Euthanasia, Physician-assisted Suicide and Our Aged and Frail Population

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Euthanasia, Physician-assisted Suicide and Our Aged and Frail Population

Is the attitude of Americans toward the old and frail evolving into the attitude indicated in the following episode? In Indiana, a nurse suspected of killing as many as 100 people is on trial, charged in the deaths of seven elderly patients. Orville Lynn Majors Jr., 38, began serving as a licensed practical nurse in a Clinton, Indiana hospital in 1993; months later, other nurses observed an abnormally high death rate in the hospital's intensive care unit whenever Majors was on duty. On one occasion Majors was found, syringe in hand, at the bedside of a woman who had died unexpectedly; the patient had been scheduled for discharge the next day, and an autopsy suggested that an injection of potassium caused her death. Autopsies on other patients uncovered enough evidence to go to trial in seven cases. A statistical study showed there was a patient death in the ICU every 23 hours when Majors was on duty, but every 552 hours when he was not; however, statistical evidence was barred from the trial. Reportedly Majors had also told others that he thinks elderly people are "a waste" [New York Times, 8/31].

Numerous US studies have established that the Americans most directly affected by the issue of physician-assisted suicide -- those who are frail, elderly and suffering from terminal illness -- are also more opposed to legalizing the practice than others are:

* A poll conducted for the Washington Post on March 22-26, 1996, found 50% support for legalizing physician-assisted suicide (Washington A18) Voters aged 35-44 supported legalization, 57% to 33%. But these figures reversed for voters aged 65 and older, who opposed legalization 54% to 38%. Majorit...

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...l.. "Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: attitudes and experiences of oncology patients, oncologists, and the public." 347 The Lancet 1805 (June 29, 1996):1809

Humphry, Derek. "What's in a word?" Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization 1993, Table 1-A.

Koenig, Dr. Harold et al.. "Attitudes of Elderly Patients and their Families Toward Physician-Assisted Suicide." 156 Archives of Internal Medicine 2240 (Oct. 28, 1996)

Lee v. Oregon, 891 F.Supp. 1429 (D. Or. 1995), vacated on other grounds, 107 F.3d 1382 (9th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 328 (1997).

"Poll Shows More Would Support Law Using Gentler Language," TimeLines (Jan.-Feb. 1994):9

Washington v. Glucksberg, 117 S. Ct. 2258, 2262 n. 7 (1997.

-- -- --. 117 S. Ct. at 2272, quoting United States v. Rutherford, 442 U.S. 544, 558. 1979.

Washington Post, April 4, 1996.

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