Assisted Suicides at All Time High New Oregon Figures Show

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 14, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assisted Suicides at All Time High New Oregon Figures Show Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 14
, 2007

Salem, OR ( — The number of Oregon residents using the state’s assisted suicide law to kill themselves is on the rise. New figures from the state’s health department show more people in Oregon died under the assisted suicide law in 2006 than any year previously.

The Department of Human Services of Oregon, in its annual report, reveals that 46 Oregonians, most of them suffering from cancer, kill themselves after getting a prescription for a lethal amount of drugs from their physician.

The number is up eight from the 38 people took their lives under the assisted suicide law in 2005 and higher than in other years.

State health officials say the demand for assisted suicide is not rising because it said the number of prescriptions issued last year was lower than in previous years.

In 1998, 16 Oregonians used the assisted suicide law to kill themselves, followed by 27 in 1999, 27 in 2000, 21 in 2001, 38 in 2002, 42 in 2003, and 37 in 2004.

As a result from the state’s law, the only one of its kind in the United States, some 292 people have killed themselves. The typical profile of a person using the law of a patient using the assisted suicide law is a white male about the age of 70 who is battling cancer. Mot have a college education and a handful suffer from either AIDS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Most have died at home and were receiving hospice care at the time.

While patients cite depression and other emotional fears as their reasons for using the assisted suicide law, just two patients received psychological evaluations prior to being given the lethal drugs in 2005.

The use of assisted suicide hasn’t been without problems.

Lung cancer patient David Prueitt took a fatal dose of drugs but woke up three days later wondering why he wasn’t dead. The 42 year-old man eventually lived two more weeks before dying of natural causes.

Another patient who died in 2005 asked for the drugs three years ago, but the law specifically allows the drugs to be given only to patients expected to live for six months or less.

Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, a leading disability rights group said that the longer the Oregon law stays around the more disabled patients are feeling obligated to end their lives when they become a so-called "burden" to their families.

"What looks to some like a choice to die begins to look more like a duty to die to many disability activists," she said.

In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that patients had a right to refuse lifesaving medical treatment and, in 1997, the court ruled unanimously that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide but that states may ban or allow the practice.

The state came under fire last October for deciding to change the wording of the phrase assisted suicide when referring to the state law. It determined it would begin referring to "physician assisted suicide" as "physician assisted death" on official reports.

The change comes as backers of the assisted suicide law claim the original term is offensive to those who kill themselves under the statute. In fact, Compassion & Choices, a national group that backs euthanasia and assisted suicide, pressured state officials to make the change.

Gayle Atteberry, the executive director of Oregon Right to Life called the wording difference "outrageous."

"They have changed it to a euphemism to make it more palatable," she said. "Do they think it is going to make it easier for people to kill themselves?"
California, Michigan, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont and Washington have defeated attempts to legalize assisted suicide over the years.

Related web sites:
Physicians for Compassionate Care –
Oregon Right to Life –