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Is Legislation In America Changing
The Physician’s Role In End of Life Care

By on February 20, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Polish American Health Association (PAHA) invites all to a lecture entitled “Is Legislation in America Changing The Physician’s Role in End of Life Care”. The event will take place on Saturday, February 23rd (2:00 p.m.) at Georgetown University School of Medicine, 3900 Reservoir Road NW, Washington DC 20057 (Medical and Dental Building, Conference Room NE 301, 3rd floor). Speaker: Professor Jacek Lech Mostwin, MD, DPhil (Oxon) from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Urology; Berman Institute of Ethics of the Johns Hopkins University. Introduction of the Speaker: Maria Michejda MD, DSc, President of Polish American Health Association.

The movement to expand legalized medical aid for dying is growing. Stimulated by the dramatic actions of Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the United States in defiance of existing laws, Oregon would become the first state to pass a law in 1997 that would allow physicians to assist terminally ill patients to end their own lives without criminal liability. There are now seven states (Oregon, Montana,Washington,Vermont, Hawaii, California, Colorado) and the District of Columbia that permit medical aid in dying for the terminally ill. Opinion polls in the United States have shown increasing support of a majority of persons for physician assisted death for terminally ill conditions but not for pain alone.

Supporters of medical aid in dying appeal to a person’s autonomy and right to make individual choices as an expression, of liberty guaranteed to U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, especially in deeply personal matters, and in order to avoid interminable, and in most cases, unwanted, pain and suffering. Opponents warn of a slippery slope that could lead to inflexible, bureaucratic application of rules and policies that could prematurely or wrongly deprive persons of what remains of their life. In addition to the longstanding social taboo against homicide and self-inflicted suicide, religious proscriptions against ending one’s own life or the life of another are very strong. Assistance to the dying has been limited to withdrawal or withholding of futile life prolonging measures.

Catholic moral theology and secular normative ethics both claim to support the dignity of the individual person, but there is considerable debate about the nature of that dignity and the meaning of suffering. In 1984, John Paul II supported the transcendental virtue of Christ-like suffering in his encyclical Salvifici Doloris. In 1989, Lonnie Kliever, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University edited a collection of essays entitled Dax’s Case: Essays in Medical Ethics and Human Meaning, asking “Does God Want Us to Suffer Our Way to Death?”

Any consideration of medically assisted death should elevate persons above policies. We shall review the history and some of the experience that has followed the American legislation and its relationship to the eugenics movement of the 19th and early 20th century. We will consider Albert Schweitzer’s ethical principle of reverence for life and Associate Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s recent scholarly work on The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia with its strong arguments in support of  the inviolability of life.

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Jacek Lech Mostwin , MD, DPhil (Oxon)

Born in London 1949 to post-war political immigrant parents, he came with them to America in 1952. He completed basic education in Baltimore, graduating from Loyola High School in 1967. After college at Tufts University and Medical Education and basic residency at the University of Maryland and University of Michigan, he completed specialty training in Urology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1983 and received a doctorate in pharmacology at the University of Oxford in 1987. He joined  the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the Department of Urology in 1983 and was promoted to Professor in 1997. In 1992 he began  traveling to Lourdes as a medical volunteer with the Federal Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. He became a member of the Order and was the medical director from 1996-2012, the year in which he became a member of the International Medical Committee of Lourdes (CMIL).  He was co-chair of the Hopkins Hospital Ethics Committee from 2006-2012 and is now a member of the faculty of the Berman Institute of Ethics of the Johns Hopkins University and teaches introductory medical ethics in the medical school.  From 2014-2016 he traveled regularly to the Oxford Centre for Life Writing at Wolfson College of Oxford University as  a Visiting Scholar concentrating on Lives in Medicine: the biographies and memoirs of patients and practitioners. In 2014 he received the Cross Pro Merito Militensi of the Sovereign Order of Malta for services to the Lourdes Pilgrimage. In 2017 The Polish American Medical Society presented him with an Honorary Membership “ for his outstanding contributions to Neurourology, Research and Surgical Education and for his Leadership in Humanistic, Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of Life in Medicine.”

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Polish American Health Association (PAHA) is a Washington DC based, non profit charitable organization dedicated to bring together health professionals and biomedical scientists with the purpose of sharing mutual professional interests. More: www.pahausa.org