By Calvin Freiburger — Congress is currently considering legislation that would overhaul training and procedures for palliative and hospice care, but many have raised concerns that the bill would, in practice, hasten the deaths of seriously ill patients, including those whose situations are not terminal.
Editor’s note: We first told you about the Republican-sponsored Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) in this article in December, 2019, and thanks to your phone calls and emails, the bill was removed from the US Senate HELP Committee’s agenda! However, attempts to bring the bill back up again for a committee vote are highly likely in the very near future.
The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last October and moved on to the Senate, requires the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to take steps to “provide support for Palliative Care and Hospice Education Centers” as they “improve the training of health professionals in palliative care,” according to its official summary. The bill also calls on the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to launch a “national education and awareness campaign to inform patients, families, and health professionals about the benefits of palliative care,” and on the National Institutes of Health to “expand national research programs in palliative care.”
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA (EPCUSA) warns that, in their estimation, the bill would have several troubling consequences—the first being the transfer of more non-dying patients to hospice care, a system “plagued by fraud, poor quality care leading to serious harm and deaths, while wasting hundreds of millions to billions of federal dollars.” EPCUSA notes:
“Federal investigators found hospices enrolling patients who are not terminally ill, without their knowledge or under false pretenses, providing poor quality care, and inappropriately billing Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars. Nearly half of hospices are unsure they could pass a government audit.”
These transfers would be exacerbated by language in the bill which EPCUSA says will allow “federal bureaucrats and palliative care insiders” to define what constitutes a “serious or life-threatening illness.” EPCUSA continues:
“Palliative leads to the deaths of people who were not otherwise dying, typically by casually assessing people as terminal and placing them in hospice where they are heavily sedated, overdosed on pain killers, and denied food and water so the diagnosis becomes self-fulfilling.”
They acknowledge that bill’s Section 5 contains language that forbids spending funds on education about or promotion of assisted suicide, euthanasia, and so-called mercy killing, but predicts that additional language in the Senate version “will not stop the abuse and hastened deaths of people enrolled in hospice and palliative care.”
Discovery Institute senior fellow Wesley Smith, a prolific pro-life writer and bioethicist, disagrees. Last September, he wrote in National Review that he believes Section 5’s language is sufficient to keep the bill’s improvements to hospice care from morphing into cover for euthanasia. Smith wrote:
“It should also be noted that the sponsors of the bill listened to the concerns that anti-euthanasia activists expressed about its previous iteration. To be even more explicit and to prevent any confusion, this year’s version of the bill has added a clear statement that, in the programs it funds, ‘palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason.’ There’s no wiggle room there.”
“As an anti-euthanasia activist for 26 years, I am not naïve,” Smith added. “I know that many assisted-suicide advocates wish to corrupt hospice and palliative care by authorizing killing in their names. But their perfidy is not a reason to oppose a bill with great potential to help so many people.”
Attorney and EPCUSA board member Sara Buscher responds:
“At first blush the new so-called ‘anti-euthanasia’ language looks good, but it does little or nothing. That’s why there’s no need for wiggle room. The bill does not fund ‘the furnishing of palliative care and hospice.’ It funds education, research and public information programs. The new language does not apply to the furnishing of medical care funded by Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs because they are not funded by the bill.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) came out against against the House version of the bill, but for the Senate version, arguing the latter’s language that “palliative care and hospice shall not be furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason” would prevent it from being abused. The left-wing, Obama administration-colluding Catholic Health Association (CHA) supports both versions.
The National Association of Pro-Life Nurses vocally opposes the PCHETA, arguing that Section 5 is “toothless” because the practices it disavows “are already considered acceptable by many influential hospice and palliative care doctors.” The National Association of Pro-Life Nurses’ official statement says:
“We believe that the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act will allow federal funding to teach and institutionalize such unethical practices without sufficient oversight, safeguards or penalties. As nurses, we are also very concerned that the Act contains no conscience rights protection for those of us – doctors and nurses alike – who will do anything for our patients except deliberately end their lives or help them kill themselves.”
This article originally appeared on LifeSiteNews and was edited for republication here.