuality and reproduction, this letter is not written in the expectation of a fair hearing or policy change. Rather, it hopefully serves to highlight how politics and ideology are corrupting our agencies that are supposed to be dedicated to health and social welfare.
Action: Send your comment by the deadline TODAY: online or by contacting Elizabeth Sohn at UACPolicy@acf.hhs.gov or by phone at (202) 260-6829. Deaf and hearing impaired individuals may call the Federal Dual Party Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

Monday, February 9, 2015

My Op-ed in Washington Times magazine: "Selling Suicide"

Selling suicide

Published in Washington Times magazine, American CurrentSee, Feb. 4, 2015
by Jonathan Imbody
Compassion and Choices, the never-say-die advocates for state-sanctioned assisted suicide, seem to have mastered the art of putting lipstick on a pig. Whether or not Americans learn to see through their euphemisms and illogic may well determine the fate of many vulnerable patients, including those in California and 20 other states where the organization now is leading a well-funded lobbying campaign to legalize assisted suicide.
Compassion and Choices, the never-say-die advocates for state-sanctioned assisted suicide, seem to have mastered the art of putting lipstick on a pig. Whether or not Americans learn to see through their euphemisms and illogic may well determine the fate of many vulnerable patients, including those in California and 20 other states where the organization now is leading a well-funded lobbying campaign to legalize assisted suicide.

What is Compassion and Choices?

Reincarnated from a previous life when known as the Hemlock Society, the more politically correctly named Compassion and Choices nonprofit organization claims on its website, “For over 30 years we have reduced people’s suffering and given them some control in their final days.” 
Reincarnated from a previous life when known as the Hemlock Society, the more politically correctly named Compassion and Choices nonprofit organization claims on its website, “For over 30 years we have reduced people’s suffering and given them some control in their final days.” 
That claim would come as news to the medical and pharmaceutical professions, which, unlike nonprofit advocacy groups, actually are trained and authorized to prescribe and provide medications that reduce suffering. Pain medication reduces suffering; lethal pills end lives. Suicide does not control death; it merely accelerates it.
The group also claims to "increase patient control and reduce unwanted interventions at the end of life." Yet the law has long recognized patients' right to decline "unwanted interventions at the end of life."  Given the pressure by insurers, unscrupulous heirs and uncompassionate caretakers on vulnerable, depressed and disabled patients to end their lives early, assisted suicide represents the real threat of an "unwanted intervention at the end of life."
What is the real purpose of Compassion and Choices?
Compassion and Choices remains a Hemlock Society, focused on securing lethal chemicals for people to kill themselves. Lacking the ability to legally obtain lethal pills, Compassion and Choices advocates would transform physicians from healers into killers. Their pro-suicide policies parallel the treatment of Socrates, who died a self-inflicted death by hemlock, while opposing the teachings of his contemporary, Hippocrates, which for millennia have protected patients from deadly physicians.

Suicide activists employ verbal engineering

Suicide, however, remains a hard sell in the United States, where just 16 percent of the population views suicide as morally permissible. So suicide activists have learned to obfuscate reality with doublespeak.
Professional polling provides ample rhetorical ammunition. Gallup Polling found, for example, that "70 percent of Americans favor allowing doctors to hasten a terminally ill patient's death when the matter is described as allowing doctors to 'end the patient's life by some painless means.'"
Gallup also found that 60 percent of Democrats (compared to just 41 percent of Republicans) resonated with slanted language such as, "When a person has a disease that cannot be cured and is living in severe pain, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed by law to assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it?"

Critical thinkers pull back the curtain of rhetoric

Apparently government-leery conservatives tend to critically analyze the smooth rhetoric designed to advance state-sanctioned assisted suicide, no doubt wondering:
·         Would state governments that sanction suicide block the media, watchdog groups and the public from investigating suspected abuses? (Yes; Oregon's assisted suicide law actually stipulates that "information collected shall not be a public record and may not be made available for inspection by the public.")
·         Might activist judges liberally construe and expand the phrase "pain" to mean not only physical but also psychological pain? (Yes; European courts already have slid down that slippery slope.)
·         Could courts determine that disabled persons' inability to ingest lethal pills means that they must be allowed to request euthanasia--thus empowering doctors to actively kill their patients? (Almost certainly, under equal access principles.)
Critical thinkers who have studied history and health may also ask probing questions such as:
·         Can physicians help kill their patients and still follow the Hippocratic ethic, which protects patients by forbidding physicians to "give poison to anyone though asked to do so" and insists on, "first, do no harm"? (No.)
·         Can physicians can accurately predict a patient's life expectancy? (No.)
·         Can physicians treat most patients' pain? (Yes, and updating legislation could ensure even more aggressive pain treatment.)
Anyone with a loved one facing a difficult illness, depression or financial hardship should ask:
·         Might family members not learn of their loved one's suicide until after she's dead? (Yes--as under Oregon's law.)
·         Could legalizing suicide send suicide-vulnerable young people a deadly message? (How could it not?)
·         Would vulnerable patients be pressured into requesting assisted suicide? (Only when heirs, insurance companies and governments could save money with a quick death rather than expensive healthcare … or when caregivers became tired or uncaring … or when a depressed patient felt like a burden on others.)

State officials calculate the cost

Assisted suicide activists depend on carefully crafted emotional stories to convince legislators, judges and voters to sanction suicide. No wonder assisted suicide advocates recently have focused on Oregon resident Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman diagnosed with brain cancer who publicly profiled her determination, which she ultimately and tragically fulfilled, to take lethal drugs to end her life. A now-iconic photograph of a smiling Brittany lounging with her adorable puppy has helped paint a new face on a suicide movement marred by polarizing personalities such as macabre death doctor Jack Kevorkian and the recklessly blunt Hemlock Society founder, Derek Humphry.
You won't find assisted suicide advocates profiling another Oregon resident, Barbara Wagner, who also found her cancer impacted by Oregon's legalization of assisted suicide. ABC News reported this revealing example of the pressure imposed on patients by state-sanctioned suicide:
"The news from Barbara Wagner's doctor was bad, but the rejection letter from her insurance company was crushing. The 64-year-old Oregon woman, whose lung cancer had been in remission, learned the disease had returned and would likely kill her. Her last hope was a $4,000-a-month drug that her doctor prescribed for her, but the insurance company refused to pay. What the Oregon Health Plan did agree to cover, however, were drugs for a physician-assisted death. Those drugs would cost about $50."

Barbara Wagner appealed the drug denial twice but lost both times. The drug maker eventually responded to pleas from her doctors and provided the medication at no charge, but it was too late; Barbara died three weeks after starting the treatment.
What remains to be seen is whether or not Americans will wake up before it's too late and recognize the financial and psychological pressures, the deceptive rhetoric and the threat to the vulnerable posed by state-sanctioned assisted suicide.
*Jonathan Imbody serves as VP for Government Relations for the Christian Medical Association and directs the Freedom2Care coalition.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What if Atlanta's fire chief had instead endorsed same-sex marriage?


Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran
It's not hard to imagine a decade or so ago an Atlanta fire chief getting himself fired for writing a book that advocated for same-sex marriage, basing his argument on the LGBT-endorsing position of his Episcopal Church. Protestors would have rightly defended the chief's First Amendment freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.
If the state at the time had passed a law mirroring the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a hugely bipartisan measure signed into law by Bill Clinton, a court case could have determined whether the government could demonstrate a compelling interest in firing the chief, and whether it had taken the least restrictive means to fulfill that interest.
Perhaps the courts would have ruled that the government either lacked a compelling interest or had taken a harsher path than necessary to enforce its interest, and the chief could have been reinstated on the First Amendment grounds of religious freedom.
The key is to view First Amendment speech and religious freedoms not through the lens of what particular belief is being expressed or exercised, but as a cornerstone of our freedoms in this democratic republic.

Protecting their rights = Protecting your rights


A Supreme Court case over an Arizona town's discriminatory treatment of church signs serves as a reminder of the inseparability of First Amendment free speech and religious exercise.
In an effort to cabin the influence of faith values in the public square and to force compliance with faith-violating government policies and ideologies, some have suggested that the First Amendment merely protects the right to privately hold beliefs about God or to pray.
That would be a meaningless protection. Even the most oppressive government cannot possibly regulate our private thoughts or prayer; it can only regulate the expression and the exercise of our beliefs through public speech and actions.
That's why the First Amendment provides that government may not prohibit the free exercise of faith, whether in speech or in actions. Public policy advocates of all stripes do well to remember that if the government can restrict, coerce and punish one group or viewpoint today, it can restrict, coerce and punish the opposite tomorrow.

As an imprisoned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."[1]


[1] Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Urge your lawmakers to support a bill to protect developing babies


Rep. Marsha Blackburn
Reps. Trent Franks (AZ-08) and Marsha Blackburn (TN-07) have introduced the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (HR 36) to protect unborn babies beginning at the sixth month of conception.
I have worked on a number of issues with Rep. Franks and have noted his passionate dedication to the unborn. He made the following comments about this bill yesterday:
“More than 18,000 ‘very late term’ abortions are performed every year on perfectly healthy unborn babies in America. These are innocent and defenseless children who can not only feel pain, but who can survive outside of the womb in most cases, and who are torturously killed without even basic anesthesia.   Many of them cry and scream as they die, but because it is amniotic fluid going over their vocal cords instead of air, we don’t hear them.
“Late term Abortion in America has its defenders, but no true or principled defense.  The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act seeks to afford basic protection to mothers and their unborn babies entering the sixth month of gestation. 
Rep. Trent Franks
“I would just deeply encourage all interested parties, including fair-minded reporters, to simply read this bill.  It is one all humane Americans can support if they understand it for themselves.
“Throughout America's history, the hearts of the American people have been moved with compassion when they discover a theretofore hidden class of victims, once they grasp both the humanity of the victims and the inhumanity of what is being done to them.
“America is on the cusp of another such realization.”

Rep. Blackburn said the following:

“We have a moral obligation to end dangerous late-term abortions in order to protect women and these precious babies from criminals like Kermit Gosnell and others who prey on the most vulnerable in our society,” Blackburn said. “The United States is one of the few remaining countries in the world that allows abortion after 20 weeks. That is why today we renew our efforts to protect the lives of babies and their mothers with the introduction of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Rep. Franks and I have been a good team moving this legislation through the House as we continue to lead the fight to ensure the unborn are provided the same protections that all human life deserves.”


Click here to take action and urge your lawmakers to support this bill.

http://cqrcengage.com/f2c/app/write-a-letter?2&engagementId=59671