September 12, 2008

Expert on end-of-life care to speak at law school

by Pete Rosenbery


CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Kathryn L. Tucker, a nationally recognized activist and attorney who promotes improved pain care for seriously ill and dying patients, will deliver the 2008 Dr. Arthur Grayson Distinguished Lecture this month at the SIU School of Law.

Tucker will present “Social Change in the Context of End-of-Life Care: Past, Present and Future,” at 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 25. The lecture will take place in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building auditorium at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Admission is free and open to the public.

Media Advisory

Reporters and photographers are welcome to cover the lecture. Kathryn L. Tucker will be available for interviews prior to the lecture. To make arrangements for interviews or for more information on the event, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communications and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

Tucker is director of Legal Affairs for Compassion & Choices, a national non-profit public interest organization dedicated to improving end-of-of-life care and expanding and protecting the rights of the terminally ill. She served as lead counsel representing patients and physicians in two landmark 1997 U.S. Supreme Court cases “asserting that mentally competent terminally ill patients have a constitutional right to choose aid in dying.” The cases brought “much needed attention to improving care of the dying, and to have established a federal constitutional right to aggressive pain management,” her biography states. Tucker also “successfully defended the Oregon Death with Dignity Act from attacks from the federal legislature and the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Marshall B. Kapp, the law school’s Garwin Distinguished Professor of Law and Medicine, said Tucker is very involved with improving the quality of care for terminally ill patients, particularly in pain management and comfort. She served as co-counsel in the nation’s first case to assert that failing to treat pain adequately constitutes elder abuse -- which resulted in a liability finding and jury verdict award of $1.5 million to the family of the patient against the involved physician.

Kapp anticipates Tucker will discuss how different societies use end-of-life medical care, and how the law can either assist or impede the process.

“She believes that currently the quality of care and quality of life that we make available to critically ill patients is poor,” he said. “She wants to improve that and thinks that the law has a role in setting and enforcing standards that will improve the quality of care and quality of life for those people.”

W. Eugene Basanta, the Southern Illinois Healthcare Professor of Law and Medicine, noted that even with increased attention to issues such as pain management over the last 10 to 15 years, in many instances the law prohibits physicians from adequately managing pain due to threats of criminal prosecution.

A progress report released in July on individual state’s pain management policies by the Pain & Policy Group Studies Group at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health lists Illinois as one of six states in the nation to receive a “C,” the lowest grade in the study.

The issue remains timely, as the medical and legal communities continue to grapple with issues regarding how to care for people in the dying process, he said.

Oregon is the only state where legislation permits assisted suicide. In November, voters in Washington will decide on a “Death with Dignity” assisted suicide initiative. The petition-driven proposal would allow “terminally ill, competent adult Washington residents, who are medically predicted to have six months or less to live, to request and self-administer a lethal dose of medication prescribed by a physician.” The proposal is patterned after Oregon’s law.

The lecture is “another opportunity to bring a national player in the medical-legal field” to our campus to interact with students, professionals and the community, Kapp said.

Tucker’s appearance is the latest in Grayson lectures featuring presenters actively involved in health-law issues, Basanta said. Recent Grayson lecturers included William H. Colby, who argued the first right-to-die case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court; Dorothy Rasinski Gregory, one of the nation's pioneers in health law and bio-ethics; and Dr. David A. Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

“She is another person who is an advocate and a leading voice for change,” Basanta said.

For law students contemplating going into health law, Tucker is a role model as an attorney advocate, Kapp said.

“Many students come to law school, whether it’s in health law or any other discipline, with a desire not just to do well, but to do good,” Basanta said. “Here is a person who serves as a role model for students in that regard.”

Tucker is a graduate of Georgetown University Law School. She is an adjunct professor of law at the Lewis & Clark School of Law in Portland, teaching in areas of law, medicine, and ethics, with a focus on end of life. She also held similar faculty appointments at the University of Washington and Seattle University schools of law for many years.

The Garwin Family Foundation, created in 1993 for the purpose of fostering educational and academic research, funds the Grayson Distinguished Lecture. Ruth and Leo Garwin were founding members of the foundation. The lecture honors Ruth Garwin’s brother, Arthur Grayson, a Los Angeles surgeon who died in 1990.