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2000 Conference

"Affirming Life In the Face of Death"

Second Annual Conference

May 4, 2000, Center for Continuing Ed

Executive Summary

(Lincoln) The Nebraska Coalition for Compassionate Care held its second successful conference on May 4, 2000 at the Nebraska Center for Continuing Education in Lincoln. The conference drew 170 enthusiastic participants, representing over 50 Nebraska communities and the neighboring states of Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

"Affirming Life in the Face of Death" was co-sponsored by the Nebraska Hospice Association and the Nebraska Medical Association. Diversity was reflected in the categories of attendees: physicians, nurses, hospice care workers, clergy, educators, and social workers.

Slightly lower attendance coupled with modest conference fees meant continued reliance on--and gratitude for--the financial support of the following generous contributors: Purdue-Frederick, Pfizer, Alegent Health Ethics Center, St. Francis Medical Center, Creighton University Center for Health Policy and Ethics, and Good Samaritan Hospital.

The Coalition’s Operations Board Chair, Greg Schleppenbach, served as master of ceremonies for the day. Plenary sessions featured three nationally and internationally-known speakers: Rita Marker, J.D., Executive Director of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, Eric Chevlen, M.D. of Youngstown, Ohio, Hospice Director and prominent specialist in treatment of cancer and pain, and Walter Hunter, M.D., National Director for Vista Care Hospice.

In her presentation, "Assisted Suicide: Economic Implications," Mrs. Marker reviewed experiences reported by individuals and doctors under Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law (now in effect for 3+years), citing examples of the pressures exerted on the terminally ill by families, friends, insurance companies, and government agencies to seek assisted suicide for financial reasons. Dr. Chevlen described the communication "breakdown" that exists between severely ill patients and their physicians and families concerning resuscitation and other end-of-life preferences, with some philosophical suggestions for addressing the situation. Dr. Hunter focused on the nature of suffering, the types of pain (physical, spiritual, emotional, and social) and how to bring hope to the dying, not just through technology, but holistic attention to each individual’s condition and life situation.

In addition to the plenary sessions, participants selected from six different breakout sessions on topics ranging from Advance Directives to End-of-Life, Depression, and Total Sedation. Four additional health care professionals were on hand to assist with these sessions. Special guests, Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns and former Governor Ben Nelson shared their insights and personal experiences in presentations after lunch and at the end of the afternoon session. The conference closed with the evening banquet of the Nebraska Hospice Association, including presentation of annual service awards, and a keynote address by speaker Ron Willis.

The concluding sentiment in Dr. Hunter's presentation provides a cogent summary of the conference in three short sentences:

"We have heard the cries of those in pain and those who are dying and we have answered their cries. We say to you as health care workers and concerned citizens committed to your care that not one of you must perish at your own hands or at our hands simply because we failed to understand your physical and mental anguish. We will care for you in your dying as we cared for you in your living: with respect, with compassion, with humility, and with love."

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