Study At Odds With Assisted Suicide Data, Experts Say

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 16, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Study At Odds With Assisted Suicide Data, Experts Say

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 16, 2003

New York, NY ( — A recent study published in Archives of Internal Medicine on palliative care and how doctors treat patients is at odds with research published about the assisted suicide decisions made by resident of Oregon, pro-life experts on end-of-life care say.

The study, directed by Dr. Diane Meier of the Center to Advance Palliative Care at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, indicated that patients who seek help from their doctors to hasten death are in significant physical pain and discomfort.

Not so say pro-life experts on end-of-life issues.

Brian Johnston, the author of "Death as a Salesman: What’s Wrong With Assisted Suicide," says euthanasia advocates are normally the ones touting uncontrollable pain as the reason why some patients seek assisted suicide.

That is the "standard boilerplate incantation of the euthanasia movement, but has already been disproved in Oregon and elsewhere where reports indicate that physical pain is rarely the reason for killing the patient," Johnston said in an interview with

Jerome R. Wernow, Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Northwest Center for Bioethics in Portland, agreed. He said the study’s conclusion is "an inaccurate assessment of the reason behind Oregon’s assisted suicide practice."

In fact, the 2002 report on assisted suicide in Oregon, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the three most commonly cited end-of-life concerns were loss of autonomy, a decreasing ability to take part in enjoyable activities and loss of control over bodily functions.

Wernow told that "the majority of those choosing assisted suicide did based on a perceived violation of their personal autonomy and ‘right to choose.’" He said the study further legitimatizes the myth that uncontrollable pain is the prime reason for seeking an assisted suicide.

Johnston agreed with Meier’s study that adequate resources are already available to alleviate pain and eliminate that as a reason for assisted suicide.

John Henry Crosby of the Family Research Council’s Center for Human Life and Bioethics, said he was surprised that the study showed 49 percent of those asking for assisted suicide were depressed.

"My hunch is that the numbers are actually much higher and that certain forms of depression won’t necessarily be detectable," Crosby told

Johnston also said the study revealed that patients made the request for assisted suicide along with family. He said doctors need to not acquiesce to familial pressure to assist a suicide.

"One thing the study does not address is the question of how many people requested assisted suicide because they considered themselves burdensome to their families," Crosby said

Johnston said that, as a self-reporting study, it is "drawing its sweeping conclusions from reports where the actual agent of the act is serving as their own monitor."

"How many of these accommodating physicians would unnecessarily volunteer, ‘There was no medically indicated reason, it just was an easy way to wrap things up and get the family off my back.’ As in the Netherlands and in Oregon, there is no way to check for misrepresentation or misapplication," Johnson concluded.

Crosby was surprised that doctors outside of Oregon would admit to performing an assisted suicide, since the practice is illegal in the forty-nine other states.