Introduction

Webcast archive: Profiteering from assisted suicide

This week, we look at people who have attempted to make a profit through assisted suicide, as well as some legislative updates from around the world.

Webcast archive: Profiteering from assisted suicide

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck, Christian Debray, and Taylor Hyatt discuss:

  • Profiteering from assisted suicide and euthanasia
  • Update on bills in Guernsey, Finland, and New Zealand

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.

PROFITEERING FROM ASSISTED SUICIDE AND EUTHANASIA

  • This week, we noticed a couple of news stories about people profiting from assisted suicide.  The first concerns charges brought against the founder of the Swiss suicide organization Dignitas; the other is a Texas hospice where patients were killed to save money.
  • Ludwig Minelli, a Swiss lawyer who founded the non-profit Dignitas in 1998, has been charged with “profiteering from patients and exploiting their suffering for his own benefit.” The charges come from two separate incidents. In 2010, he reportedly charged an 85-year-old woman and her daughter 10,000 Swiss francs (over $10,100 CAD) each to arrange their suicides. This was twice the usual rate. The prosecution argued that the women agreed to the excessive fees because they were “desperate.” (Dignitas staff do not participate in the deaths themselves; instead, they provide a location and recruit willing medical professionals.)
  • In a 2003 incident, an 80-year-old woman seeking assisted suicide was in distress but did not have a terminal illness. Three doctors contacted by Mr. Minelli refused to end her life on ethical grounds, so a fourth physician was eventually found to prescribe the lethal drug.  Mr. Minelli’s persistence was reportedly motivated by the promise of a gift of 100,000 Swiss francs (nearly $114,000 CAD) in the woman’s will. Mr. Minelli allegedly neglected to bury the woman’s ashes near her husband’s remains, as requested. Instead, he scattered them in Lake Zurich.
  • Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland. except for “self-serving motives,” such as making excessive profits.  The prosecution has asked for a fine of 7,000 francs (over $9,000 CAD) with a “suspended” fine of 65,000 francs.
  • In another case closer to home, the operations director of a Texas hospice has pleaded guilty to “hastening the deaths” and other abuses of people receiving care. Melanie Murphey of Novus Health Services in Frisco, Texas, also pleaded guilty to charges of “health care fraud,” and will testify that the hospice’s owners profited from a $60 million fraud scheme.
  • Ms. Murphey admitted to defrauding Medicare and Medicaid “by billing them for patients who did not qualify for hospice services.” She also created false DNR forms to avoid paying for ambulance trips to a hospital if 911 was called. and used nurses’ notes to complete forms as if she were a doctor. The facility owner, Bradley Harris, ordered that patients who stayed there longer than was profitable receive doses of narcotics high enough to kill them. He is alleged to have sent a text to a nurse that read “You need to make this patient go bye-bye.”
  • Neither Ms. Murphey nor Mr. Harris has any medical training. A federal investigation into their actions began in 2016. Ms. Murphey could spend up to 10 years in prison.
  • These stories point to two major problems with end-of-life care. People living in institutions are often mistreated when cost-cutting and the convenience of staff are prioritized over residents’ safety. Second, it is, strictly speaking, more expensive to be alive than not. Now that assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal, anyone who requires personal assistance, medical care, or medication must justify the expense of staying alive. No one wants to be a financial burden on their family or society…and that feeling could turn into an economic “incentive” for assisted suicide.

UPDATE ON BILLS IN GUERNSEY, FINLAND, AND NEW ZEALAND

  • In the past week, two countries have rejected assisted suicide. On May 13, Guernsey’s parliament voted against a “requête” (similar to a Private Member’s Bill in Canada) that would have legalized assisted suicide. The proposed law would have set up a model similar to Oregon’s; eligibility criteria included having “full mental capacity” and six months or less to live. The British Medical Association and the Guernsey Disabilities Alliance opposed the bill. The seven members who proposed the bill released a statement saying “Naturally we are disappointed with this result, although it was not entirely unexpected…We remain of the view that this is an inevitable change which in the fullness of time Guernsey will one day adopt. However, that is matter for our parliamentary successors, not us.”
  • Finland’s parliament (according to a Finnish news story) voted 128-60 against legalizing euthanasia as well. The legislators are putting together a working group to investigate end-of-life care.
  • Finally, we have an update on testimony we sent to New Zealand’s parliament in March, about a bill that would legalize assisted suicide there.  Apparently, the committee examining the bill has received over 35,000 submissions, the largest public response to a proposed bill ever. This includes opinions on both sides of the issue. The committee chair expects it will take until March of 2019 to review all the submissions.  Hopefully this extension signals a serious consideration of the issue by members of Parliament rather than a rubber-stamp approval of medical killing.