Patient’s Assisted Suicide Bid Fails, Prompts Concerns About Oregon Law

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 7, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Patient’s Assisted Suicide Bid Fails, Prompts Concerns About Oregon Law

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 7, 2005

Portland, OR ( — Oregon’s first-in-the-nation assisted suicide law is coming under fire after a cancer patient woke up following his taking the lethal dose of drugs necessary to end his life.

In late January, lung cancer patient David Prueitt took a fatal dose of drugs, prescribed by a doctor under the assisted suicide law, to take his own life. Three days later he woke up and wondered why he wasn’t dead.

The 42 year-old man eventually lived two more weeks before dying of natural causes.

Prueitt’s wife, Lynda Romig Prueitt, told The Oregonian newspaper that, when he awoke, Prueitt asked, "What the hell happened? Why am I not dead?"

The case surprised euthanasia advocates and Barbara Coombs Lee, co-president of the group Compassion & Choices, confirmed the case to the media last week.

"He did take a complete dose and slept soundly for 65 hours," Lee told the Associated Press. "Then he awakened. He suffered no ill effects. He was fully capable and competent — and surprised."

Some physicians are concerned that abuses of Oregon’s assisted suicide law take place regularly.

Dr. Robert Orr, president of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, told that failed assisted suicides are a concern. He pointed to documents showing 16-25 percent of patients in the Netherlands who take the dosage of pentobarbital do not die.

Dr. Kenneth Stevens, President of Physicians for Compassionate Care, agreed and added, "We do not have any direct evidence that patients receiving prescriptions for lethal drugs under the Oregon physician-assisted suicide law are being given a lethal injection."

Last year, according to an AP report, Prueitt contacted pro-euthanasia group Compassion in Dying of Oregon, which helps patients who are considering assisted suicide carry out their request.

He said the pain had become unbearable and he was ready to end his life.

Prueitt received a doctor’s prescription for 100 capsules of the barbiturate Seconal. On January 30, he swallowed the drug overdose, which was mixed with applesauce and water.

Two days after Prueitt woke up, he told his wife he had been in the presence of God. He said God had rejected his death by suicide and sent him back to die naturally.

Barry Kast, assistant director for health services for the Oregon Department of Human Services says his agency can’t investigate the case.

"DHS’ role is that of a steward of data about the use of the law," Kast said. "This is a law, not a DHS program, and our only legal role is to report accurate aggregate data about the use of the law."

Kast said the state boards of medical examiners and pharmacy have authority to investigate medical cases under certain circumstances, although he said the state’s assisted suicide law doesn’t require them to investigate.

Kast said his agency expected to issue another statewide report on assisted suicide in Oregon on March 10. The report will likely show that more than 200 patients have killed themselves under the law with the help of Oregon doctors.