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Kim Callinan for Medical Emergency: The Church-State Wall Has Collapsed When It Comes To End-Of-Life Care

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“He shouldn’t have suffered that way at the end. He was in so much pain. Nobody would listen. How could that happen in a civilized society?” Amanda sob­bed to me. After consoling her, I asked where her husband had gotten his care. Her answer did not surprise me – he was being treated at a religious hospital.

The wall of separation between church and state within the health care arena is dubious at best. When it comes to end-of-life health care, that wall has all but crumbled away. Our public policies favor one interpretation of religion over another. Hospital policies dictate and limit the care patients receive, and as a result, far too many people are needlessly suffering as they near the end of their lives.

One stark example is when patients seek the option of medical aid in dying, which is what Amanda’s husband wanted. Medical aid in dying (sometimes referred to as “death with dignity”) allows a mentally capable, terminally ill adult with six months or less to live the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die gently if their suffering becomes too great. The option of medical aid in dying is important because it establishes that patients have autonomy over their end-of-life care decisions. Unfortunately, the lack of separation between church and state makes that option not accessible to all individuals who need it.

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