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Media Room

Articles / 2015

Aid-in-dying forum draws big crowd

Ventura County Star
by Tom Kisken

Is Death Ever the Best Treatment?

Ventura County Star
by Tom Kisken

Viewpoints on legislation are presented

People packed a Ventura conference room Thursday night for a forum on physician-assisted suicide, with many of them murmuring — at least one loudly asserting — agreement with the concept.

The forum, held by the Community Memorial Health System, was designed to present the pros and cons of allowing the terminally ill to determine when and how to die.

Much of the discussion focused on state Senate Bill 128, the End of Life Option Action. It would allow people with less than six months of life remaining to obtain a prescription for lethal drugs.

The question is whether people have the right to physician-assisted suicide and whether doctors are obligated to facilitate that right, said Dr. Jim Hornstein, a Ventura bioethicist and family doctor who moderated the discussion.

Beliefs that pain management is inadequate and people have the right to make their own choices are on one side of the debate, Hornstein said.

Protecting the vulnerable and a Hippocratic oath that compels doctors to do no harm are often cited as arguments against what some call aid in dying.

Dr. William Rajala, an internal-medicine physician and medical director of Assisted Home Hospice, argued that hospice, palliative care and treatment for people pushed by depression offer plenty of choices for the dying. He said efforts should be focused on improving end-of-life care instead of legislating the right to physician-assisted suicide.

Under the proposed law, doctors would have to determine whether a person is terminally ill and mentally competent. That puts physicians in a precarious position, Rajala said.

“Am I to judge the quality of someone’s life?” he asked.

Rajala noted that a person’s decision to pursue physician-assisted suicide may be pushed by depression, fear of being a burden and other psychological issues.

“We don’t typically treat a psychological issue with a non-psychological treatment,” Rajala said.

Cecily Hintzen, field organizer with the Compassion & Choices end of life organization, said aid in dying isn’t designed as a replacement for hospice or other care.

“I feel like it’s just one more option,” she said, noting that SB 128 is modeled after a law in Oregon. There, relatively few people actually use the lethal prescriptions.

“We believe those who took it took it because their dying became unbearable,” she said. She also said the choice belongs to the patient.

If the bill doesn’t succeed, the aid in dying question could be put to voters in a 2016 ballot initiative, Hintzen said.

Thursday’s forum was held in a conference room at the Museum of Ventura County. Every seat was taken, and some people stood.

At one point, a woman jumped to her to feet to voice objections to Rajala’s arguments. She sat only after others urged her to allow the doctor to make his point.

As people left the museum after more than 90 minutes of debate, many talked about their support of aid in dying and the proposal to make it law.

Judith Beay, 75, of Ventura, believes in choices.

“When I feel there is no longer quality in my life ... I’m ready to move on,” she said.