Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

I recently wrote about the death of Jayne Murdock in Montana, who wanted assisted suicide but found no doctor willing to lethally prescribe.  I was and am pleased with that—which is not to say that I didn’t want her to receive the best of care, or course I did—because prescribing drugs to intentionally be used in an overdose isn’t a medical act, and indeed, corrupts the healing/palliating purposes of medical professionalism.

I didn’t want to comment on the facts of the case, but now the propagandists at Compassion and Choices are using Murdock’s death to push the assisted suicide agenda, treating her desire for suicide as if it had been a necessity, and more than implying that there was no other way than suicide to relieve her suffering.  (Note there is no mention of what, if any, attempts were made to palliate Murdock’s symptoms.)  From the press release:

Murdock spent nearly two months trapped in a dying process, which she found unbearable, and ultimately she brought the process to an end by giving up food and fluid.

It’s ironic that C and C would complain about giving up food and water since this is one of the “choces” it often promotes as a way for patients to hasten their own deaths. Indeed, it sponsored AB 2747 in CA that now requires doctors to tell patients they have that option if they have been diagnosed with one year or less to live.
Murdock’s daughter, Ildiko, said, “Watching my mom over the last five months was gut wrenching. As her health and her body declined, it was heartbreaking for me and my brother, because there wasn’t anything we could do, and my mom was miserable a lot of the time. This is a volatile topic, but once you watch someone go through the end of a debilitating disease, it does indeed make you question what is fair and right and moral, to stand by and watch someone die a death you would’t want to wish on your worst enemy.”

“Cruel and unusual punishment” is how Murdock’s friend, Bill Clarke, described her. “Janet’s condition was hopeless and dismal. She tried to hasten her death by stopping eating and drinking, but dehydration caused her mouth and lips intolerable pain. The artificial wetting aids didn’t work, or she was allergic to them, and she could’t take morphine (she became delirious); so she then resumed taking water, but even small amounts delay death. But forcing her to starve herself to death isn’t the worst of it.

Imagine if somebody were being executed like this? The state would withhold food and water, though withholding water caused agony. Is there any doubt that courts would find this cruel and unusual punishment? But Janet had not done anything wrong.”

 Remember how people who said that about Terri Schiavo’s dehydration were ridiculed and accused of being fanatics?  For years, we have been told repeatedly that dehydrating to death is sublime and peaceful—and it was always a lie (unless one’s body is actively shutting down as part of the natural dying process). Thus, I have no doubt this description is right. But, nobody was forcing this upon Murdock.  It was what, it is claimed, she chose.

 As to the morphine issue so quickly slid by, experts in palliation can overcome those problems by finding the right dosages. As Dr. Eric Chevlen and I noted in Power Over Pain, sometimes you have to work to get the levels right.  And if she was allergic, there are other modalities that can control cancer pain. We don’t know what, if anything was tried to help Murdock with regard to specialist care, because C and C controls all the information.

I am loath to comment on personal situations such as this. People are grieving and we should leave them alone. But C and C is using Murdock’s death to promote its agenda and is emotionally bludgeoning people into both accepting assisted suicide as a necessity, coercing doctors into participating in killing their patients (ending their lives), and silencing critics of assisted suicide who they know will be castigated as cruel if they comment.  I am sorry, I would rather have left it alone, but this scandalous press release required a firm response.

I wrote it before and I will again: Murdock’s doctor properly refused to become complicit in her killing. It was an act of courageous professionalism.  The suffering she experienced sounds awful and I indeed wouldn’t wish it on anybody.  We don’t know whether more aggressive or more expertly applied palliative efforts could have alleviated these symptoms.  (Yes, there are rare cases of intractable suffering, for which palliative sedation is an appropriate remedy.) But even if not, that doesn’t justify legalizing the abandoning ethic and exposing the vulnerable to the dangers, so often documented, that come with assisted suicide.  If that opinion makes me the most hated man in America, so be it.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles