PROTECTING LIVES THROUGH PATIENT ADVOCACY
Julie Grimstad – December 2020
Each member of HALO has a story to tell. This is my story.
I graduated from nursing school in 1969. As far as I knew, there was universal respect for the sanctity and equality of human life. Patients could refuse burdensome treatment and we respected their wishes, but one thing we did not do was deliberately cause a patient’s death.
In the summer of 1985, a friend called and asked, “Julie, what do you know about Living Wills?” She informed me that Living Wills—the first healthcare advance directives—were introduced by the Euthanasia Educational Council as “a foot in the door” for social and legal acceptance of euthanasia. In fact, Montana, where I was living at the time, had just enacted a Living Will law that permitted patients to be starved and dehydrated to death!
Also, that year, I was blindsided by my first opportunity to be a patient advocate. My 92-year-old neighbor and good friend, Jane, became extremely ill due to a kidney infection. She was terrified of hospitals, but I convinced her to let me take her to the emergency room. She was admitted. For the first couple days in the hospital, Jane was improving with antibiotics and intravenous fluids. On the third day, when I tried to help her eat ice cream, she had difficulty swallowing. The next day, Jane was drowsy and unable to swallow anything when I visited at lunchtime, and her IV had been removed. Alarmed, I advised her daughter, Margie, to request a list of the medications she was being given. I took the list and my questions to a trusted pharmacist who told me that Haldol, an antipsychotic, was likely the cause of Jane’s problems. He explained that this drug could cause tightness in the throat and have other serious, even life-threatening side-effects, particularly for elderly people. Next, Margie and I asked Jane’s doctor why she was on Haldol. He stated, “To calm her anxiety.” We repeated what the pharmacist had said and insisted that he stop the Haldol. The doctor refused to do so, saying, “If you don’t trust me, find another doctor.” So, we did. (Back then, it was not difficult to find another doctor because patients chose their personal physicians who took care of them both in and out of the hospital. Today, hospitalized patients have little choice. They are cared for by hospitalists – doctors employed by hospitals.) The new doctor stopped the Haldol and ordered therapy to help Jane regain her ability to swallow. Two weeks later, Jane went home.
I discovered that, when a life is a stake, you must act quickly. The patient may not have much time left. This experience, the phone call about Living Wills, and several other incidents convinced me that there was an urgent need for volunteer pro-life patient advocates. Today, 35 years later, I am more convinced of this than ever. I currently volunteer as a patient advocate for the HALO Helpline (1- 888-221-4256).
HALO defines “patient advocate” as a relative, friend, volunteer, or healthcare provider who strives to safeguard the welfare of a vulnerable patient. To fully understand why patient advocates are vitally important, you first need to recognize how the culture of death has seeped into our healthcare system, causing an earth-shattering shift in medical ethics. (See “The Earth-Shattering Shift in Medical Ethics”)
HALO provides our volunteer patient advocates with a comprehensive training manual, which is continually updated. We also conduct monthly training sessions. If you are interested in signing up as a HALO volunteer patient advocate or would like more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-888-221-4256, Ext 1.