Of mixed messages & Death with Dignity at PIMC | As I See It

By Bill Williams

In their article appearing in the Oct. 16 edition of the Journal of the San Juan Islands, entitled, “Debate Muddied by Misinformation,” Dr. Michael Edwards and Lenore Bayauk, both of the San Juan County Hospital District Commission, stated:

“…as many of you know, PeaceHealth physicians do not participate in the prescription of medication to end one’s life. However, PeaceHealth doctors do not abandon patients. If a patient requests this (prescription to end life), in discussion with their physician, they are referred to Compassionate Choices [sic]. PIMC physicians continue to follow their patients as needed.”

(Note: the correct name of the organization is Compassion and Choices of Washington, or C&C of Washington).

I was surprised to read the commissioners’ statement for the following reasons:

A few months ago, Dr. John Geyman and I had a meeting with Lenore Bayauk and Jim Barnhart, chief administrative officer, PIMC, to discuss concerns around access to medical care. They said the way a PeaceHealth patient could find a doctor who would participate in death with dignity would be to “ask around, the information is out there."

On Oct. 7, approximately 50 people attended a Death with Dignity Act meeting at the Brickworks in Friday Harbor. Ross Freewing, PeaceHealth St. Joseph's director, Center for Mission/Northwest Network Ethicist, told Dr. Tom Preston, medical director for C&C of Washington, and the audience, that PeaceHealth St. Joe's could not refer directly to C&C of Washington as it would be participation in the DWDA.

He said they do refer to the Whatcom County Medical Society who would be free to refer to C&C of Washington.

When pressed by Dr. Tom Preston to explain the need for the “middle man,” Ross Freewing explained it is the current policy but, these things are under continual review.

Additionally, Robb Miller, executive director, C&C of Washington has communicated with senior PeaceHealth staff about referrals and also confirms that PeaceHealth St. Joe’s will not directly refer patients to C&C of Washington. Giving dying patients the “runaround” instead of a direct referral to C&C of Washington is cruel and wastes precious time, Miller says.

When a dying patient’s physicians can’t or won’t participate in the Death With Dignity Act, C&C of Washington is the only organization in Washington that patients can turn to for assistance.

So, on the one hand we have senior PeaceHealth staff and C&C of Washington telling us PeaceHealth does not refer to C&C of Washington. On the other hand, we have hospital district commissioners telling us PeaceHealth PIMC does refer to C&C of Washington.

On Nov. 13, during the San Juan County Board of Health meeting, I decided to ask Jim Barnhart if the commissioners article was correct - that PIMC now refers to C&C of Washington. He responded,  “information is shared”. When I said he had not answered my question and this kind of answer leads to the apparent confusion surrounding this and other issues, he again provided the same vague, useless response, “Information is shared”, neither confirming nor denying that what the commissioner had said was correct.

So there we have it. When it comes to the issue of PeaceHealth's referrals about the option of Death With Dignity, it is our hospital district commissioners and PIMC chief administrative officer who are muddying the debate with misinformation and half truths.

— Editor's note: Retired after 30 years in the healthcare industry, Bill Williams is a former administrator for hospitals, medical groups and medical insurance companies.


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