ASSISTED SUICIDE II: Merian’s Story
This week's New England Journal of Medicine features an essay by the daughter of Merian Frederick, a Michigan ALS patient who in 1993 underwent assisted suicide with the help of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Frederick's daughter, Carol Poenisch, writes: "She wanted control over her life at a time when every day was a struggle to retain control over a lost function. She very carefully considered how long she could go on. It gave her pleasure and strength to be able to say to us that she would continue fighting this awful disease to a certain point." Poenisch relates how Frederick came to choose assisted suicide and how Dr. Kevorkian proceeded with that request, then concludes: "I realized after Mom's death that many of the hardest aspects of it would have been eliminated if the choice she made had been legal. We wouldn't have had to be so secretive, we might have had help in coming together sooner as a family, and we wouldn't have had to go to Jack Kevorkian. But my mother really needed his help, legal or not, and we are thankful he was there" (10/1 issue).
Michigan's Proposal B
Following her mother's death, Poenisch went on to found Merian's Friends, a group that has successfully placed a physician-assisted suicide initiative (Proposal B) on Michigan's fall ballot. The Flint Journal reported that a survey of 300 Genesee County residents found a majority are opposed to Proposal B. Fifty-two percent of respondents to the Flint Journal/ Channel 12 (WJRT) survey said they would vote against the ballot measure, while only 36 percent favored it. The remaining 12% were undecided (Webber, 9/30). Yesterday's Detroit News reported that "Metro Detroit's 310 Roman Catholic churches will get a videotape" featuring "a strong message from Cardinal Adam Maida against" Proposal B. In addition, free copies of the Detroit diocesan newspaper, The Michigan Catholic, will be sent "to each of Metro Detroit's 360,000 Catholic families," with each edition containing "anti-suicide stories" (Bullard, 9/30).
In Virginia, state lawmakers are intervening in one woman's decision to remove her husband's feeding tube. Hugh Finn has been in a constant vegetative state since a car accident in 1995. His wife secured court permission to remove the feeding tube after Finn's family agreed not to oppose such a course of action. Yesterday, however, Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) "ordered his administration to intervene ... to try to prevent Finn's death." The same judge who ruled that Finn's feeding tube could be removed will hear the state's objections this morning, "raising the possibility that the life-or-death issue could be decided early today" (Masters, Washington Post, 10/1). In Sunday's edition, the Post looked at the medical, legal and ethical questions raised by the Finn case (Masters, 9/27). Yesterday, the Post profiled Del. Robert Marshall (R), the Virginia lawmaker who urged Gov. Gilmore to get involved in the case and who has pledged "to fight end-of-life laws" (Timberg, 9/30). [Breaking News: A Virginia judge early this morning rejected Gov. Gilmore's attempt to stop Finn's feeding tube from being removed, AP/CNN reports.]
"The Vanishing Line"
American Medical News profiles Maren Monsen, a "doctor-filmmaker" who produced a documentary in which she "confronts her fear of death and dying to better serve patients at the end of life." The documentary, "The Vanishing Line," ran on PBS' P.O.V. during the summer. Dr. James Hallenbeck, clinical associate professor of medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine, said the documentary "could play an important role in raising physicians' awareness of the possibilities for end-of-life care." He noted that Monsen "reveals her own uncertainty, her own questions, which is something physicians have a hard time doing. That she does so gives permission for other physicians to question their own assumptions" (Larkin, 9/28 issue). The P.O.V. Interactive page on the PBS website features a reader forum on the documentary -- http://www.pbs.org/cgi-bin/pov/povht/1108/discuss.cgi