It is becoming increasingly difficult for those suffering from terminal or serious illnesses—and their families—to discern the difference between care that respects and values the human being and care that devalues him. These situations can be extremely difficult and confusing to navigate. That is why I, along with three other unique women, grabbed the proverbial reins and founded the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization. HALO defends medically vulnerable people when healthcare providers fail to appreciate the inestimable worth and dignity of every human being.
It is likely that many of you have “stepped outside the box” sometime in your life. If so, you understand that it is neither an easy nor a comfortable experience. Starting a new organization to advocate for patients in need of protection and life-affirming healthcare—and that leads others to do the same—was a deeply challenging leap of faith. Four of us—Jo Tolck; Ann Olson; Mary Merritt; and yours truly, Julie Grimstad, all formerly associated with Human Life Alliance—answered the call to act as HALO’s first officers and to get it off the ground.
How we began
In 2012, together with other dedicated and experienced pro-life activists and professionals in various fields, Jo, Ann, and I founded the Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance (PHA), an outreach of HLA. It was a natural fit because HLA functioned as a leader in fighting euthanasia and educating the public regarding the rampant, yet stealthy, advancement of the dangerous pro-death (“right to die”) movement. Mary, Jo, and Ann each have extensive backgrounds in various areas of pro-life work and are exceptionally well-versed as opponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide. I am a writer and speaker on many aspects of healthcare and end-of-life issues and am pleased to claim editorship of such informative publications as Imposed Death and Informed: A Guide for Critical Medical Decisions.
Last summer, the four of us, in consultation with other members of the PHA, determined that it was time to form an independent organization. We completely severed our ties with HLA and the PHA so that HALO would have its own board of directors that would make its own decisions, explore and implement fresh ways to accomplish our goals, and expand our outreach. Others who shared our vision soon joined us as members of either HALO’s board of directors or board of advisors. We hail from various areas of the United States and Canada; span a variety of backgrounds, skills, and experience; and have access to medical and legal professionals we can call on as needed.
On September 5, 2018, after several months of planning, HALO adopted its mission statement:
The mission of the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization is to promote, protect, and advocate for the rights of the medically vulnerable through direct patient and family interactions; through community education and awareness programs; and through promotion and development of concrete “life-affirming healthcare”* alternatives for those facing the grave consequences of healthcare rationing and unethical practices, especially those at risk of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
* “Life-affirming healthcare” is defined as medical care in which the paramount principle is the sanctity of life, which means that the life and safety of each person come first and each person receives medical care across their lifespan based on their need for care and never with an intention to hasten death, regardless of their abilities or perceived “quality of life.”
I serve as the president of HALO and as executive director of Life Is Worth Living, Inc. I am also the founder of St. John’s Befrienders—a parish outreach ministry to nursing home residents and homebound elderly. A nationally known speaker and writer, I have served as a volunteer patient advocate since 1985, and I address all aspects of medical decision-making and patient advocacy. In addition, in 1969, I began my career as a licensed practical nurse who cared for the elderly and disabled in a Catholic hospital. In 1973, I became a volunteer with Birthright of Lincoln, Nebraska, and a Natural Family Planning instructor for the Diocese of Lincoln. Several years later, I founded and served as the director of a pregnancy aid office in Tacoma, Washington. From 1985 to 2004, I was the director of the Center for the Rights of the Terminally Ill, the precursor to Life Is Worth Living.
Jo Tolck became active in the pro-life arena in 1972 when she volunteered with Birthright. In the late 1970s, she cofounded a pregnancy center and served on the board of directors for 20 years, including some time as the board president. In addition, for 15 years, she served as executive director for Human Life Alliance—a pro-life organization with national and international outreach—focusing on abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and chastity. After resigning from HLA, she helped cofound HALO and currently serves as vice president.
Ann Olson became active in the pro-life movement in 1974 after the birth of her first child. At first, she volunteered with a statewide pro-life organization that focused on education and legislation, serving as a chapter chairperson. Ann’s history includes working as director of education for an international pro-life organization that focused on abortion, chastity, and euthanasia. She was also a founding member of the Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance, which focused on euthanasia in all its forms. Ann currently serves as the president of the board for Options for Women—a pregnancy resource center in North Branch, Minnesota—and is a founding member of HALO, serving on the board of directors as treasurer.
Mary Merritt began her career as an elementary education teacher, acquired her master’s degree as a special needs teacher, and served as a Special Olympics coach for her students. For the past 20 years, she has traveled overseas as a short-term missionary promoting the sanctity of human life and exposing the dangers of abortion. She speaks throughout her state revealing the dangers of assisted suicide as well as providing information on advance directives. As a board member with HALO and its secretary, she realizes the urgent need for people to have a place to turn for advice and help for the medically vulnerable.
Why HALO and why now?
The pro-death movement promotes abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. It has its tentacles in every aspect of healthcare, particularly in hospice and palliative care medicine, in definitions of death and organ donation/procurement, in advance directives for healthcare, in unethical healthcare rationing, and much more. In short, the culture of death has infiltrated and is in the process of taking over every aspect of healthcare. Our healthcare system can no longer be trusted to provide safe havens for all people in need of medical treatment and care. And the situation is not going to get better unless we—all of us who respect human life—act NOW to restore reverence for life. At HALO, we strive to protect patients and to restore reverence for life to the practice of medicine.
People desperately need our help and have sought it out during their darkest times. These include instances when patients were being overdosed with analgesics and sedatives and/or denied basic care such as food and water and usual medications. We have been contacted many times by inconsolable family members when a loved one’s death was hastened without the family realizing what was happening. An example of this comes from Heidi Wise, who was referred to me by the Hospice Patients Alliance in 2017. Distraught, she told me about her 84-year-old father’s death in a rehab facility:
There was no major medical event that would account for his dying other than the Roxanol (a highly concentrated form of morphine) that he was given. . . . Hospice took over my father’s care at 1:00 PM on March 1. Dad was dead at 3:30 AM on March 2. . . . On March 3, I received a call from a Veterans Administration agent who had visited my dad regarding his service-related disability claim about five days before his death. The man was shocked to hear that my dad had passed away and that, the day after their visit, Dad had been declared incapable of making his own medical decisions. The man said he had spent several hours with my dad, who was perfectly lucid and answered all his questions. . . . The rehab facility and hospice staff not only ended my father’s life prematurely and against his will, they left me deeply troubled by this horrendous ordeal.1
This woman is not alone. When a loved one is sick, family members often feel overwhelmed by the amount of unfamiliar and technical information thrown at them. Unfortunately, it is not only doctors who pressure families. Nurses and other healthcare providers do this as well. Pressure to stop life-sustaining treatment comes in many forms. Families are enticed to admit loved ones to hospice by being told that they can keep patients “comfortable,” when, in actuality, they are killing patients with overdoses of analgesics and sedatives and/or starving and dehydrating them to death or denying them their usual medications (insulin, blood pressure meds, etc.). They convince families that life-saving and life-sustaining treatments are useless by calling patients “vegetables” or saying that caring for them is “futile” simply because the healthcare providers deem the person’s life to be “not worth living” or not worth the cost of the care required. In Texas, for example, a pro-life attorney and I sat in on an ethics committee meeting at a hospital where they told a distraught mother why her daughter’s life was not worth preserving. There were 16 “experts”—including a doctor, the hospital’s attorney, a social worker, and more—confronting one mother. That sort of thing is both brutalizing and intimidating—and it is why we are there to serve as advocates.
We could share much more with you about the pro-death movement and HALO’s vision to restore reverence for life within healthcare and society at large, but this article is simply an introduction to our organization. At HALO, we are motivated to foster an authentic culture of life. While it may seem like HALO is David facing Goliath, we have faith that our growing band of volunteers will become an army—a formidable fighting, educating force to overcome the culture of death. Please pray for us and pray for our culture.
1. Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance Newsletter. December 6, 2017. 46th Ed. Accessed March 2, 2019, prolifehealthcare.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/12-06-2017-newsletter.pdf.