Marlowe's Shade

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Are Hospices Enabling Euthanasia?: Part 1

Judi McLeod of the Canada Free Press (hat tip: Fiery Celt) posed the question last week, and recently I've been suspicious myself.

The opening quote from George Felos pretty much tells the whole tale:

"The force that created today’s hospice also propels the right-to-die movement." - Litigation as a Spiritual Practice.

There is currently so much surrounding the issue of hospices and the right-to-die movement that I can't unpack it all, but I'd like to sketch out three forces I see driving it: on the metaphysical side, the New Age movement, and on the other hand a cabal of bioethicist, HMOs, doctor/advocates, and of course the hospices themselves.

Ms McLeod spends the bulk of her article focusing on Felos' wacky New Age beliefs. And I think it's fair to say his apparent obsession with death and Eastern mysticism is not a fluke.

Richard Alpert was Timothy Leary's colleague and LSD vision-quest companion at Harvard in the early 60's. The then went off to study under guru Neem Karoli Baba in India and now styles himself a "HinJew" and answers to Ram Dass. on the Board of the "Compassion in Dying" Federation ,which is a splinter group of Dr Cranford's Hemlock Club. He is also on the staff of the openly New Age Alaya Institute. To get a sense of how Ram Dass is grounded, read this first person account of how the Hindu god Krishna appeared to him in the form of a New York State Trooper (scroll about 3/5 down the page).

Maybe this is the time to disclose that while in college I avidly read Dass' books as part of my spiritual quest. I understand the appeal completely. The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the Hare Krishnas also hid deadly secrets behind a facade of exotic spirituality. And I want to be clear that I don't equate these transplants of Eastern religions with the original beliefs themselves. Rather they are hybrids of the indigenous faith with something distinctly American that has been tailored and packaged like any other product for the consumption of their particular market. The "pitch" is perfect self-fulfillment, a kind of 24/7 "spiritual" buzz. But the price is being valued below what our culture had formerly give as worth to the individual. Those who buy into this proposition are extremely succeptable to suggestion and control. This makes the New Age movement particularly suited to it's self-appointed role of enabling the right-to-die movement. If the connection isn't apparent yet, here is an interview with a doctor who credits Ram Dass with helping form his perspective on these issues:

What hooked me initially is the same thing that continues to draw me. That is, when people's basic needs have been cared for during the dying process, they will sometimes say, "This is a remarkable time in my life."

The first three or four times people said something like that to me, I dismissed it. It was nice, but I had no conceptual model to understand it. Actually, that isn't quite true. I did have a model, but it wasn't a Western model. I'd spent significant time in meditation classes and studying various religions of the world. In the late 70s, I'd also taken a class with Ram Dass that dealt with end-of-life issues.

I could explain some of what I witnessed clinically by referring to Buddhist models, for instance, but I struggled to integrate the spiritual perspective with what I was learning in Western medicine.

After hearing a number of people talk about the value of the end of life, I realized that the universe was trying to teach me something. I began to pay particular attention to cases that went well.


I remember a situation a few years ago with a man I'll call Jason. Jason was a very healthy young man, who had a fluke cardiac arrhythmia. He was resuscitated, but remained in a deep coma. He could breathe on his own, but that was about it.

Jason had a young wife, and his family came out from the Midwest to be with him. Together, they made the decision to stop feeding him via his tube, and to let him gradually pass away.

To his credit, Dr Byock is vehemently against assisted suicide. But essentially Jason wasn't dying, like Terri he was starved and dehydrated to death. We don't know all the details of this person's diagnosis, and the family was in agreement. But with what we've been learning about the uncertainty of diagnosis in these cases, the casualness with which Dr Byock speaks of allowing a patient to die is unsettling.

In the next installment, we'll leave the astral plane for the more worldly realm, we see an equal, if not greater influence of secular right-to-die advocates and bio-ethicists.
papijoe 10:55 AM