Matt C. Abbott
March 30, 2005
Is hospice care safe?
By Matt C. Abbott

I received the following e-mail from Ron Panzer, president of Hospice Patients Alliance (

Right to life organizations have been out-maneuvered by the so-called right to die organizations. How did this occur? We have to look at the history of the right to die organizations and then the answer will be clear.

Before the Third Reich, before World War II, the eugenics and euthanasia advocates were quite active in the U.S. The Euthanasia Society of America, formed in 1938 in New York, having failed in getting passage of laws legalizing euthanasia, changed its tactics. Realizing that the sanctity of life ethic was alive and well in the U.S., they sought a way to chip away at the bedrock blocking their way. Commissioning research to learn what phrases their dark agenda could be palatably sold to the American public, they came up with terms such as 'choice in dying,' 'dying well,' 'the right to die' and 'patient choice.'

In the 1960s they changed their name to Choice in Dying, choosing to focus on incrementally advancing the euthanasia agenda. Living wills, advanced directives, and do not resuscitate orders were successfully sold to the U.S. and accepted by the mainstream health care industry policymakers.

Simultaneous with the introduction of the living will and the advanced directives initiative, hospice care arrived on the scene, suggesting that we avoid aggressive acute hospital care when such interventions may be burdensome and intrusive for patients who are truly dying. Providing compassionate care to the terminally ill, relieving their suffering while allowing a natural death in its own timing ... who could object?

What the public did not know is that the first hospice in our nation, the Connecticut Hospice, was founded by a major representative of the euthanasia movement, Florence Wald, MSN, who stated that assisted suicide should be available for just about any reason at all:

'I'll tell you the way I see it, and I know that I differ from Cicely Saunders, who is very much against assisted suicide. I disagree with her view on the basis that there are cases in which either the pain or the debilitation the patient is experiencing is more than can be borne, whether it be economically, physically, emotionally, or socially. For this reason, I feel a range of options should be available to the patient, and this should include assisted suicide.' (JAMA. 281; 1683-1685, May 12, 1999, Hospice Care in the United States: A Conversation with Florence S. Wald, M. J. Friedrich)

While many in hospice assert that they will neither hasten death nor prolong death, hospice staff around the country may misuse common end of life interventions to hasten death. Terminal sedation, a common intervention to relieve severe agitation at the end of life, can be misapplied to place patients into a medically-induced coma from which they are not allowed to recover. They die of dehydration while sleeping, thereby allowing for a 'pretty' and 'peaceful,' but unnatural death, i.e., murder.

Right to life organizations have traditionally viewed hospice as the rightful alternative to euthanasia and have ardently supported hospice services, and so they should, IF hospices remain loyal to the original hospice mission of the London-based Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement. But the euthanasia advocates have always known that hospice could be used as the back door to legalization of euthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide.

And that is what has been occurring throughout the U.S. We have families reporting their loved one was killed off outright within hospices, through inappropriate use of medications when there was no clinical need, resulting in the death of an otherwise non-dying patient.

...The euthanasia advocates have taken over the national policymaking circles of the entire hospice industry. Doubt it? Well, remember the Euthanasia Society of America? It changed its name to Choice in Dying, which sounds great, but was clearly an early indication that the choice they really wanted to promote was the choice to have physician-assisted suicide and/or euthanasia.

Choice in Dying completed its mission, the nationwide acceptance of incremental changes in our attitude toward life, substituting a 'quality of life' ethic for the 'sanctity of life' ethic. Having done its job, it looked forward to the next step: the direct control of the hospice industry. Choice in Dying merged with the hospice industry coalition, Partnership for Caring, whose goal was the changing of state and federal laws to favor utilization of hospice. Partnership for Caring merged with Last Acts, one of the largest hospice coalitions in the world, funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, to become Last Acts Partnership. Many who have served as Last Acts Partnership's directors also serve on the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization board.

For example, Mary Labyak, C.E.O. of the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, served as secretary at the Partnership for Caring and is a prominent leader in the hospice industry, having served on the boards of Last Acts and the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization. It is Labyak's hospice, Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, which has actively participated in accepting a non-terminal patient, Terri Schiavo, into the hospice, for the express purpose of euthanizing the 'unworthy of life' victim, Terri Schiavo.

Those who think hospice is the safe alternative to open euthanasia have been outfoxed. The euthanasia society has run circles around the well-meaning but naive right to lifers. So whether euthanasia is legalized openly or 'back-doored' through hospice, euthanasia is here, and it has been here for a long time. The National Right to Life Committee has known about the hospice killings for years, yet has refused to expose these killings.

Is the right-to-life groups' stance on hospice consistent with its professed opposition to euthanasia? Only if it admits that the realities in hospice are mixed, and citizens of our nation need to remain vigilant in determining whether their loved one is receiving end of life care, or is receiving care that leads to the end of life at will, i.e., euthanasia.

© Matt C. Abbott

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He has worked in the right-to-life movement and is a published writer focused on Catholic and social issues. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial e-mail to me... (more)


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