A Modest Proposal on Assisted Suicide

On August 26, 2015, the Wall Street Journal published letters to the editor responding to Dr. William Toffler’s great August 18 opinion article titled “A Doctor-Assisted Disaster for Medicine-As a physician in Oregon, I have seen the dire effect of assisted-suicide laws on patients and my profession”.

The letters to the editor were overwhelmingly critical of Dr. Toffler’s position. Here are some excerpts:

“On May 5, my mother, at age 73, chose to take her life using the medicine provided by her doctor to end her life. She couldn’t breathe, could barely walk and was skin and bones when she finally died. She had been a vocal advocate of the Death with Dignity Act and had spoken with all her physicians years before this ever became a real issue for her. ”  Portland, Oregon. (emphasis added)

“As a patient, I am not worried about “death doctors.” I am worried about doctors who use any treatment available to prolong life without having a matter-of-fact discussion with the patient about what the quality of that prolonged life will be.” Beaverton, Oregon (emphasis added)

“My personal experience in medical practice during the last 63 years is that those physicians who are against physician-assisted suicide have never spent month after month nor year after year with a dying patient who is suffering intolerable pain.” (emphasis added)

In response, here is the letter to the editor I sent to the Wall Street Journal today:


With all the rancor about physician-assisted suicide, I would like to make a modest proposal.

First of all, take the medical professionals out of assisted suicide.

Capital punishment opponents have successfully challenged lethal injection executions on the basis that even that direct termination of life is “cruel and inhumane” and sometimes fails to render an inmate unconscious, causing much suffering. How can we then justify an oral overdose that cannot guarantee rapid unconsciousness, a quick termination of breathing and heartbeat or a lack of complications?

Secondly, if the suicide is then assisted by a family member or friend, eliminate any profit incentive by barring the person assisting from receiving any proceeds from an insurance policy or provision in a will. Families and friends who say no can instead concentrate on obtaining adequate symptom relief and support for their loved ones.

Unfortunately, the assisted suicide message of a victimless choice is seductive not only to people with life-threatening medical conditions but also to physically healthy people of all ages dealing with despair, disability, mental illness and the frailty of old age.

Almost 6 years ago, my physically healthy but addicted daughter killed herself using a technique the medical examiner called “textbook final exit”. My daughter read Final Exit, a book written by Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society now known as Compassion and Choices.

My daughter’s suicide was neither quick nor peaceful and it devastated her family and friends. However, none of us regret the years of efforts to save her and none of us would have sat at her deathbed supporting her alleged choice while she struggled to breathe.


Nancy Valko, RN ALNC

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