A Surprise Wedding Present

As most of you know, my daughter Marie died by suicide in 2009. I believe in an all merciful God who loves my daughter even more than I ever could. I trust in Him and I know that my Marie is with Him.

However, I knew that our whole family and especially Marie’s little sister Joy would especially miss her when Joy was planning her wedding this year.

I don’t usually pray for something personal except for help with more wisdom, patience, etc. but  Joy and Marie were especially close and Joy had been Marie’s maid of honor in 2005. The two of them even lived together for the last few months of Marie’s life.

When Joy was younger, the three of us would often talk about Joy’s possible future wedding  and Marie would tease Joy about probably becoming a” bridezilla”. Marie promised that she would personally keep her little sister in line if that happened.

So I knew that there could be a shadow over Joy’s happiness at her wedding and I prayed for a sign that Marie was at peace.

However, I was totally stunned when, the week before Joy’s wedding, a package came from Kentucky with a carefully wrapped, thirty year old letter inside. The package was from  Marie’s older but then close friend Stephanie who had moved away in 1983.

Stephanie wrote that she just happened to find a letter Marie had written to her at age 7 and had to send it to me. The letter was even typewritten! Who knew that Marie could figure out a typewriter?

The letter contained a lot of spelling mistakes but it was hilarious to read Marie’s description of her life at age 7. Marie even wrote down each family member’s age which told us how old she was at the time. (See photo: Marie’s letter at age 7 to Stephanie)

Marie wrote about how her older brother was nice and mean sometimes. Marie also wrote about her little sister Joy and how she ate a “dede” bug. All I could do was smile.

What a wonderful wedding present for Joy and all of us!  At the wedding, we all felt that Marie was there and celebrating with us.

As my late mother often used to say, “God is good!”

Here is the proof:

Joy and Chris wedding pic favorite

Joy and Chris May 21, 2016

 

New Study: Suicide Contagion and Legalized Physician-Assisted Suicide

 

Even before my 30 year old daughter Marie died by suicide in 2009 using an assisted suicide technique, I was writing and giving talks on physician-assisted suicide (PAS) for years. Even then, I worried about effect of the mainstream media portraying PAS as a civil right and even “courageous”, especially since the existence of suicide contagion aka “copycat suicides” was well known. I was not surprised when after Marie’s death, at least two people close to her became suicidal. Thankfully, they were saved by treatment.

Now we have even more information about this from a Southern Medical Journal a medical journal article that was published at the same time Governor Brown signed the California’s PAS law. In the study “How Does Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide Affect Rates of Suicide?” , researchers meticulously examined suicide rates in Washington and Oregon after those states passed PAS laws.

The results are shocking. In those states, the researchers found a 6.3% increase in total suicide with a larger increase (14.5%) among individuals 65 or older. Moreover, there was no decrease in nonassisted suicides (people taking their own lives), despite the claims of PAS advocates that legalizing PAS would reduce the overall number of nonassisted suicides. Instead, the researchers found that “Rather, the introduction of PAS seemingly induces more self-inflicted deaths than it inhibits.”

On November 20, 2015, the Washington Post newspaper published an excellent op-ed article titled “The Dangerously Contagious Effect of Assisted-Suicide Laws “ by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, an associate professor of psychiatry and head of the medical ethics program at the University of California at Irvine. Citing the medical journal study, Dr. Kheriaty concludes that:

“Debates about physician-assisted suicide raise broad questions about our societal attitudes toward suicide. Recent research findings on suicide rates press the question: What sort of society do we want to become? Suicide is already a public health crisis. Do we want to legalize a practice that will worsen this crisis?”

Is Suicide Really a Public Health Crisis?

The national Centers for Disease Control website reports the following statistics in a section titled “Suicide and Suicide Attempts Take an Enormous Toll on Society”. Here are some excerpts:

• Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans
• More than 40,000 people died by suicide in 2012
• More than 1 million people reported making a suicide attempt in the past year.
• More than 2 million adults reported thinking about suicide in the past year.
• Most people who engage in suicidal behavior never seek mental health services.

Costs to Society
The following estimates are based on 2010 CDC data and refer to people age 10 and over.
• Suicide costs society over $44.6 billion a year in combined medical and work loss costs.
• The average suicide costs $1,164,499. (Emphasis in original)

The toll on survivors, family member or friends of a person who died by suicide is also enormous, as I can personally attest:

• Surviving the loss of loved one to suicide is a risk factor for suicide.
• Surviving family members and close friends are deeply impacted by each suicide and experience a range of complex grief reactions including, guilt, anger, abandonment, denial, helplessness, and shock

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Fighting Suicide Contagion

It is tragic that suicide prevention organizations ignore the PAS issue and the mainstream media is almost uniformly sympathetic to the PAS movement despite World Health Organization and national media guidelines for suicide reporting. This has allowed PAS groups like Compassion and Choices not only to press harder for universal PAS laws but also to even change the names of such laws to euphemisms such as “End of Life Options” or “Death with Dignity” to disguise the fact that physician- assisted suicide is obviously suicide.

However, Dr. Kheriaty in his Washington Post article also talks about a related phenomenon called the Papageno effect that:

“suggests that coverage of people with suicidal ideation who do not attempt suicide but instead find strategies that help them to cope with adversity is associated with decreased suicide rates.”

I have always maintained that our stories as suicide survivors, people with disabilities or terminal illnesses, etc. offer hope and inspiration while those about PAS promote despair and hopelessness. We need to tell our stories publicly.

All of us and especially people in states that are currently targeted by groups like Compassion and Choices for legalization of PAS, need to know and share the real facts about PAS as well as suicide prevention and treatment, including the national suicide hotline number (1 (800) 273-8255) and website (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org).  Suicide prevention and treatment can work whether people are considering PAS or killing themselves.

Addendum: Ironically, just as I was finishing this blog, I was interrupted by a call from a man living in another state with an incurable, disabling condition. He was referred to me last month when he saw a segment on a celebrity’s suicide involving the same condition and decided that he wanted to go to California to use the newly passed PAS law. I talked to this man for quite some time.

I was elated when this gentleman now told me that the resources I recommended, the people he talked to and even just the fact that someone cared did change his mind and he no longer wants to end his life. He said he now wants to start actually living again.

This man’s story shows why we must not discriminate between suicide and physician-assisted suicide when it comes to suicide prevention and treatment.

MERCATORNET: GOVERNOR BROWN, DO NOT SIGN THE DEATH WARRANT OF UNHAPPY PEOPLE

FRIDAY, 25 SEPTEMBER 2015
Governor Brown, do not sign the death warrant of unhappy people
BY NANCY VALKO

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.

One problem with the media frenzy is that it violated well-established public health standards for how we talk about suicide. The National Institute for Mental Health has warnings about reporting on suicide that include “Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.” (emphasis added) Instead, the NIHM recommends including “up-to-date local/national resources where reader/viewers can find treatment, information and advice that promote help-seeking”.

However, Compassion and Choices even denies that physician-assisted suicide is suicide, insisting instead that the media use euphemisms like “aid-in-dying” and “death with dignity” in cases like Ms. Maynard’s. However, this defies common sense and even the definition of suicide as “the intentional taking of one’s own life.” Apparently, there are reasons for this:
A 2013 Pew Research Center poll showed that public opinion on physician-assisted suicide law is closely divided, with 47 percent of US adults approving and 49 percent disapproving. A Gallup poll article showed eliminating the term “suicide” in public polls on assisted suicide laws can increase support by as much as 20 percent. Changing the terminology of assisted suicide also allows immunity for assisting medical professionals and gets around standard life insurance policies that deny payouts for suicides occurring in the first two years of a policy.

I have been a registered nurse for 46 years, working in intensive care, oncology, hospice and home health among other specialties. Personally and professionally, I have cared for many people who attempt or consider killing themselves.
Some of these people were old, chronically ill or had disabilities. Some were young and physically healthy. A few were terminally ill. I cared for all of them to the best of my ability without discrimination as to their condition, age, socioeconomic status, race or gender. I will do anything to help my patients — except kill them or help them kill themselves.

It is outrageous that physician assisted suicide laws support privatized lethal overdoses for some suicidal people without even the oversight and protections we insist upon for a convicted murderer on death row. Suicide prevention and treatment works, and the standards must not be changed just because some people insist their desire for physician-assisted suicide is rational and even a civil right.

My Marie was one of the almost 37,000 reported suicides in 2009. In contrast, only about 800 assisted-suicide deaths have been reported in the past 16 years in Oregon. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for Americans in 2012, with “More than 1 million people reported making a suicide attempt in the past year” and “More than 2 million adults reported thinking about suicide in the past year.”. The CDC estimates that suicide “costs society approximately $34.6 billion a year in combined medical and work loss costs”, not to mention the emotional toll on families.

Obviously our real health-care crisis here is a staggering and increasing rate of suicides, not the lack of enough assisted suicides.

Yet, the assisted-suicide movement relentlessly continues to demand the participation of medical professionals like me and the approval of society for at least some suicides — for now. Those demands must be denied.

My daughter Marie was a victim of these demands to control life by embracing death. How many more people must we lose before we truly understand that evil never limits itself because evil always seeks to expand unless it is stopped. In the case of physician-assisted suicide, “No” can be a life-saving word.

Nancy Valko is a registered nurse living in St Louis, Missouri, and spokesperson for the National Association of Prolife Nurses. Recently retired from bedside nursing, she is now an advance legal nurse consultant. She writes and speaks on ethics issues around the US, and blogs at A Nurse’s Perspective on Life, Healthcare and Ethics.

This article is published by Nancy Valko and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees.

Addendum: Mercatornet is a fascinating website about “navigating modern complexities” and encompasses a range of issues. I am pleased to have had a number of articles published there over the years including  “Organ donation: crossing the line- Linking the “right to die” with organ donation has opened a terrible Pandora’s Box”, “ Have death panels already arrived?” and “The campaign against conscience rights

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:

A MODEST PROPOSAL ON ASSISTED SUICIDE

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.

Sincerely,

Nancy Valko, RN ALNC

How to Bury Your Baby After a Miscarriage

In 1983, my daughter Karen who had Down Syndrome died at 5 1/2 months from a complication of pneumonia just before her open heart surgery. In 1984, we suffered a miscarriage at 10-12 weeks.

My 7 year old son and 5 year old daughter were devastated and asked what the name was. Since the doctors could not determine the sex of the baby, I had each of my children select a boy’s or girl’s name. Naming the baby Jeff Candy helped make my children feel better but then they questioned why Jeff Candy did not have a funeral like their sister Karen. Good question!

I brought this up to my mentor Fr. Joe Naumann (now archbishop of Kansas City) when he headed the St. Louis Archdiocesan Pro-Life Committee and the next thing I knew, I wound up on a committee. Now we have “The Order for the Naming and Commendation for an Infant Who Died Before Birth” (copyright 1989)
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I am so proud of the results of my children’s long-ago question and I am so happy to see the long-term results in this article which should be shared with every Catholic. Here is an excerpt:

How to Bury Your Baby After a Miscarriage

by JoAnna Wahlund • June 10, AD2015

The loss of a child is a nightmare for every parent. In the first few hours and days of grief and shock, it’s hard to know what to do. It’s especially hard when the loss occurs in early pregnancy, since our culture isn’t accustomed to treating unborn babies as human beings — and this happens even in pro-life circles.

If you are reading this article because you recently lost a baby via miscarriage, there are three things I want you to know:

1. I am so sorry for the loss of your baby.

2. You have the right to bury your baby.

3. If you did not bury your baby, do not not feel ashamed or guilty. We can only do our best in the circumstances we’re in according to the knowledge that we have.