Response to BMJ Editorial on Physician Assisted Suicide

In response to…

I agree that doctors certainly should “engage” with this issue…and…of course I strongly disagree with the BMJ’s position in favor of physician assisted suicide (PAS).

There is much more to say, though for today I am going to focus on three points: 1) languaging, 2) the idea of organization “neutrality” on this issue, and 3) physician engagement on this issue.

First, languaging around the issue of PAS is important and should not be overlooked.  Names matter and, specifically, the specificity of naming matters.  Diseases, treatments, etc. in medicine tend to become more exact and accurate over time.  This is to help distinguish between one and the next in meaningful ways.  The push to move from terms like “assisted suicide” to “assisted death/dying” suggests, charitability, that those in favor of the latter see no difference between someone dying of their disease vs someone dying because of a purposeful lethal ingestion prescribed by a doctor. 

Please read that again…people on the pro-PAS side of the argument, at best, see no difference between you dying of cancer and a doctor prescribing you a lethal overdose

If you believe there is an important moral difference between these then please, please speak up next time you see this in writing or hear it in conversation.  Kind, charitable questions can generally help clarify whether the other person understands this essential difference.  At the very least we should be clear about what we’re discussing.  If you’d like to let the BMJ know what you think, you can contact them here.

Second, Dr. Godlee states both, “The BMJ’s position is that terminally ill people should be able to choose an assisted death…” AND “…the journal has called on professional organisations to adopt a neutral stance on the grounds that a decision to legalise assisted dying is for society and parliament to make.”  Just so we’re clear, it’s ok for the BMJ to be in favor of PAS AND it is improper for other organizations to take the opposite position.  Gotcha. (Hopefully) No further comment needed on this point.

Third, “Engagement of doctors in recent polls has been limited, with only 20% of physicians, 19% of BMA members, and 13% of GPs responding.”  I hope this makes it clear that any polls that might be out there woefully under-, and likely mis-represent, the true opinion of physicians. 

This debate is far from over and we are continuing to work with our colleagues and friends across New York State to keep our patients, friends, family, ourselves, and indeed our very profession safe from the scourge of physician assisted suicide!

-Tom Carroll, President – FLG

End of Life Symposium…RESUSCITATED!!

The Finger Lakes Guild Presents…

Catholic Conversations – Death with True Dignity

January 15, 2022 from 8:30am to 1pm

We are excited to announce that, in cooperation with Mt. Carmel House, St. Bernard’s and the Diocese of Rochester, the Symposium has been resuscitated!

COVID-permitting we will offer an in-person option, though either way, the Symposium will be available via Zoom.

We will address important topics and questions around common and challenging end of life issues, including…

  • Why does the Church teach that? (Foundations of Catholic Teaching)
  • Does Hospice mean I’m giving up?
  • I don’t need a Health Care Proxy because my wife will make decisions if I can’t.
  • I don’t want Hospice because they’re going to kill me with morphine!
  • But if I start the feeding tube, then the Church says I can never stop it…right?

…and many more…

Stay tuned for more details to come!

“Compassion and Choices”

The ironically- (and sadly-) named pro-suicide group “Compassion and Choices” is focusing their efforts on passing Physician Assisted Suicide legislation in a number of states, including New York. They will not rest, and so we must not either!

One great organization that will help keep you abreast of developments in the are is Patients Rights Action Fund. Check them out and consider donating.

Remember, those in favor of assisted suicide are tireless and committed to nothing short of open and free access to death on demand. In their own words…

Compassion and Choices Fall Magazine

We are committed to continuing and expanding these efforts. How will COVID-19 impact our ability to authorize medical aid in dying in more states in 2021? Increased competition from issues emerging as a result of COVID-19 and greater awareness of racial inequities will make it more challenging to get any law passed in the near term. However, the unfortunate reality is that large numbers of people have and continue to suffer lonely, isolated deaths. We have seen time and time again that when people experience firsthand the inhumanity of suffering at life’s end, our support solidifies, intensifies and grows.

 This reality, along with the momentum we had coming into COVID-19 and a combined total of 50 years of experience successfully implementing medical aid in dying in 10 jurisdictions, leaves me feeling optimistic for the future. We can anticipate authorizing an average of one state per year, putting us on track to realize our strategic goal of ensuring that 50% of the population lives in a state where medical aid in dying is authorized and accessible by 2028. What states look the most promising for advancing medical aid in dying? Massachusetts lawmakers, for the first time ever, advanced their medical aid-in-dying legislation during COVID-19, voting it out of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. We are hopeful the state will authorize medical aid in dying in the near term. In terms of the rest of the country, I will be able to answer this question with more certainty on November 3, just after the election. I anticipate lawmakers sponsoring bills in approximately 20 states where we are organizing and working alongside coalitions to move legislation forward. The political climate and grassroots support are increasingly promising in nine of those states — Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Nevada and Virginia.

 Last year, Oregon passed legislation to improve the existing bill. Do you anticipate other states following suit? Absolutely. We have conclusive data that the existing law is unnecessarily burdensome, and we will work with lawmakers in some states to begin to address this reality. Fundamental improvements include 1) the elimination of or ability for doctors to waive the waiting period for patients actively dying; 2) the inclusion of nurse practitioners and/or physician assistants as allowable practitioners; 3) a requirement that providers disclose their medical aid-in-dying policies, allowing patients to make informed decisions about where to access the care they want.

Peace with Dementia Rosary – Featuring Tom Carroll

I am honored, and humbled, that Matt Estrade asked me to join him recently on his Peace with Dementia Rosary Podcast! I enjoyed our conversation and I think we covered some important topics around palliative care, advance care planning, MOLST/POLST forms and more!

I also enjoyed praying the Rosary with him. What a nice model for a Catholic Podcast!

You can see the video of our conversation here, and if you’re on the go you can also check out the audio-only version on Apple Podcasts here.

Matt is a busy and productive guy! For more great content from Matt check him out on his Peace with Dementia website, YouTube channel. He is also available as a dementia coach via MyCatholicDoctor.

The Will to Live

I think it’s fair to say that we who take care of patients at the end of their lives have seen the “will to live” (or loss thereof) drastically affect the timing of a person’s death.

This review suggests the field remains in the early stages in terms of data quality. Definitely will be interesting to keep an eye on future studies.

Thank you!

Dear Friends,

Thank you to everyone who offered their support for my talk about Physician Assisted Suicide opposite Tim Quill on Wednesday!  I very much appreciate the (virtual) “in-person” support of those who were able to join via Zoom and for all of your prayers!

I am told that the session was recorded and I will post the link when it becomes available.

In Christ,

Tom Carroll

Physician Assisted Suicide

Please consider supporting our President, Dr. Tom Carroll, as he talks about Physician Assisted Suicide opposite Dr. Timothy Quill on Wednesday, 5/27, from 12-1pm. The Zoom link is https://urmc.zoom.us/s/94337697512

This presentation is part of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Unmasked conference. This is a forum for presentations about projects around the COVID-19 crisis and abstracts that were part of canceled conferences this spring. In addition to Dr. Carroll’s presentation there is a full slate of intriguing presentations on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Please feel free to join any/all that you like!

Full daily schedules here:

Wednesday, May 27

Thursday, May 28

Friday, May 29

Unmasked-General-Program-Final Version

Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning

I had a really nice time speaking at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church last night as part of their Breath of Life Ministry’s Respect Life Month.  What a wonderful group of people, and such a beautiful church!

I hope that this sort of event sparks conversations among family and friends about the importance of careful advance care planning.  It is all too easy these days to sign documents (e.g., standard NYS living wills and certain part of the MOLST form) that will direct care that goes against Catholic Teaching.

My basic advice: We all need a Health Care Proxy and we do NOT need a standard NYS living will.  I recommend using the document put out by the NY Conference of Bishops entitled Now and at the Hour of Our Death.  This makes clear who should making health care decisions if you were to be unable to make them yourself (the Health Care Proxy portion) and that you wish for all medical care to be provided that is in accord with Catholic Teaching (the “Living Will” portion).

The MOLST form is ONLY POSSIBLY appropriate for those who would not benefit from attempts to restart their heart if it were to stop (CPR vs  DNR) or who would be very unlikely to benefit from even a few days on a ventilator.  I strongly recommend AGAINST competing the section on Artificial Nutrition and Hydration as this question is never an emergency and so can and should be assessed and decided upon by a person’s Health Care Proxy at the time.

For a Catholic POLST (which is what the rest of the country calls forms similar to NYS’s MOLST) see the thoughtful discussion from the National Catholic Bioethics Center here.

Thank you again to the wonderful people at St. Stanislaus’s parish for inviting me last night.  May God continue to bless your exceptional ministry.

Mary, Health of the Sick, Pray for Us!

Tom Carroll – President

St Stan

Respect Life Month @ St. Stan’s

October is Respect Life Month (in addition to being the month of the Rosary), so please consider taking advantage of talks taking place at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church!  See the flyer below, and note that the speaker on 10/28 is our very own Guild President!

Respect Life Month at St Stans (2019)