“60 Minutes” - and the selling of assisted suicide

Nancy Valko

Nancy Valko

This article was published by Nancy Valko on her website on March 16, 2016

By Nancy Valko

In the March 13, 2016 TV “60 Minutes” segment titled “Aid in Dying” (re-titled: “Should the terminally ill control how they die?” in theonline transcript, the vaunted investigative news show crossed the line from presenting facts to enthusiastic advocacy.

The stage was set when medical correspondent Dr. John LaPook, an internist and son-in-law of liberal activist Norman Lear, opened the segment by stating:

This is not euthanasia, when a doctor gives a patient a lethal injection. That’s illegal in all 50 states. Aid-in-dying, or what opponents call “assisted suicide”and supporters call “death with dignity,” relies on people taking the medication themselves. Oregon became the first state to legalize it 18 years ago, but because a nurse or doctor is rarely present, it’s remained mostly a private affair, practiced behind closed doors. We wanted to hear from patients and family members who’ve experienced it and are fighting to make it legal nationwide.

If you go to the link for the transcript, you will also see “related videos” with segment extras not included on the TV show.

One titled “ethical concerns” is an interview with Dr. Katrina Hedberg, state epidemiologist of the Oregon Public Health Division, to discuss “ethical concerns raised by her state sanctioning aid-in-dying”. Not surprisingly, Dr. Hedberg strenuously denies that assisted suicide is a danger for the “disenfranchised” or for medical economic or family burden reasons. Instead, she says “the opposite has happened” despite cases like Barbara Wagner’s.

In the segment extra “How does the medicine work?”, the assisted suicide doctor explains that the medicine simply just “shuts off the brain” starting “at the top” where consciousness is and then goes to “the bottom” of the brain where heartbeat and breathing occur. Not a very accurate or scientific explanation but designed to reassure the public.

Link to the full article

Assisted Suicide: Nurses in the Line of Fire

Nancy Valko

Nancy Valko

This article was published by Nancy Valko on her blog on November 5, 2015

By Nancy Valko

Years ago, the newly legalized Oregon physician-assisted suicide law caused much discussion at my St. Louis hospital. Some of my fellow nurses said that they supported such a law but when I asked them if they would participate, they were shocked. “No, of course, the doctor would have to do it!”, one exclaimed. Some nurses, like perhaps most people, thought assisted suicide would only occur at a patient’s home with his or her family sitting with the patient watching the drinking of the lethal overdose.

I explained that in hospitals or hospices, would we expect the assisting doctors to be present when the patient ingested the lethal overdose, not to mention staying with the patient and family during the time it could take for the patient to die? My colleague agreed that nurses, not doctors, would probably bear the brunt of the “dirty work” of assisted suicide.

Back in 2000 and three years after Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide, I saw an article from Nursing Spectrum magazine titled “Assisted Suicide: What Role for Nurses?” that stated:

Initially, when the law was designed, the assumption was that physicians would be the first ones to explore PAS with patients,” says Pam Matthews, RN, BSN, administrator for Evergreen Hospice, Albany, OR, “but in reality, nurses are usually the ones in the line of fire…. Much of nurses’ roles lies behind the scenes long before the drama of PAS unfolds. Home care and hospice nurses actively help patients understand their rights, acting as advocates for those who are considering PAS.”

How many nurses are really willing to “advocate” for physician-assisted suicide? The article states:

“Before PAS became law, it was publicly debated, and we performed surveys of our hospice teams’ feelings on the issue,” Matthews says. “We found that most nurses felt strongly that patients should have the choice of PAS, although most said they would not participate in the event.”

Recently, I spoke to a nurse in Washington State who is against physician-assisted suicide law about nurses’ experience with physician-assisted suicide in her state. She referred me to a 2014 study in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management titled “Dignity, Death, and Dilemmas: A Study of Washington Hospices and Physician-Assisted Death”. (click on link and click PDF to read the full text)

While 21% of the Washington hospices in this study, mostly religiously-affiliated, refused any involvement in assisted suicide, this study sadly confirms the how legalization has affected both hospices’ and nurses’ role in assisted suicide.

Link to the full article.

Governor Brown, do not sign the death warrant of unhappy people

This article was originally published by Careful on September 25, 2015.

By Nancy Valko, a registered nurse living in St Louis, Missouri.

My daughter was the victim of assisted suicide, but she is not the only one.

Right now, a law hurriedly pushed through the California legislature after multiple defeats sits on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown and awaits his signature. As both a mother and a nurse I beg Governor Brown to veto it.

In 2009, I lost a beautiful, physically well 30-year-old daughter, Marie, to suicide after a 16-year battle with substance abuse and other issues. Her suicide was like an atom bomb dropped on our family, friends and even her therapists.

Despite all of our efforts to save her, my Marie told me that she learned how to kill herself from visiting suicide/assisted suicide websites and reading Derek Humphry’s book Final Exit. Derek Humphry is the founder of The Hemlock Society, now included with other assisted suicide groups and known as Compassion and Choices. The medical examiner called Marie’s suicide technique “textbook final exit” but her death was neither dignified nor peaceful.

Marie was not mere collateral damage in the controversy over physician-assisted suicide. She was a victim of the physician-assisted suicide movement, seduced by the rhetoric of a painless exit from what she believed was a hopeless life of suffering.

Adding to our family’s pain, at least two people close to Marie became suicidal not long after her suicide. Luckily, these two young people received help and were saved, but suicide contagion, better known as “copycat suicide”, is a well-documented phenomenon. Often media coverage or publicity around one death encourages other vulnerable people to commit suicide in the same way.

Think of Brittany Maynard, the young woman with a brain tumour who moved to Oregon to kill herself last November with a doctor prescribed overdose. Weeks before she killed herself, Ms. Maynard partnered with the well-funded Compassion and Choices organization to raise even more money to promote the legalization of physician-assisted suicide throughout the US.

There was an immediate and unprecedented media frenzy surrounding Ms. Maynard’s tragic story that routinely portrayed her pending suicide as “heroic” and even counting down the days to her suicide. Personally, I thought this looked like a crowd on the street shouting for a suicidal person on a window ledge to jump, but the narrative worked with much of the public.

Link to the full article