Legislation to legalize physician-assisted suicide, S.77, requires that a patient has a diagnosis of less than six months to live. Despite advances by modern medical science, misdiagnosis is still fairly common. Patients can be misdiagnosed as having terminal illnesses, and prognoses for life expectancy can be wrong by months or decades.
Vermont Cases in Point:
Erica Riel testified against physician-assisted suicide at the public hearing on January 29, 2013, before two Senate committees. Erica had been diagnosed with a terminal illness three times by Vermont doctors, only to learn later that that was untrue. She wanted to give up but her family convinced her to try one more doctor. Ultimately, she went to a doctor in Massachusetts who told her that she would not only live, but live to be 80 years old! “How many other people are getting wrong diagnoses?” she asked.
Craftsbury Common, Vermont
In her testimony at the public hearing, Jeannine Young testified that, “My father lived 20 years longer than predicted. Doctors told my father that he would not live through the winter of 1962-63, so my eldest sister moved her wedding date up from June 1963 to December 1962, so he could walk at least one of his six daughters down the aisle. He not only walked her down the aisle, he walked all six of his daughters down the aisle and attended the weddings of two of his three sons.
In 1978, when my husband’s job was taking us to California, I said good-bye to my father in intensive care at the hospital in Burlington. I thought I would never see him alive again. The doctors said he would never go home again. He did, and I did see him again before he died. My father died in November of 1982, living long enough for sixteen of his twenty grandchildren to be born and long enough for his first granddaughter’s wedding.
St. Johnsbury, Vermont
Clara Schoppe is a Vermont mother and grandmother who will soon be 66 years old, and she is a cancer survivor. She was told that she had Stage 4 non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, that it was terminal, incurable, and it was throughout her bone marrow and that she had less than a year to live. That was 24 years ago.
Mrs. Rob Carlson also testified at the public hearing that doctors did not expect her husband to live as a result of his illness. He lived for an additional 14 years.
In 2002, Jack was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which appeared to have spread to his liver and his prognosis was grim. A year later, his doctors again told him that his illness was incurable and this time he was given the feared “get your affairs in order and prepare to die” pronouncement. Jack ultimately lived for 3 and a-half years longer than the doctors predicted. He testified in the Vermont House against physician-assisted suicide because doctors make mistakes, and because he knew that if he had been depressed and asked for assisted suicide, he would have missed all the extra time he enjoyed with his family.
Lynne Caulfield, RN
Lynne Caulfield, RN has seen numerous patients and family members outlive their diagnoses, including her husband Jack. Here are a few additional examples:
- Her mom had breast cancer and went through treatments. Her cancer metastasized to the bones and doctors gave her 6 months to live. She lived two years and was not in excruciating pain as many proponents of DPS claim is true with bone cancer.
- A 68 year old female with COPD who was given 6 months to live, but who lived three years.
- A 72 year old female with cancer who was given 6 months, but who lived two years.