In 2009, I began to get emails and calls from people who had read reports about the death of Nancy Valko from physician-assisted suicide in Oregon. Even our ages were almost the same.
After assuring people that I was not only very much alive but just as committed to opposing assisted suicide, I did a google search and found the obituary and information about another Nancy Valko who had planned and publicized a kind of party around her suicide.
Now almost 8 years later, I received an email from a friend who just read an article about the assisted suicide of Nancy Valko. I thought she had just run across an old article but she sent me the article “I will be dancing once again-Nancy Valko’s controversial final act brought her life, but not her legacy, to an end” from the current April 2017 issue of Woman’s Day, a well-known and long-running women’s magazine often displayed at grocery store checkout lines.
The article painted quite a picture that was”carefully planned” by this Nancy : sunlight streaming through fir trees, bouquets of spring flowers, a manicured backyard and a friend playing classical music on a harp.
She was surrounded by her children and her former husband when she swallowed the lethal mixture. According to the article, her family continued to talk to her for the last two hours of her life telling her they loved her and praising her as an amazing mom.
The article notes that this Nancy was following a healthy lifestyle before she started have mobility problems and was eventually diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In November 2008, she decided to move to Oregon to use its physician-assisted suicide law. The article states that she wanted to be around for her kids but she “knew that dying from ALS could be brutal-in late stages, sufferers typically remain mentally alert but lose the ability to move, swallow or breathe on their own.” She would eventually have to rely on family, friends or others.
By March when this Nancy started having more trouble talking and thus might not be able to swallow the drugs, she saw a doctor who determined that she was within 6 months of dying and able to swallow the lethal dose by herself. The article notes that “nearly everyone” in Nancy’s circle stood behind her decision to die and friends and family in other states “sent bubbles toward the sky” on April 19, 2009.
After Nancy’s assisted suicide, her older sister Marnie “was inspired” to fight for an assisted suicide law in Vermont that was signed into law in 2013.
The article ends with:
“Nancy wanted her life to matter,” says Marnie. “Because this legislation passed, it still does.”
A short section “The Case Against ‘Death with Dignity'” cites the American Medical Association’s opposition against assisted suicide but says that “it will revisit the issue”. The section also mentions that “some religions” like Catholicism and disability groups like Not Dead Yet also oppose assisted suicide but cite a recent Gallup poll showing that only around 40% of Americans now feel assisted suicide is “morally wrong”.
Why did Woman’s Day tell this story again after 8 years? It seems like a desperate attempt to show an assisted suicide as a happy party with friends and family celebrating while a loved one takes her life before, as the article states, there is a “loss of autonomy and dignity”.
I see this Nancy’s death as a sad tragedy of despair.
As a former hospice nurse myself, I felt privileged to be able to help people with life-threatening illnesses and their families achieve a peaceful and comfortable natural death. The traditional hospice philosophy of neither hastening nor prolonging dying allows a natural and truly dignified death that benefits both the patient and his or her family. Personally, these patients and their families inspired me with their devotion and love for each other. People should never feel that they are a burden to themselves, their families or to society.
Physician-assisted suicide is never the answer and I would never inflict it on my family and friends.
3 thoughts on “Reports of My Death are Greatly Exaggerated-Again”
No one should be forced to die “according to the rules.” We are all entitled to a choice. If I am faced with an impending terminal illness I want the freedom to decide when and how I will die. Hospice care might be the right choice under some conditions. Cancer however, ravages its victims. My mom died after extraordinary pain and needless suffering because she had no choice in Florida, more than a decade ago. She weighed 64 lbs and her lips turned black when she finally took her last breath. We all shared her misery… helplessly. Her doctor could only prescribe ever greater pain-killers in what eventually resulted in a 3-part “cocktail.” It is likely that it was simply a way of skirting the law… Thankfully, I live in Vermont and appreciate the struggle that Marnie Valko and others working with PatientChoices.org in this state took on for more than 10 years to finally pass Act 39 into law. Your religious or philosophical beliefs should not limit my civil rights.
I am so sorry to hear of you mother’s difficult death and that she did not get the care she needed. As a hospice, trauma, oncology and ICU nurse, I have spent my life both personally and professionally helping people, including family and friends, with life-limiting conditions and/or disabilities to receive the support and care they needed. I could reassure people that if or when death came, they would be comfortable and I kept my word without ending their lives. I was never even tempted.
Giving the few doctors willing to end a person’s life immunity from from “civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action for participating in good faith compliance” (which no other doctor has)with an assisted suicide law , no required mental health screening (unlike that given to any other suicidal person), no required contact with the patient or witnessing of the event after just writing a lethal prescription, falsifying the death certificate (only the underlying condition, not the manner of death, is allowed)and no penalty for not reporting complications is a recipe for corruption and abuse, not a civil right. Ending lives is not health care.
Remember Soylent Green?
Fr. Tad says that when people talk about being a burden, they mean caregiving – not a financial burden.
In reality, if you allow family to help out as needed, they draw closer and are proud to be there for you.
Since your namesake made the news, I suspect you will have to continue your common sense opposition to suicide.
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