Editor’s note: The following article is by Diana Lynne, author of a powerful, comprehensive book on Terri Schiavo’s life and death, entitled “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.” This WND Books release is available at WorldNetDaily’s online store.
The daughter of a nursing home patient, who recently died under “suspicious” circumstances, mourns not only her father but her lost faith and trust in a health-care system she considers complicit in his death.
“One thing that has shocked me throughout this ordeal is the number of health-care ‘professionals’ that seem to major on killing rather than healing,” Deanna Potter told WND. “It’s truly frightening to think that these are people charged with overseeing health care for very old and very sick human beings.”
Potter is one of five surviving children of Jimmy Chambers, who suffocated in the early morning hours of Oct. 24 after his tracheotomy tubes became unhooked and the nursing home staff did not respond to alarms that should have sounded and attempt resuscitation. Potter and her siblings have requested an investigation by South Carolina authorities.
WorldNetDaily exclusively reported Chambers’ death came amid a bitter familial dispute over whether to keep the 79-year-old paraplegic man connected to the ventilator he had relied on since suffering a broken back and spinal chord injury during an Aug. 20 riding-lawnmower accident.
Viola Chambers asserted her husband of 58 years, who signed a living will in Iowa in 1990, did not want to be kept alive by artificial means. But 10 other family members – including four of the five children – and his initial treating physician, Dr. Kenneth Bookman, signed sworn statements that Chambers himself indicated he wanted to stay on the ventilator, receive rehabilitative therapy and live. They say he communicated this by nodding his head “yes” and “no” to questions put to him during a Sept. 8 family meeting witnessed by 13 people in his Naples, Fla., hospital room.
“He was asked specifically if he wanted to stay on the ventilator and his answer was ‘yes,'” wrote Bookman in a notarized letter documenting the event, a copy of which was supplied to WND. “He was asked if he understood that he would likely never go home again, and would likely live in a ventilator facility, on the ventilator, for the rest of his life and his answer was ‘yes.'”
According to Bookman, Chambers was off of sedation and aware enough to comprehend and make decisions regarding life support. Bookman and the 10 family members considered Chambers’ living will revoked.
Yet, the life and death tug-of-war continued after Chambers was transferred to Anne Maria Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in North Augusta, S.C., in late September. Viola Chambers made the staff and new treating physician, Dr. Nicholas Sanito, aware of the living will and obtained Sanito’s signature on a Do-Not-Resuscitate order, or DNR, according to documents filed with the local probate court.
Since Chambers had not designated a durable power of attorney, Mrs. Chambers was affirmed as his medical decision-maker by the South Carolina Long Term Care Ombudsman, the state agency charged with advocating on behalf of nursing home patients.
While Sanito found Chambers “awake, alert and interactive” and “trying to speak” during an examination on Sept. 26, according to the documents, Chambers was considered – although not formally declared – incapacitated. Potter asserts her mother requested morphine and ativan be dispensed to her father in such a way that he was infrequently sober enough to communicate and ordered the removal of all communication devices from his room, including his nurse call button.
According to Potter, her mother also ordered her husband not be given antibiotics for pneumonia, from which he suffered for two weeks before a court-appointed guardian ad litem intervened.
Viola Chambers repeatedly declined comment to WND. Nursing home administrator Marcy Drewry also declined to comment.
“What was so shocking to me was how determined my mother was that he should die,” said Potter. “She could see how responsive he was. But she had made up her mind … after his back surgery and there was no backing her down. There must be a spirit of death that overtakes people’s minds. I just don’t understand it at all.”
According to Potter, many of her father’s caregivers also appeared driven to end his life.
“One of the nurses who caused the most trouble for my dad was my mother’s favorite nurse at the hospital. She would come into the room and tell her that my father’s ‘not in there.’ ‘He’s not capable of making decisions.’ ‘He’s not aware. He’s not thinking. He’s not able to think.’ She would say the most horrible things,” said Potter. “I finally had her removed from the case. I finally told the social worker at the hospital, ‘If I see her in this room I will physically remove her myself.’ So they removed her.”
“One of the doctors also said, ‘If this was my father, I wouldn’t let him go on.’ Well, golly. I just don’t understand that,” she continued.
Hospice watchdog Ron Panzer with the Hospice Patients Alliance frequently hears this same complaint from relatives of nursing home and hospice patients across the country. He sees a utilitarian flavor of secular bioethics permeating decision making and actual practice within the medical community.
“The medical system is not so interested as it used to be on caring for the medically complex patients. They’re dumping them into hospice rather than maintaining them and trying to save them,” Panzer told WND. “The utilitarian approach is, ‘Well, you’re using too many dollars. You’re too expensive to care for. … You’re better off dead.”
A recent national survey found nearly two-thirds of physicians support physician-assisted suicide.
The e-survey of 677 practicing physicians, conducted by HCD Research last month, found 62 percent believe they should be permitted to dispense life-ending prescriptions to “terminally ill patients who have made the decision to die due to unbearable suffering,” according to the marketing and advertising research company’s press release, which was virtually reprinted in the current editions of Mental Health Weekly, Health & Medicine Week, Biotech Business Week, Science Letter, Pharma Law Weekly, Life Science Weekly, Physician Law Weekly, Biotech Week, Obesity, Fitness & Wellness and Health Insurance Law.
Glenn Kessler, managing partner of HCD Research, told WND the survey was not commissioned, but done by the company as a public relations effort. The results were sent to the firm’s clients, who are pharmaceutical companies. Kessler readily admits he’s a “bleeding heart liberal Democrat,” but told WND the company doesn’t really care about the results of their polls.
“Although the high percentage of physicians who support the ability to prescribe such medications may be somewhat surprising, I believe it is the result of physicians’ personal relationships with their patients and the desire to act in the best interest of each patient,” Dr. Craig Alter, a specialist in the Pediatric Endocrinology Division of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is quoted as saying in the press release.
The attitude shift from always treating medically complex patients to embracing and, often, hastening their deaths also comes as a result of a decade-long campaign by leaders in the hospice industry and right-to-die advocates, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and George Soros’ Project on Death in America. As WorldNetDaily reported, Soros’ PDIA and the RWJF invested nearly $200 million throughout the 1990s with the goal of “transforming the culture of dying.”
The initiative to promote palliative care and utilization of hospice succeeded in altering medical textbooks and curricula at medical and nursing schools across the country, as well as changing state laws to recognize and enforce the use of advance directives and DNRs.
What’s called the “third path” between pain and assisted suicide has become the generally accepted protocol within the health-care system. The “third path” involves hastening death through the removal of life-sustaining medical procedures and treatment – including assisted feeding, antibiotics and oral hydration and nutrition – accompanied by heavy, and sometimes terminal, sedation. While it may be appropriate for terminally ill patients suffering intractable physical pain and in the end stage of disease, Panzer and other critics view this “third path” as a backdoor to euthanasia for non-terminal individuals, like Terri Schiavo.
A WND analysis of the language used in the living wills approved by legislators in nearly half the states indicates they appear solely created for the purpose of supporting the “third path” protocol. Many states like Illinois, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington articulate an aversion to “prolonging the death process” without requiring the patient actually be dying.
Only four states, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma and Tennessee, specifically call for patients to be “terminally ill” before their advance directive gets executed. Most other states instead reference a “terminal condition” or “incurable or irreversible condition,” which critics contend gives wide latitude to physicians and caregivers in hastening death.
The Iowa living will Chambers signed states that should he have an “incurable or irreversible condition that will result either in death within a relatively short period of time or a permanent state of unconsciousness” it was his desire that his life not be prolonged by the administration of life-sustaining procedures.
Death was not considered imminent, however. And when Chambers was taken off the morphine and ativan days before he died, nurses and family members – including Viola Chambers – found him conscious. The last time Deanna Potter saw her dad alive he blew her a kiss and reaffirmed his will to live and pursue therapy with a “big smile” and a thumb’s up. He died approximately 10 hours later.
“I want it to be made plain what happened to him. I want it to be made plain what a strong, determined man he was and how he wanted to live,” Potter told WND. “And the greatest injustice in my mind was that … all the people around him were determined to deny him that right.”
Diana Lynne’s powerful, comprehensive book on Terri Schiavo’s life and death, entitled “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.” is available at WorldNetDaily’s online store.