Coded Talk About Assisted Suicide Can Leave Families Confused

In late May 2015, there was a brief four minute piece on All things Considered  which is informative. It points out that doctors may speak in code to a medical proxy or family member about actions which might be taken if the patient in question is very sick and not likely to survive. The “code” in this case was related to accepting extra morphine to give to a dying patient. Whether the doctor was alluding to unanticipated pain which might occur or to the potential for aiding the dying process is not clear which testifies to the possibly coded nature of the communication.

This may be relevant to you. You need to tell your family, your proxy, and your physician what you would want if you were gravely ill and likely to die. In addition, you may need to be very clear about your wishes as well the laws about assisted suicide in your state.  Currently it is a crime  in most states to assist in a suicide.  Penalties can be severe.

You should also be aware that once morphine is administered to someone who is likely to not live long, they may slip into a “morphine haze” and be less able to sustain a conversation.  As a result it is important for significant persons to have a chance to converse before the morphine has begun to have it’s impact.

A very prominent case in 2014 was featured on CNN and  involved the accusation that a nurse and daughter had assisted in the death of her father when she gave him some morphine at his request. While she was cleared, her father died in severe pain and she spent almost a year and $120,000 defending herself from the allegations.

The legal situation is changing rapidly: seventeen states are considering bills to make assisted dying legal and legislation in California,Colorado and the District of Columbia passed 2016. Until it does change, be aware that speaking in “code” may be the nature of communication from compassionate physicians when it comes to helping a seriously ill person leave this world with dignity and relative comfort.

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