Governor Brown, Don’t Sign the Death Warrant for Unhappy People
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 tumor 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.
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 assistance for committing suicide.
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.
This piece originally appeared at Mercatornet.com, and is reprinted with that site’s kind permission.