Physician-assisted Suicide

I have always maintained that the best thing that I have ever done for a patient was to hold their hand as they died; however, there are few scenarios that I can posit where I would ever cause the death of another, and I would never do it in my capacity as a medical professional. In the State of Connecticut, assisting a patient in their suicide is illegal (Kasprak, 2003; Saunders & Smith, 2010). Saunders and Smith (2010) describe the use of “semantic ploys” (para. 3) in arguing for physician-assisted suicide and how the court deemed the “issue rests with the legislature, not with the court” (para 4).

Two states have laws permitting physician-assisted suicide, Oregon and Washington (Death with Dignity Act, 1997; Death with Dignity Act, 2008). The other 48 states either have laws forbidding assisted suicide, such as Connecticut, rely on common law, or have no laws permitting or forbidding the practice (Kasprak, 2003). Personally, my thoughts on the matter are clearly reflected in my opening statement. More compelling, however, is a recent discussion on the discontinuation of implanted cardiac devices in patients with a desire to “refuse continued life-sustaining therapy” (Kapa, Mueller, Hayes, & Asirvatham, 2010, p. 989). Many of the respondants to this study viewed the discontinuation of pacemakers akin to physician-assisted suicide, whereas less felt the termination of cardioverter-defibrillator therapy was an ethical issue. Oddly, lawyers indicated less problems discontinuing therapy than did physicians.

There are conditions that are so intractably painful and wrought with suffering that I would not even consider thinking less of a person suffering such a malady who took their own life. Death, for many people, is a fear beyond fear, and for a person (of considerable sound mind) to choose death as a viable alternative to such suffering, I commend their bravery and choose not to judge them negatively. No physician or other health care provider should cause the death of a person directly, but acknowledging the patient’s will to die is another matter. In lieu of providing a chemical means of ending life, a physician could, in my mind, counsel a patient on the means and methods that might be viewed as more effective and humane than other means which might result in unwanted suffering. I do believe that a person has the right to choose an alternative to a surely painful and agonizing death, regardless of the presence of depression. If a person is suffering from depression because of a terminal illness that is causing physical suffering, it is hard to imagine this person will resolve the depression before succumbing to the causal disease process. In these cases, the person has the right to choose a more dignified death. For those cases where the person is incapacitated and cannot make health care decisions, I feel that any friend or family member, or a consensus of available friends and family members, should be able to make the decision to continue or discontinue life-sustaining measures. Even if the decision is wrong for the patient, most of the time the decision is for the benefit of the family and friends and lacks medical relevance aside from resource management, though there are spiritual, emotional, and moral considerations that the next of kin may face which are no less relevant.

Personally, I grant any person permission to end my life if they see me engulfed in flame or if taken on the battlefield by an enemy known for public torture. Beyond these two circumstances, I will always choose to live so long as I have my thoughts. I have heard some people intimate that they would wish to die if they were conscious but perpetually paralyzed (i.e. locked-in syndrome); however, I am not so sure that I would want to die just for lacking the ability to communicate with others. I would want to view the world, though, perhaps by television or radio. I am too curious as to what comes next for the world. As we interfere with the dying process, it does make sense that we address the morality in which we do this. It does not seem right to have brain dead patients connected to ventilators and feeding tubes forever. It’s Orwellian.


Death with Dignity Act of 1997, O.R.S. 127.800 et seq. (1997).

Death with Dignity Act of 2009, R.C.W. 70.245 (2008).

Kapa, S., Mueller, P. S., Hayes, D. L., & Asirvatham, S. J. (2010). Perspectives on withdrawing pacemaker and implantable cardioverter-defibrillator therapies at end of life: Results of a survey of medical and legal professionals and patients. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 85(11), 981-990. doi:10.4065/mcp.2010.0431

Kasprak, J. (2003, July 9). Assisted suicide (OLR Research Report No. 2003-R-0515). Retrieved from

Saunders, W. L. & Smith, M. R. (2010, June 21). Assisted-suicide advocates fail in Connecticut. National Review Online. Retrieved from

Community Health Centers

Community health centers increase availability of (i.e. access to) health care and is shown by some to improve health outcomes (Taylor, 2009). Improving access to health care is achieved by placing these community health centers geographically proximate to underserved and at-risk populations. Taylor (2009) boasts improvements in health outcomes due to the number and placement of community health centers, but she provides no compelling evidence to say that any improved outcome is not directly caused by the improved access. Forrest and Whelan (2000) discuss a need to improve access to physician offices more than community health centers to improve follow-up care which continues to lack in the community health center model, though the point may be moot if the community health centers can improve the delivery of service to allow for proper follow-up. Forrest and Whelan do, however, acknowledge the value of community health centers in providing increased access to health care to underserved and vulnerable populations.

Dieleman et al. (2004) offers collaboration of health care providers in the primary care setting as a means of improving efficiency and thereby improving health outcomes. The testing instrument used during this study indicates an overall improvement of the attitudes towards role recognition, provider satisfaction, patient satisfaction, and patient health status, as well as the quality of patient care provided. In my experience with many community-based health clinics, they tend to be less than spectacular as far as quality of care, cleanliness, and patient-provider attitudes. By adding other providers into the patient-provider relationship, it would allow others to comment within the team where improvements can be made in relation to each patient-provider relationship and in a more general sense.

A collaborative holistic approach to patient care, whether in primary care, emergency care, or in critical care, will foster a sense of partnership within the team, including the patient and family, that will allow the team to truly care for the patient, will allow the patient to be invested in his or her care, and will promote a complete view of the whole patient both when sick and when well. Collaboration will, hopefully, allow improved efficiency in the provision of care while maintaining a trustworthy and committed relationship with the patient. Forging these relationships will, hopefully, help to overcome any challenges faced within our continually changing health care landscape.


Dieleman, S. L., Farris, K. B., Feeny, D., Johnson, J. A., Tsuyuki, R. T., & Brilliant, S. (2004). Primary health care teams: team members’
perceptions of the collaborative process. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 18(1), 75-78. doi:10.1080/13561820410001639370

Forrest, C. B. & Whelan, E. (2000). Primary care safety-net delivery sites in the United States: A comparison of community health centers, hospital outpatient departments, and physicians’ offices. Journal of the American Medical Association, 284(16), 2077-2083. doi:10.1001/jama.284.16.2077

Taylor, T. (2009, October). The role of community-based public health programs in ensuring access to care under universal coverage [Issue brief]. American Public Health Association. Retrieved from

Henrietta Lacks

Grady (2010) offers the circumstances of Henrietta Lacks for discussion as it pertains to medical ethics. Henrietta Lacks was a young woman who succumbed to cervical cancer in the early 1950s at Johns Hopkins Hospital (Grady, 2010; Sorrell, 2010). Grady describes Henrietta Lacks and her family as “poor, with little education and no health insurance” (para. 10), yet she was cared for and her cancer was treated with radium, the standard treatment of the day. Despite treatment, Henrietta passed away. During the course of her treatment, however, a small sample of cancer cells were removed from her cervix for testing, and they continue to be tested to this day (Grady, 2010; Sorrell, 2010). Additionally, this line of cells, now known as the HeLa cells, has become commercialized, as they are bought and sold for millions on the biomedical research market (Grady, 2010).

Assuming no consent was given by Henrietta or her family, this raises a few questions. Did the physicians at Johns Hopkins have a right to these cancer cells? Did they have a right to transfer ownership to third parties? Does the estate of Henrietta Lacks require royalties be paid when others profit from what amounts to a donation to the public domain?

No person can own another person (or, a part thereof). This is consistent with the moral society of the United States. However, Henrietta Lacks presented herself to Johns Hopkins hospital with the express desire to rid herself of the cancer cells causing her illness. This alone could mean that the cells are refuse and able to be salvaged, and according to Fost (2010), this is agreed to be the law of the land. Fost describes the circumstances surrounding the HeLa cells as normal course of medical business, and I agree for the most part: “If tissue removed during an operation is about to be thrown out with the garbage and has no identifying information, it should be permissible to use it for research without the patient’s consent” (2010, para. 1). In this case, however, the researchers later approach the Lacks family to obtain DNA samples to discriminate between HeLa cell cultures and non-HeLa cell cultures. This mere fact offers evidence that the tissue is identifiable with Henrietta Lacks and her lineage, and I feel, as does Fost, that this is where the researchers erred, in asking for continued support of the cells by obtaining further comparative specimens for analysis yet not clarifying the misconceptions of the family. The researchers should not have requested further tissue (i.e. blood) donation without obtaining informed consent from the donors. Further, the cell line were given a name representative of Henrietta Lacks, HeLa, and she was named as the donor and widely known as such throughout the biomedical research community. Ergo, there were certainly identifying data linking Henrietta Lacks to the specimen.


Certainly under normal circumstances the cells should be made available for research purposes, but they should not be sold for profit, only for the costs of storage and maintenance. Any tissue freely used for medical science should be in the public domain. Further, if a specimen is found to have financial worth, I feel that the custodial researchers should set aside a royalty account allowing a small percentage of the proceeds to be returned to the donor’s estate. I also feel that if researchers have any special interest in further donation, then those donors should be offered remuneration for their donation which should be commensurate to the gains assumed to be made by their donation.

I find no issue with how the cancer cells were used initially, however, the sample should not have been attached in name to the donor. Though not required, it would have been nice if the researchers provided a royalty to the estate of Ms. Lacks, however, to thank her for her contribution to medicine and science.


Fost, N. (2010). A cell’s life: The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Issues in Science and Technology, 26(4), 87+. Retrieved from

Grady, G. (2010, February 1). Second opinion: A lasting gift to medicine that wasn’t really a gift. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Sorrell, J. M. (2010). First do no harm: Looking Back to the Future [Editorial]. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 48(9), 2-3. doi:10.3928/02793695-20100730-07

A Tertiary Care Transfer

On December 18, 2009, “Simon Jones” called 9-1-1 and summoned emergency medical services (EMS) to his residence after developing a significant difficulty in breathing over the last few days. Mr. Jones is an elderly male who lives alone after his wife passed away three years ago. His two adult children live out of state. As EMS arrived, they found Mr. Jones to be in moderate distress with difficulty breathing, a low-grade fever, pale and cool skin, and general complaints of weakness. Mr. Jones stated a significant past medical history, including coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Mr. Jones was treated by EMS with intravenous fluids, provided a breathing treatment, and transported to the local community hospital’s emergency department (ED).

Upon arrival at the local hospital, Mr. Jones was registered as a patient during turn-over from EMS to the nurse and attending physician who initially prescribed antibiotics and continual oxygen by nasal cannula. Within an hour, Mr. Jones spiked a high fever, became severely short of breath, and his blood pressure dropped precipitously indicating systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), or sepsis. The attending physician quickly ordered IV fluids run wide open with vasoactive medications added to support the patient’s blood pressure. Mr. Jones was unable to breathe effectively, however, and required intubation and was subsequently placed on a ventilator. The attending physician consulted with the University Hospital “One Call” physician who recommended transferring Mr. Jones to the intensive care unit (ICU) at University Hospital. A critical care transport (CCT) unit, staffed by two critical care paramedics and an emergency medical technician driver, was called for the transfer.

Mr. Jones was transferred to University Hospital without issue. Upon arrival, the intensivist accepted patient care from the CCT crew and began formulating a team to care for Mr. Jones, specifically mindful of his complicating medical history. Mr. Jones still had a low blood pressure and required ventilatory support, but his core temperature began dropping below normal. After a few days of using medication to attempt to correct the infection and hemodynamics (blood pressure, et al.), the patient developed acute renal failure (ARF). Mr. Jones, however, did not develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which was a concern from being on the ventilator with SIRS. Mr. Jones received continuous bedside hemodialysis for added kidney support.

After eight more days in the ICU, Mr. Jones’s hemodynamics began to self-regulate, and he seemed to be improving quite well. After three more days, Mr. Jones’ kidney function began to improve and hemodialysis was discontinued. Four days later, Mr. Jones was extubated, removed from the ventilator, and transferred to a medical/surgical bed. After a short stay, Mr. Jones was discharged to a skilled nursing rehabilitation center for improvement of his activities of daily living (ADLs). Mr. Jones soon returned home with no lasting effects from the medical confinement. He continues to follow up with his primary care physician.