Oregon Assisted Suicides Increase in 2003, Lack of Details Criticized

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 11, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Oregon Assisted Suicides Increase in 2003, Lack of Details Criticized

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
March 11, 2004

Salem, OR (LifeNews.com) — The number of people killing themselves under an Oregon law that allows assisted suicides increased during 2003. According to a report from the state, 42 people killed themselves last year, a 10 percent increase from the 38 that obtained help in ending their lives in 2002.

The report says patients who chose to end their lives did so because they feared losing their autonomy. The ages of those who are choosing assisted suicide is decreasing.

Groups favoring the six-year-old assisted suicide law were pleased with the latest numbers.

"Few assisted deaths, no substantial complications — more evidence of a safe, careful medical practice," Barbara Coombs Lee, the author of the law and president of Compassion in Dying, told the Associated Press.

However, pro-life groups say the law doesn’t require the deaths to be reported and the likely number of people who ended their lives could be higher.

"While the Oregon Health Services report indicates ‘only’ 42 people were killed through the services of a physician, that is actually a cursory and facile view of the practice," Brian Johnston told LifeNews.com. "While all such physician prescribed suicides are supposed to be reported, the law holds no penalty for failure to report"

Johnston, the author of "Death as a Salesman: What’s Wrong With Assisted Suicide," said doctors involved with botched suicide attempts may not report such failures to the state.

"Physicians involved in botched, confused or marginally appropriate actions need not fear penalty if they ‘forget to report,’" Johnston said.

A representative of a leading group of pro-life doctors agreed and criticized the state for continuing to release information with few details about the practice.

"There is a wall of secrecy around assisted suicide in Oregon." Says Dr. Kenneth Stevens, a cancer doctor in Portland, Oregon.

Stevens said that two patients who received prescriptions for lethal drugs did not use them and were alive a year later.

That, Stevens says, "is a clear violation of the state law" which requires patients to be terminally ill before they can request drugs to end their lives.

According to the Oregon health department, the number of prescriptions written for lethal medication increased from 58 in 2002 to 67 in 2003. These numbers have increased every year since 1998, when 24 prescriptions were written.

The lack of reporting requirements may be creating a situation similar to that of the Netherlands, where official reports minimized the numbers of those killed. Subsequent investigation found many more closeted and subtle acts of euthanasia, Johnston explained.

Oregon voters approved the law in 1994 and rejected an effort to repeal it in 1997.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in 1997, found that there is no right to an assisted suicide but did not prevent states from legalizing the grisly practice.

Attorney General John Ashcroft filed suit against the state preventing the use of federally regulated drugs in assisted suicides. As of 2002, such drugs were used in all of the assisted suicides that occurred in Oregon. The legal challenge is still pending in a federal appeals court.

Related web sites:
Oregon report on assisted suicide –
Physicians for Compassionate Care – https://www.pccef.org