Newswire

The Life Matters Media Newswire aims to serve as a comprehensive portal of all news related to end of life decision making and care. We aggregate stories from other media outlets in one place- here, where you can access them easily. We also strive to produce original content covering stories we feel are receiving scant attention.


Desmond Tutu’s Support For Aid-In-Dying Legislation Highlights Divide

Retired Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu has thrown his support behind Britain’s controversial aid-in-dying bill, highlighting the divide between Anglican leaders who support “Death with Dignity” legislation and others who argue it reduces the sanctity of life.

“I have been fortunate to spend my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying,” the Nobel peace laureate and anti-apartheid leader wrote in an editorial published in The Guardian. “I revere the sanctity of life — but not at any cost.”

Tutu at the German Evangelical Church Assembly, 2007

Tutu at the German Evangelical Church Assembly, 2007. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

Tutu, the 82-year-old archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, acknowledged his own mortality in the editorial. “I have come to realize that I do not want my life to be prolonged artificially,” he said. “I think when you need machines to help you breathe, then you have to ask questions about the quality of life being experienced and about the way money is being spent.” He was hospitalized last year for a persistent infection.

Tutu said he is closer to his end than to his beginning, and that death should not be taboo, since humans must “make way for those who are yet to be born.” He wishes to be buried in a modest wooden coffin with rope handles.

He further described former South African President Nelson Mandela’s end of life care as “disgraceful.”

“On Mandela Day we will be thinking of a great man,” he said. “On the same day, the House of Lords will be holding a second hearing on Lord Falconer’s bill on assisted dying. Oregon, Washington, Quebec, Holland, Switzerland have already taken this step.”

Mandela, who was imprisoned 27 years for his anti-apartheid activity, became South Africa’s first black president in 1994. He died in December at 95, after facing a prolonged lung infection that left him incapacitated.

“What was done to Madiba (Mandela) was disgraceful. There was that occasion when Madiba was televised with political leaders, President Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. You could see Madiba was not fully there. He did not speak. He was not connecting. My friend was no longer himself. It was an affront to Madiba’s dignity,” Tutu added.

But not all bishops support aid-in-dying legislation, including the current Archbishop of Canterbury, putting Tutu at odds with church teaching.

Leaders of Britain’s major faiths issued a joint rebuttal to the bill, led by Lord Charles Falconer, calling it a “grave error” which would have a “serious detrimental effect” on society.

The Most Rev. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, and the Rev. Martyn Atkins, general secretary of the Methodist Church, are among the 23 leaders who issued a direct plea to the British Parliament before the bill’s hearing.

“As leaders of faith communities, we wish to state our joint response to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill,” according to the editorial published in The Telegraph. “We do so out of deep human concern that if enacted, this bill would have a serious detrimental effect on the well-being of individuals and on the nature and shape of our society.”

However, George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said it would not be “anti-Christian” to change the law on assisted dying, reflecting Tutu’s concerns about aggressive end of life treatments.

“Until recently, I would have fiercely opposed Lord Falconer’s Bill. My background in the Christian Church could hardly allow me to do otherwise,” he wrote in an editorial published in the Daily Mail. “Today we face a terrible paradox. In strictly observing accepted teaching about the sanctity of life, the Church could actually be sanctioning anguish and pain — the very opposite of the Christian message.”

On July 18, after nearly 10 hours of debate in the House of Lords, the bill progressed to committee. In 2006, a similar attempt to legalize assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults failed to progress this far.

AIDINDYING_BRITAINAccording to the Assisted Dying Bill, a terminally ill adult with a life expectancy of less than six months may request life-ending drugs from his or her doctor. Prospective patients must be informed about palliative medicine and other end of life treatments, and self-administer the drugs. Adults facing Alzheimer’s and dementia, even if terminally ill, would not be eligible.

The Church of England operates similar to a confederation, with autonomous provinces around the world sharing a common tradition. Churches officially recognized as part of the Anglican Communion include the Episcopal Church of the United States, the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America and the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. It is the third largest Christian tradition.

The Very Rev. Matthew L. Buterbaugh of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Kenosha, Wis., told Life Matters Media churches in the Anglican Communion have a history of intense debate over social issues.

“It is interesting the former Archbishop of Canterbury supports it and the current one does not, and the one in the middle, Rowan Williams, has said nothing. I would be surprised if Britain did not go forward with the bill, given my understanding of English politics,” Buterbaugh said. The Archbishop of Canterbury is considered the first bishop among equals, and local provinces may disregard his opinions.

“The last time aid-in-dying was debated in the Episcopal Church was in the early 90s. We have an official policy saying we oppose it, but one of the overarching themes of Anglicanism, is that you will have lots of wiggle room,” he added. “I’ve been around a lot of people who’ve died, and in my own opinion, keeping people unnaturally alive for so long prolongs human suffering. In some cases, aid in dying could be a humane option.”

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New Jersey Debates ‘Death With Dignity’

A New Jersey legislative panel has advanced a bill that would allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medications to some terminally ill, mentally competent adults.

The New Jersey Death with Dignity Act, based on a 1994 Oregon law, passed the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee 8 to 4. The bill must pass the full Assembly and Senate before heading to Gov. Chris Christie.

If passed, prospective patients with a life expectancy of six months or less would be required to prove they are capable of making their own end of life decisions. Hospitals and doctors would not be required to participate.

After two verbal requests, patients would submit a written request for the life-ending medication. The request requires the signatures of two witnesses. Fifteen days must pass between the patient’s initial verbal request and the writing of a prescription. Patients would be guaranteed the freedom to rescind their request, and they must self-administer the drug.

“This discussion is about revisiting a statute last looked at in 1978 that never took into account an individual’s right to control their body and their circumstances,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli in a press release. “Like society, medicine, palliative care and hospice services have changed dramatically since then. While there are many choices available right now that may be right for certain people, there is one more choice, not currently available, that deserves an honest discussion.” Burzichelli, a Democrat, sponsored the legislation.

A similar bill advanced to this point in the previous Legislature, but it was never was brought to a vote. Christie’s office declined to comment on the possibility of a veto.

A 2012 Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found 46 percent of New Jersey voters supported “Death with Dignity,” while 38 percent opposed it.

The legislation has faced strong opposition from religious and disability-rights groups.

Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, calls the legislation “bad medicine.” “Clearly there are ways to alleviate a person’s suffering without eliminating the human being, and that is the path I hope our state will take,” she said. “The bill doesn’t protect patients, there is a lot of room for error. There is no oversight once a medication is prescribed, and it is a recipe for elder abuse.”

Tasy’s concerns are echoed by Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group that opposes all forms of aid in dying legislation. Diane Coleman, president and C.E.O., told Life Matters Media she believes that advances in pain medicine have made the legislation unnecessary. “Palliative care options work, and there is no need to cross this line and drastically change the law that can become a risk to so many others,” she said.

New Jersey criminalized the practice in 1978, but physician-assisted suicide is legal in four states: Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana.

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Passages Hospice Founder Pleads Not Guilty

U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois. Google Maps.

U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois. Google Maps.

Four former high-level employees of shuttered Passages Hospice LLC entered a plea of not guilty to health fraud during an arraignment Monday in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District.

Seth Gillman, 45, a partial owner who founded the company in 2005, was first charged in January with health care fraud and conspiracy to defraud the government. According to prosecutors, Passages knowingly over-billed the government by millions of dollars on unnecessary hospice care for seniors.

In May, fraud charges were brought against Gwen Hilsabeck, who served as a co-administrator; Carmen Velez, who served as the director of clinical services and director of nurses for the Chicago region; and Angela Armenta, who served as director of certified nursing assistants for the Chicago region.

The defendants, each released on bond, appeared before U.S. Judge Thomas M. Durkin. A trial date has been set for August 7; Passages Hospice, a corporation, will likely enter a plea then.

According to prosecutors, Gillman, Hilsabeck, Velez and Armenta participated in an elaborate scheme “to cause Passages Hospice LLC to submit false claims to Medicare and Medicaid for medically unnecessary hospice care, namely, hospice care for patients who were not terminally ill and hospice care that did not qualify for general inpatient care.”

Between August 2008 and January 2012, Medicare paid the for-profit hospice company more than $90 million for hospice services, including more than $20 million for general inpatient services. From 2006 to late 2011, Passages submitted claims for about 4,700 patients to Medicare and Medicaid.

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Gillman, Hilsabeck, and Passages allegedly paid bonuses to nursing directors and certified nursing assistant directors employed at the company in order to increase the number of patients receiving general inpatient care. In 2012, Medicare’s daily reimbursement for general inpatient care was $671.84; the daily payment for routine care was much lower, $151.23.

One former employee told LMM she quit after realizing that something felt wrong.

“I left the company a few months before the indictment, after I couldn’t ignore my gut,” she said, asking not to be named as she continues to work in a similar industry. “I was in the dark about the fraud, but I knew deep down I couldn’t be a part of that company anymore. I was appalled to find out how many people were involved in the deceit. I was lucky enough to leave on my own for another job, but my coworkers and friends weren’t. They’re still fighting for pay, vacation time and 401K contributions owed to them.”

In February, Passages closed in light of the allegations against Gillman. The hospice operated in four states, yet the majority of services were provided to Illinois seniors. Earlier that month, employees told LMM that they vowed to continue operating for patients’ sake.

According to the FBI, federal agents have interviewed patients, family members and more than 30 former and current Passages employees. Several reported the allegedly fraudulent billing and marketing practices to Medicare and law enforcement.

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More Charged In Passages Hospice Fraud Scandal

More high-level employees of shuttered Passages Hospice LLC have been charged with health care fraud, according to an indictment released by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Fraud charges have been brought against Gwen Hilsabeck, who served as a co-administrator; Carmen Velez, who served as the director of clinical services and director of nurses for the Chicago region; and Angela Armenta, who served as director of certified nursing assistants for the Chicago region, according to an indictment filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District.

Seth Gillman, 45, a partial owner who founded the company in 2005, was charged in January with health care fraud. According to prosecutors, Passages knowingly over-billed the government by millions of dollars on unnecessary hospice care for seniors.

According to the indictment, Gillman, Hilsabeck, Velez and Armenta participated in an elaborate scheme “to cause Passages Hospice LLC to submit false claims to Medicare and Medicaid for medically unnecessary hospice care, namely, hospice care for patients who were not terminally ill and hospice care that did not qualify for general inpatient care.”

Seth Gillman

Passages Hospice Founder Seth Gillman. Honorable Mention in the 2013 Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics, hosted by the Better Business Bureau. YouTube.

Between August 2008 and January 2012, Medicare paid the for-profit hospice company more than $90 million for hospice services, including more than $20 million for general inpatient services. From 2006 to late 2011, Passages submitted claims for about 4,700 patients to Medicare and Medicaid.

“Give patients everything they need, even that little extra that makes life worth living,” Gillman told Life Matters Media in November during the unveiling of an end of life care initiative backed by the National Institute for Nursing Research.

However, federal prosecutors allege Gillman was not so selfless.

Gillman, Hilsabeck, and Passages allegedly paid bonuses to nursing directors and certified nursing assistant directors employed at the company in order to increase the number of patients receiving general inpatient care. In 2012, Medicare’s daily reimbursement for general inpatient care was $671.84; the daily payment for routine care was much lower, $151.23.

According to the FBI, federal agents have interviewed patients, family members and more than 30 former and current Passages employees. Several reported the allegedly fraudulent billing and marketing practices to Medicare and law enforcement.

In February, Passages closed in light of the allegations against Gillman. The hospice operated in four states, yet the majority of services were provided to Illinois seniors. Earlier that month, employees told LMM that they vowed to continue operating for patients’ sake.

All four individual defendants, and Passages, are scheduled to be arraigned June 2 in U.S. District Court. The defendants were charged in an 18-count indictment.

Each count of health care fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to obstruct a federal audit and making false statements regarding a health care benefit program each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Restitution is mandatory.

Gillman, an attorney who told LMM he founded Passages after witnessing his grandmother’s poor end of life care in a south Florida hospice, was the corporate agent, administrator and one-fourth owner of Lisle-based company. Passages did not operate its own inpatient facility, instead deploying nurses to visit hospice patients in nursing homes and private residences.

Hospice is generally care provided in a patient’s home, but it can also be provided in a center, hospital, nursing home or other long-term care facility for people facing illness near the end of life. The number of hospice patients served has risen more than 25 percent during the last five years from 1.25 million in 2008, according to figures published by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

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We Obtained Indictment Of Seth Gillman, Passages Hospice Fraud Scandal

We Obtained Indictment Of Seth Gillman, Passages Hospice Fraud Scandal

View the indictment here

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Daniel Gaitan serves as a content producer...More