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Nothing to Stop the Pain

Published: February 12, 2014 (Issue # 1797)




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Afew days ago, retired Rear Admiral Vyacheslav Apanasenko put anend tohis own life. He earlier helped develop theBulava missile but later struggled with terminal cancer. Although he had little hope ofsurviving, he could have spent his remaining days inthe company offriends andrelatives. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs died froma similar illness, andhe managed tocontinue working almost right up until theend. Apanasenko preferred shooting himself. Inhis case, euthanasia was preferable tothe treatment provided bythe medical system.

Euthanasia is illegal inRussia, but it remains common practice. Relatives kill their loved ones rather than watch them suffer inagony without painkillers. Patients commit suicide, andone patient even killed his doctor who was prolonging his torment before taking his own life.

News reports have been rather vague inexplaining Apanasenkos cause ofdeath. Thenewspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported only that he had aserious case ofcancer andexperienced difficulty obtaining painkillers. But his daughter gave amore dramatic description ofthe situation ina Facebook post:

Papa had late-stage pancreatic cancer, she wrote. He courageously endured thepain. Mama tried toobtain themorphine he had been prescribed. Toget afive-day supply ofvials, forseveral days she had torun fromoffice tooffice inthe medical center forhours ata time. Onthe final day, she was short ofone signature when themedical center closed. She came home completely burned out andwithout theanesthetics. Papa was outraged. This was thelast straw. That night he got everything ready andleft anote clearly stating his reasons. I ask that you not blame anyone except theHealth Ministry andthe government. I am prepared tosuffer, but it is intolerable tosee my loved ones suffer. He wrote thetime anddate andsigned it. Then he took his prized pistol. I think that with this act he wanted todraw attention tohow cancer patients are treated inRussia.

TheFederal Drug Control Service headed byViktor Ivanov, alongtime associate ofPresidentVladimir Putin, created this inhumane system forcontrolling theissuance ofpainkillers.

Terminally ill patients andthose insevere pain must navigate ahellish bureaucracy toobtain even five vials ofpotent painkillers. Then, they must return theunused vials andbottle labels after thepatient has died. Not only is it difficult andfrustrating toget theclinic staff tosign off onthe returned items, but therelatives are held criminally responsible forfailing todo so even if they have accidentally lost them. Cancer patients are assigned toa single pharmacy that works with themedical center or cancer clinic inquestion. If that pharmacy does not have themedicines forwhatever reason, thepatient is left toscream inpain or die ofshock. Insome cases, individuals with late-stage cancer must personally appear toreceive aprescription forthe medicines that can relieve their suffering. Long weekends or holidays become aliving nightmare forpatients andtheir relatives because each prescription covers only ashort period andregulations make it impossible tostock up inadvance.

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Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDAs Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBAs Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.