Why Are Suicide Rates Climbing after Years of Decline?

After years of declines, the US suicide rate rose 24% over 15 years according to a new report from the national Centers for Disease on suicide rates in the US from 1999-2014.  The suicide rate rose for everyone between the ages of 10-74 between 1999-2014.

National media like the Wall Street Journal  and CNN   speculated that the economic downturn, drugs and lack of mental health resources could be factors in the 24% increase.

However, one huge factor was totally ignored: the legalization and promotion of physician-assisted suicide.

The Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide and Suicide Contagion

It must not be dismissed as mere coincidence that the new rise in suicides correlates to the implementation of the first physician-assisted suicide law in Oregon.

A 2012 report on suicide trends and risk factors for the Oregon Health Authority found the state’s overall suicide rate had risen 41 percent higher than the national rate . This is the “regular” suicide rate. Physician-assisted suicides are not included.

Since Oregon, four more states (California, Vermont, and Washington) have legalized physician-assisted suicide via legislation with a Montana supreme court ruling in favor of assisted suicide but without a regulatory framework. But it is only now that the media is noticing a suicide rate that has been increasing for 15 years.

There is a well-known and recognized suicide contagion effect after reported suicides. Both national media guidelines   and  World Health Organization guidelines   warn against media glamorization or normalization of suicide by the media that could lead to more suicides.

Yet, since the legalization in Oregon, the media has become increasingly positive in reporting on physician-assisted suicide. This reached a peak when People magazine devoted it cover story  and some subsequent issues to Brittany Maynard , her impending assisted suicide, and her Compassion and Choices led foundation to raise money to promote the legalization of physician-assisted suicide throughout the US.

That’s not just glamorizing or normalizing physician-assisted suicide. That’s advertising.

And it is having an enormous effect. Now the media is bowing to the pro-assisted suicide movement’s propaganda by changing even the terminology. Instead of physician-assisted suicide, news reports now use more soothing terms like “death with dignity”, “aid in dying” or “physician-assisted death”.

Make no mistake. This is a calculated tactic to increase support of physician-assisted suicide by denying reality.

Why Don’t  Physician-Assisted Suicide Laws Require Psychiatric or Psychological Evaluation?

As most of you may know,  I am the mother of a physically healthy 30 year old daughter who killed herself in 2009 using a technique the medical examiner called “textbook Final Exit”, the title of a book she read by assisted suicide supporter Derek Humphry. But I am also an RN with 46 years of experience who has cared for terminally or seriously ill people considering even physician-assisted suicide who changed their minds after suicide prevention and treatment interventions.

I am appalled that no physician-assisted suicide law actually requires a psychiatric or psychological evaluation before a person is given the lethal overdose prescription. For example in Oregon, the physician-assisted suicide law only states If in the opinion of the attending physician or the consulting physician a patient may be suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment, either physician shall refer the patient for counseling.”   (Emphasis added)  Not surprisingly, very few such evaluations are currently done, according to Oregon’s annual reports.

That stands in stark contrast to the standard evaluations given to other suicidal patients.

There must be no medical discrimination based on a predicted  prognosis when it comes to standard suicide prevention and treatment interventions. Suicide for any reason is always a tragedy to be prevented when possible.

The terrible despair that leads to suicide must not be ignored in favor of a cold piece of paper with a lethal prescription.



What Is-Or Should Be- the Future of Nursing?

In a recent Medscape News article “Back to the Future of Nursing: What Progress Have We Made?” , Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS reported on the results five years after the national Institutes of Medicine (IOM) issued a 2010 report titled “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” that was designed to be:

“a wake-up call that exposed the many barriers that prevented the nursing profession from contributing fully to the healthcare system: an aging workforce, regulatory restrictions on nursing practice, fragmentation of healthcare, limited capacity of the nursing education system, and lack of workforce data. It was also a catalyst for finding solutions to these problems.”

The followup report titled “Assessing Progress on the Institute of Medicine Report The Future of Nursing” came out in December 2015 and reported only some progress in their key questions:

  -Have scope-of-practice barricades been pushed aside? Are nurses being permitted to practice to the full extent of their education and licensure?

-Are more nurses earning baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees?

-Are new graduate nurses being transitioned to the profession more safely and effectively through nurse residency programs?

-Does the ethnic composition of the nursing workforce more closely match the level of diversity in the general population?

-Have opportunities expanded for leadership and interprofessional collaboration in healthcare?

If you are a nurse and were unaware of all this, you are not alone. As a full-time ICU nurse, neither I nor my fellow nurses were aware of this study at that time. The only change we noticed was when our hospital suddenly announced  that every RN must have a BSN by 2021 or be terminated.

I wish we had been asked for our input!


Instead of the IOM focus on these issues, I would propose  at least four measures to really help the majority of us who work in health care institutions to provide the quality care we want for our patients as well as to reduce the stresses of nurses that often lead to burnout and quitting the profession.

 1. Consider bringing back the head nurse

When I started nursing over 47 years ago, we had head nurses who knew the patients, doctors and staff by working with them daily to make sure care was coordinated, staffing was adequate,  and problems were addressed quickly.

Now we have managers and other administrators who often are not RNs and who are often rarely seen or available because of endless meetings. The formerly close working relationships with head nurses have now become almost adversarial relationships with managers as cost containment measures, endless new policies based on legal risk, mandated government regulations, inadequate staffing etc., grind down nurses.

 2. Try retention incentives instead of signup bonuses

Years ago when there was a nursing shortage, signup bonuses were offered to potential nurse employees. I was asked by a director of nurses if I thought the bonuses were high enough.

I told this director that it might be better to try retention bonuses since the newly employed nurses we trained often left after the required year of service to get a signup bonus at another hospital. This wasted the money and time used to assign a precepting nurse to support the temporary new nurse during the weeks-long orientation to our hospital policies and procedures.

A retention bonus would help keep our good, experienced nurses who were already familiar with the doctors, other staff, departments and hospital policies. Such nurses are also often excellent resources for the rest of the staff. This could help prevent some mistakes caused by inexperience or unfamiliarity. In addition, such bonuses could also save money  and increase staff morale by reducing a high turnover rate.

3. Don’t automatically force nurses to get a BSN (bachelor’s degree in nursing)

As I wrote in my March blog “Is it Time for a Two-Track Nursing Education System?”, there is a lack of openings in many BSN programs, not to mention the time stresses and money involved in trying to coordinate full-time 12 hour hospital shifts while  caring for a family and taking classes on a deadline.

Yet there will always a need for excellent bedside nurses who strive to improve their skills, whether or not they decide to pursue a BSN. I believe that it should be a choice, not a requirement, to seek an advanced degree only in nursing.

In the meantime, I believe we should improve basic nursing education, especially by increasing clinical experience and providing mentoring to new graduates.

4. Good nurses deserve to have both conscience and whistle blower rights respected

An April, 2016  Medscape News article “Two Nurses Who Spoke Up, Lost Their Jobs, and Sued”  chronicled the years-long battle of 2 nurses who discovered and reported patient safety problems at their hospitals and lost their jobs as a result of their patient advocacy efforts. Unfortunately, being a good nurse does not automatically provide job security or protection.

Good nurses need both conscience and whistle blower rights protected. Despite rapid changes in historic ethical  and legal principles involving life-termination and abortion issues, most nurses still don’t want to actively participate. Neither do most nurses want to be intimidated from reporting medical incompetence or serious violations of standards involving patient safety.

However, good nurses often find themselves  at risk of harassment or even termination if they refuse to participate in deliberate life-ending decisions or refuse to ignore actual or potential harms to their patients.

Unfortunately, the American Nurses Association and state boards of nursing do not offer much help to nurses in such difficult situations. As the Medscape News article states, even though one nurse cited documents from the American Nurses Association (ANA) code of ethics  which say that nurses have a professional responsibility to protect patient safety:

 “The tricky part—and this is where an experienced attorney is helpful—is understanding the ins and outs of state laws that describe the exceptions to “at will” employment. If an employee reports a patient safety problem and/or is a member of a protected class (older, or a minority), the employer will probably try to prove that the employee was fired for another reason—poor performance, for example. A court will weigh the evidence and decide whether the public policy at issue is more important than upholding the doctrine of at-will employment.”


Nurses share a special bond and I am proud to be part of a truly noble profession.  But we need to be able to speak out without fear to insist on the highest standards to improve our healthcare system for both ourselves and especially our patients’ sake.

Five Things my Mother (and Daughter) Taught Me about Caring for People with Dementia

My mother developed Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, in her early 60s. Later on, she was diagnosed with an aggressive thyroid cancer that required a surgical opening in her throat called a tracheostomy so that she would not suffocate from the tumor. My father and siblings were naturally distraught and overwhelmed.

I was 38 years old at the time and a suddenly single mother with 3 young children. My youngest daughter Joy was 2 years old and in diapers. My family looked to me for help.

As a nurse, I thought I knew the challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s as well as someone with cancer and I was glad to use that knowledge to care for my mother. But, especially at first, it wasn’t easy.

Mom would ask the same questions over and over, have episodes of hostility and paranoia and periodic insomnia. She also became adept at thwarting the safety measures we used to protect her.

Then, one day near the end of my mother’s life, I sat on a sofa holding hands with both Joy, now over 3 years old, and my mom watching Sesame Street on TV. I was struck by the fact that both of them had the exact same expression of happiness on their faces. It was then that I realized how far we all had come and how much I had learned.


1. Getting things done

I soon realized that both my 2 year old daughter and my mother responded best to one direction at a time and the patience to wait until one action was completed before directing another action.

For example, instead of just saying “brush your teeth” and trying to hurry the action along, directing both of them on just one step at a time time ultimately saved both time and frustration on everyone’s part.

I also found that set routines were comforting to both my mother and daughter despite their obvious differences.

2. Answering questions

Like most people caring for a relative with dementia, I found that answering the same question from my mother over and over again was exhausting. Answering different but incessant questions from my daughter was also difficult at times. So I learned the technique of distraction. For example with my mother, I would interest her in another activity such as folding laundry with me. With my daughter, I would often ask her to “read” a book to me. Judiciously used, this kind of pivot would relieve the increasing tension and make both of them happy.

3. Attitude

I made sure to smile often and establish eye contact with both my mother and my daughter. I would work my name into the conversation when I could see my mom trying to remember who I was and I made sure to often say “I love you” and praise the efforts of both my mother and my daughter. I made sure each had my full attention at that time even when I was in a hurry myself.

4. De-escalation

I found that both people with Alzheimer’s and 2 year olds are prone to sudden meltdowns that are difficult to handle. I discovered that watching for increasing agitation, frustration or the need for a nap and taking preemptive measures could often calm the situation before tempers flared out of control.

5. Music

I always found it fascinating that people with late-stage Alzheimer’s, even those who were rarely verbal, would often start singing when they heard a song they knew. The same is true with young children who naturally delight in songs. Our sing-a-longs were great fun for both my mother and my daughter. “You Are My Sunshine” was a special favorite. My daughter Joy is now an adult and a music teacher.

Best of all, my children still have fond memories of their grandmother after almost 30 years.


This year, some married friends of ours buried the wife’s beloved mother who had Alzheimer’s. They and the rest of the family had worked together to take wonderful care of the mother at home as long as possible and in the nursing home where she finally died.

As the mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed to a later stage, she started to have vivid hallucinations.

One day, the couple made plans to take the mother to her favorite restaurant but she refused to go without the “two little girls over there.” The wife started to tell her mother that she was having hallucinations but her husband gently stopped her. Instead, he told the mother that the little girls weren’t hungry. The mother smiled and immediately got up to go to the restaurant.

The wife later asked me if it was OK to “lie” to her mother. I told her that her mom would probably have been embarrassed and upset to hear that she was having a hallucination. She might have even argued about it.

On the other hand, her husband’s response was both kind and respectful of her mother’s dignity. And, technically, those “two little girls” could not be hungry because they were not real.

To me, that kind of loving attitude from both these friends is inspirational. I wish that it was universal.

“Everybody’s a Winner When Euthanasia Combines with Organ Donation, Say Doctors”

This excellent article by Michael Cook  titled “Everybody’s a Winner When Euthanasia Combines with Organ Donation, Says Doctors” is a must read for anyone concerned about ethics and healthcare.

Michael Cook, the current editor of Mercatornet, writes that

Several Dutch and Belgian doctors have proposed legal reforms to increase the popularity of combining euthanasia and organ donation in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, they report valuable unpublished information about the prevalence of the procedure. So far, it has been performed only about 40 times in the two countries. However, there is “a persisting discrepancy between the number of organ donors and the number of patients on the waiting lists for transplantation” – which euthanasia patients could help to balance. (Emphasis added)

Ominously, the authors of this British Medical Journal article  titled “Legal and ethical aspects of organ donation after euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands”, write that public perception of this formerly abhorrent practice is increasingly positive:

“transplant coordinators in Belgium and the Netherlands notice a contemporary trend towards an increasing willingness and motivation to undergo euthanasia and to subsequently donate organs as well, supported by the increasing number of publications in popular media on this topic.


“In the context of organ donation after euthanasia, the right of self-determination is a paramount ethical and legal aspect. It is the patient’s wish and right to die in a dignified way, and likewise his wish to donate his organs is expressed. Organ donation after euthanasia enables those who do not wish to remain alive to prolong the lives of those who do, and also—compared with ‘classical’ donation after circulatory death—allows many more people to fulfil their wish to donate organs after death.” (Emphasis added)

This slippery slope actually started in 1998 when Jack Kevorkian removed the kidneys of one of his victims and offered them for transplantation. Almost everyone was stunned and horrified. Transplant surgeons refused the organs at that time but the reasons given in some news articles unfortunately had less to do with the ethics than with the concerns over the viability of the organs and the  harvesting technique of the organs themselves.

By 2003, the prestigious journal Critical Care Medicine published an article titled “Role of brain death and the dead-donor rule in the ethics of organ transplantation” by Drs. Robert D. Troug and Walter M. Robinson that went even further:

“We propose that individuals who desire to donate their organs and who are either neurologically devastated or imminently dying should be allowed to donate their organs, without first being declared dead”.  (Emphasis added)

Thus, the actual cause of death would be the organ removal which, in itself, would be euthanasia.

We should not assume that legalized organ donation euthanasia can’t happen here in the US when the public has already been softened up for years by a mostly sympathetic media publicizing sad cases like Brittany Maynard’s and the relentless Compassion and Choices campaign to legalize physician-assisted suicide in every US state.

I can even envision a time when organ donation euthanasia could be presented to the public as merely “medically assisted death-with benefits.”