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Physician assisted suicide

Oregon's status in 2009

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2009 update:

According to reports issued by the Oregon health department, in:

bullet2006: Physicians had prescribed 65 prescriptions of lethal medications.
bullet2007. This had increased to 85.
bullet2008: Prescriptions totaled 88. 1

However, some terminally ill persons who obtained prescriptions never used them. They presumably obtained them for future use just in case life became intolerable. As Char Andrews, an Oregonian with breast cancer, said:

"Having the choice gives me comfort -- just knowing that there's an option, knowing that there's a choice. This has taken the fear out of dying for me." 2

In 2008, 60 of the 88 residents of Oregon who had obtained prescriptions during 2007 and 2008 committed suicide. This number still represents fewer than 1% of all of the deaths in the state.

Among the completed suicide in 2009s:

bullet78% were between 55 and 84 years of age;
bullet98% were white;
bullet60% were well educated;
bullet80% were believed to have cancer;
bulletTheir median age was 72 years old;
bulletAlmost all had health insurance;
bulletSince 1997 when enabling legislation was passed, 401 people have chosen assisted suicide in the state. 1

On election day in 2008-NOV, physician assisted suicide was legalized in adjoining Washington state. The regulations closely matched the laws in Oregon.

Alex Schadenberg, the head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition was concerned about the increase in the number of assisted suicides in Oregon. When the 2008 data became available in 2009-MAR, he said:

"The annual report continues to lack the essential information for determining the social context of these decisions. ... the reporting system continues to lack any safeguards for the people who die by assisted suicide based on the fact that reporting is completed by the physician who prescribes the lethal drugs."
He speculated that physicians in Oregon may be violating the law. He suggested that the total number of assisted suicide cases could be higher than the 60 reported. He commented:
"... there are no third party reports or investigations to ensure that the cases fulfilled the requirements of the law and/or that the reports are accurately reported. There are no investigations to confirm that reports were submitted for all assisted suicide deaths. In other words, we do not know whether other assisted suicide deaths occurred and we do not know if any of the people who died by assisted suicide were socially pressured or died outside of the guidelines of the law. ...  it is unlikely that any physician will ever submit a report that admits to decisions or actions that are outside of the legal parameters." 3

PAS and hospice:

In the past, hospice support in dying and physician assisted suicide have been portrayed as two opposing methods of helping terminally ill patients who find living difficult to endure because of fatal illness.

However, it appears that this conflict is not shared by the terminally ill patients themselves. Compassion and Choices (C&C), the Oregon group that promotes choice in dying reported that 59 of the 60 individuals who took advantage of physician assisted suicide were enrolled in a hospice program. The group asks terminally ill patients who take the initiative to approach C&C whether they are in such a program.

LifeNews suggested that by asking patients who contact them whether they are in a hospice program, C&C staff were actually infiltrating the hospice movement. LifeNews reported that bioethics watchdog Wesley J. Smith said that C&C:

"should be ashamed, not proud. This press release is essentially an admission that its representatives interfere with the proper provision of hospice care, since an essential service of hospice is suicide prevention.

LifeNews wrote that Smith said that:

"... C&C's involvement in hospice is pushing patients into assisted suicide and corrupting the system." 3

However, it appears that LiveNews' comments are invalid. C&C only asked the information from terminally ill persons who had taken the personal initiative to contact C&C.

End of year report for 2009:

During 2009, 55 physicians issued a total of 95 prescriptions for a fatal dose of barbituates to their patients. Of these, 59 used them -- or medication supplied in previous years -- to commit suicide.

Since the enabling law was passed in 1997, 460 patients had died under the provisions of the Death with Dignity Act.

The number of deaths per year has gradually increased from 15 in 1998 to 60 in 2008. The number dropped by one person to 59 during 2009.

As in previous years, the most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were:

  • Loss of autonomy (96.6%),
  • Loss of dignity (91.5%), and
  • Decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (86.4%). 4,5

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References:

  1. Steven Ertelt, "Report Shows Oregon Assisted Suicide Deaths Up 30 Percent Since 2006," LifeNews.com, 2009-MAR-03, at:  http://www.lifenews.com/
  2. From the "Compassion & choices" home page at: http://www.compassionandchoices.org/
  3. Steven Ertelt, "More Oregon Patients Killed Via Assisted Suicide as Activists Infiltrate Hospice," LifeNews, 2009-MAR-16, at: http://lifenews.com/
  4. "2009 Summary of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act," Death With Dignity, at: http://www.deathwithdignity.org/ This is a PDF file.
  5. "A Careful Reading of State Reports Indicates Oregon and Washington Laws are Safe and Rarely Used," Death with Dignity National Center, 2010-Spring, at: http://www.deathwithdignity.org/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2010-JUL-04

Author: Bruce A Robinson

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