Lisa Vigil Schattinger and her mother, Janet Rowe, were invited to share Dr. Jack Rowe’s experience with Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act at Mayo Clinic’s 26th Annual National Hematology/Oncology Review Course on Amelia Island, Florida.
Surveying doctors on death with dignity
Dr. Gerardo Colon-Otero, medical oncologist with the Mayo Clinic Florida, included a new section called “Controversies in End of Life Care” at this annual conference. He also invited Dr. Ken Brummel-Smith, Professor of Geriatrics at Florida State University and a family practice physician, to present on “Aid in Dying for Individuals with Terminal Illness: A Human Right or a Slippery Slope?” Dr. Colon-Otero included the following pre and post session questions:
1. I believe that physician assisted death as approved in Oregon should be allowed:
- Pre-test answers (65 participants on 7/28/16): Yes – 43%, No – 36%, Not sure – 21%
- Post-test answers (31 participants on 7/29/16): Yes – 54%, No – 12%, Not sure – 35%
2. If asked by a terminal cancer patient to participate in physician assisted death in a state where it is legal, I would:
- Pre-test answers (61 participants on 7/28/16): Decline – 31%, Agree – 31%, Think about it – 38%
- Post-test answers (35 participants on 7/29/16): Decline – 21%, Agree – 38%, Think about it – 41%
3. I would like to have access to physician assisted death for myself if I ever face a terminal illness with no hope of recovery associated with intractable pain and suffering:
- Pre-test answers (61 participants on 7/28/16): True – 45%, False – 27%, Not sure – 27%
- Post-test answers (32 participants on 7/29/16): True – 65%, False – 24%, Not sure – 12%
While this conference was open to all medically related personnel, the questions were targeted toward physicians since they are the ones who would write the prescriptions. There were approximately 100 people attending the Friday, 7/29, session though only about a third of that number responded to the post session questions. Dr. Colon-Otero said that these results ”show the need for more education on this important topic.”
The good things
Following the formal Q&A session, quite a few people with questions and comments approached Lisa and Janet. One oncologist who is also an ethicist mentioned that she could not get over the concept that if she writes a prescription for a patient, she expects it to bring about “good things”. With regard to this, Dr. Rowe felt strongly that the prescription that he would use to end his life in the face of his terminal illness was bringing about good. He felt strongly that there were worse things than death and that dying with control and choice was a good outcome.