Nothing to Stop the Pain
Published: February 12, 2014 (Issue # 1797)
Aáfew days ago, retired Rear Admiral Vyacheslav Apanasenko put anáend toáhis own life. He earlier helped develop theáBulava missile but later struggled with terminal cancer. Although he had little hope ofásurviving, he could have spent his remaining days ináthe company ofáfriends andárelatives. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs died fromáa similar illness, andáhe managed toácontinue working almost right up until theáend. Apanasenko preferred shooting himself. Ináhis case, euthanasia was preferable toáthe treatment provided byáthe medical system.
Euthanasia is illegal ináRussia, but it remains common practice. Relatives kill their loved ones rather than watch them suffer ináagony without painkillers. Patients commit suicide, andáone patient even killed his doctor who was prolonging his torment before taking his own life.
News reports have been rather vague ináexplaining Apanasenkoĺs cause ofádeath. Theánewspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported only that he had aáôserious case ofácancerö andáexperienced difficulty obtaining painkillers. But his daughter gave aámore dramatic description ofáthe situation ináa Facebook post:
ôPapa had late-stage pancreatic cancer,ö she wrote. ôHe courageously endured theápain. Mama tried toáobtain theámorphine he had been prescribed. Toáget aáfive-day supply ofávials, foráseveral days she had toárun fromáoffice toáoffice ináthe medical center foráhours atáa time. Onáthe final day, she was short ofáone signature when theámedical center closed. She came home completely burned out andáwithout theáanesthetics. Papa was outraged. This was theálast straw. That night he got everything ready andáleft aánote clearly stating his reasons. ĹI ask that you not blame anyone except theáHealth Ministry andáthe government. I am prepared toásuffer, but it is intolerable toásee my loved ones suffer.ĺ He wrote theátime andádate andásigned it. Then he took his prized pistol. ů I think that with this act he wanted toádraw attention toáhow cancer patients are treated ináRussia.ö
TheáFederal Drug Control Service headed byáViktor Ivanov, aálongtime associate ofáPresidentáVladimir Putin, created this inhumane system forácontrolling theáissuance ofápainkillers.
Terminally ill patients andáthose inásevere pain must navigate aáhellish bureaucracy toáobtain even five vials ofápotent painkillers. Then, they must return theáunused vials andábottle labels after theápatient has died. Not only is it difficult andáfrustrating toáget theáclinic staff toásign off onáthe returned items, but theárelatives are held criminally responsible foráfailing toádo soáŚ even if they have accidentally lost them. Cancer patients are assigned toáa single pharmacy that works with theámedical center or cancer clinic ináquestion. If that pharmacy does not have theámedicines foráwhatever reason, theápatient is left toáscream inápain or die ofáshock. Inásome cases, individuals with late-stage cancer must personally appear toáreceive aáprescription foráthe medicines that can relieve their suffering. Long weekends or holidays become aáliving nightmare forápatients andátheir relatives because each prescription covers only aáshort period andáregulations make it impossible toástock up ináadvance.
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