Potential Healthcare Policy Endangers Nurses

We all know the term "euthanasia." That's when a doctor is allowed by law to end a person's life by a painless means, with the approval of the patient and his or her family.

We all know the term "assisted suicide." That's when a doctor assists a patient to commit suicide, if they request it.

But a new name for suicide has arrived on the scene, and it could put nurses in moral danger.

Recently, the American Nurses Association (ANA) has drafted a policy called "The Nurse's Role When a Patient Requests 'Aid in Dying.'" Through aid in dying (AID), this policy would require nurses to standby and not intervene as a vulnerable patient willingly commits suicide.

Marie Romagnano, RN, the founder of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers, is not pleased. She points out that the ANA has historically opposed any and all nurse participation in suicide as an unethical practice. That includes physician-assisted death or "aid in dying," which is legal now in eight jurisdictions: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

"As a nurse, if the patient asks, 'Will you help me die?' To that question, my answer is 'no,' on all accounts. 'I cannot help you with that.' I would try to find out, 'What are you afraid of?' Most are afraid of pain, afraid of dying. Most don't want to be a burden on their family. They think the quick and easy way out is suicide. But that's not the answer."

The good news is, this policy is only in draft form. Healthcare professionals and the general public have the chance to comment on the draft until April 8, 2019.

The ANA, a Silver Spring, Maryland-based organization that represents 4 million nurses, argues there's a difference between euthanasia, which is illegal in the United States, and AID. In the draft, ANA writes, "The term aid in dying can be confused with the term euthanasia. There is a key distinction between the two terms. Laws that allow aid in dying permit the adult patient with terminal illness and capacity for medical decision making to self-administer oral or enteral medication to end suffering when certain criteria are met."

In other words, if a patient expresses a desire to commit suicide, instead of recognizing this as a cry for help for the patient to receive psychological support, according to ANA, nurses would be required to "remain non-judgmental when discussing end of life options with patients, who are exploring AID."

ANA continues, "At no time should the nurse advocate for or against the patient's decision. If present during AID, the nurse promotes patient dignity as well as provides for symptom relief, comfort, and emotional support to the patient and family."

In this way, ANA could make it policy that nurses can and should be accomplices in wrongfully taking the life of an innocent human being. In the same document, unbelievably, ANA recognizes the immorality of nurses or doctors killing patients by means of euthanasia.

ANA says, "Euthanasia, which is not legal in the United States, occurs when someone other than the patient administers medication in any form, with the intention to hasten the patient's death. Euthanasia is inconsistent with the core commitments of the nursing profession and profoundly violates public trust."

But according to one healthcare professional, Dr. Carolyn Laabs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, "There is no moral difference between euthanasia and AID, and nurse involvement should be absolutely prohibited in both. Whether the nurse finds a physician who writes the lethal prescription, picks up the lethal drug at the pharmacy, or hands the cup of lethal drug to the patient for him to drink (AID) or whether the nurse holds that same cup to the patient's mouth so that he ingests it (euthanasia), the nurse is responsible for the death of the patient, either as an accomplice (AID) or as an agent (euthanasia)."

Marie Romagnano is worried for the rights of the conscience of healthcare professionals, as well as the safety and well-being of patients.

"Because of the nurse's position of trust and the fact that the patient is asking them to do this, that violates the code of ethics and the basic premise of nursing," she said.

She continued, "My comment to nurses is, 'Don't get into this type of conversation. Bring it to pastoral care and bioethics department of the institution. Bring it to the authorities that can aid the person in the best way. Whether it's the minister or a priest or the family. Nurses absolutely cannot be involved in aiding patients to die. That's wrongfully taking the life of an innocent human being and the patient is committing suicide."

You can make a difference. To add your opinion, to advocate for ethics and human dignity in healthcare, follow this link: www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/call-for-public-comment/

— Marc Massery

You might also like...

More than 100 people have died and thousands have been injured amidst the recent explosion in Lebanon's capital. What can we do to help? Marie Romagnano, RN, explains. 

What makes this pandemic a unique challenge for our healthcare professionals? Marie Romagnano explains.  

International Nurses Day comes at a time when the world daily acknowledges and applauds the heroic efforts of nurses who are on the front lines.