Death & dying

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Public Invited to Weigh in on Toughest Medical Ethics Decisions

August 24, 2016

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, health care providers at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans faced a grim choice: in the midst of a crisis, who among their patients should be evacuated to better conditions? For many in the general public, news coverage (and later a book) about what happened at Memorial was the first time they truly became aware of medical rationing. The first article in a new collaboration between the New York Times and Radio Lab, "Playing God," describes an unusual public debate on the subject being led by Dr. Lee Daugherty Biddison and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Daugherty Biddison is leading a task force that will "make recommendations for [Maryland] state officials that could serve as a national model." She and her team are holding a series of public forums to hear opinions from laypeople on topics like: should a doctor be able to remove one person from a ventilator to give it to another with a better chance of surviving? During cancer drug shortages, how should doctors choose which patients receive them? Should such decisions be randomized, through a lottery, or based on a patient's age or likelihood of survival? Renowned bioethicist Ruth Faden of Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics praised the effort, noting “It’s a novel and important attempt to turn extremely complicated core ethical considerations into something people can make sense of and struggle with in ordinary language.”

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Disability and End-of-life Medical Options

July 26, 2016

In an editorial in today's MinnPost, Bobbi Jacobsen, who has lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for 20 years, commemorates the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act 26 years ago today by calling upon "the leaders of major disability organizations. . . to recognize that we want to be empowered in our end-of-life medical options, too." The article was written to raise awareness and support for Minnesota's Compassionate Care Act, which is modeled on an Oregon law that permits aid in dying but not assisted suicide. Jacobsen notes that the former only applies to terminally ill people: "Medical aid in dying applies to people who want more than anything to live, but a deadly disease is ending their lives." The bill was introduced in the Minnesota state legislature during the last session and was heard by the Senate Health Committee. It was withdrawn before a vote was taken, but is expected to be introduced again during the next session, which begins in January, 2017. 

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Actions Before Prince's Death Raise Medical Ethics Questions

May 6, 2016

An article in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, "the attempted emergency delivery of an opioid antidote to treat Prince’s addiction before he died has raised medical ethics and legal questions." Immediately before the rock star's death, his representatives contacted a California addiction specialist, Andrew Kornfeld, in hopes he could help address Prince's dependence on narcotic painkillers. The doctor sent his son, a pre-med student, to Minnesota with a drug commonly used to treat opioid addiction; the son was the person who called 911 the morning of Prince's death. According to the Star Tribune, "As a doctor licensed in California and federally registered to prescribe controlled substances, Kornfeld would have had authority to prescribe medication to Prince in Minnesota. However, he or an associate would have needed to conduct an in-person exam before prescribing or administering a controlled substance." It's not clear whether an appointment with a Minnesota physician, scheduled for later the day Prince died, was intended to fulfill that requirement. The situation raises at least two legal questions: "Whether the younger Kornfeld had the legal authority to carry a controlled substance from California to Minnesota," and whether "Minnesota’s 'good Samaritan' law, [which] allows people to render aid in a medical emergency," would apply.

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Susan M. Wolf Interviewed on the Future of End-of-Life Care

April 24, 2015

Professor Susan M. Wolf was interviewed today by Kerri Miller on Minnesota Public Radio's Friday Roundtable regarding a New England Journal of Medicine article she co-authored examining 40 years of end-of-life policy work. Participants in the hour-long program discussed the ongoing practical and emotional challenges faced by families, patients and physicians when coping with the dying process. The program also featured Dr. Glen Varns, a palliative medicine physician at Allina Health, and Dr. Jacob J. Strand, director of the Mayo Clinic's Symptom Management, Pain and Quality of Life Clinic. A blog post on the topic is available here

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Prof. Wolf on Harvard’s Bill of Health

February 19, 2015

Consortium chair Susan M. Wolf, JD, has posted on Harvard Law School’s Bill of Health about dying in America. Her post, co-authored wit Nancy Berlinger, PhD, and Bruce Jennings, MA, argues that decades of work to fix end-of-life care have failed to make the progress needed. The Canadian Supreme Court’s Feb. 6 decision in Carter v. Canada finds patients still experiencing intolerable suffering and finally throws in the towel, legalizing “physician aid in dying” in Canada. For more from Prof. Wolf and co-authors on this topic, visit the Feb. 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Susan M. Wolf on End-of-Life Care in the New England Journal of Medicine

February 12, 2015

Susan M. Wolf, chair of the Consortium, is lead author of an article in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that gives an overview of four decades of progress -- and outlines what remains to be done -- to improve care at the end of life. Wolf and co-authors Nancy Berlinger and Bruce Jennings also wrote The Hastings Center Guidelines for Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment and Care Near the End of Life (Oxford University Press, 2013) a revised and expanded edition of The Hastings Center’s groundbreaking 1987 guidelines.

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Susan Wolf to Present in Atlanta on Death and Dying

October 24, 2013

Professor Susan Wolf will speak on “Improving Care Near the End of Life: Why It's Still So Difficult” at the annual meeting of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH), Oct. 24-27, 2013 in Atlanta. While there, she will also present at the annual meeting of the Hastings Center Fellows.