Doctors Group Laments Record Oregon Assisted Suicide Figures

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 15, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Doctors Group Laments Record Oregon Assisted Suicide Figures Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 15
, 2007

Ottawa, Canada ( — A doctors group says it’s dismayed by new figures from the Oregon health department showing the number of assisted suicides on the rise. The numbers also show that, in 2006, more patients died after killing themselves in assisted suicides than in any previous year since the state become the only one to allow the practice.

According to the data, 46 Oregonians, most of them suffering from cancer, killed themselves after getting a prescription for a lethal amount of drugs from their physician.

The Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation sent a statement in response to the new numbers.

The group is disappointed that the Oregon Department of Human Services prepared a very brief report on assisted suicide compared with more comprehensive reporting in the past.

It says the report "is amazingly brief and incomplete, and much of the past narrative-type information is not present in this year’s report." For example, the doctors group says the new survey doesn’t include information about the number of prescriptions written by doctors that prior reports contained.

But when analyzing the information the report does contain, the physicians group is worried about the status of assisted suicide in Oregon.

"Only two of the 46 patients dying from assisted suicide in 2006 were referred for psychiatric evaluation, yet depression is the most common cause of suicidal ideation," the group said.

The organization was also worried about the lack of a true doctor-patient relationship.

"The prescribing physician was present when medication was ingested for only 15 of the 46 deaths; knowledge of complications for the other 31 patients is obtained second or third-hand," the group added. "Emergency medical services were called for a patient who had fallen, yet that fall was not listed as a complication."

"The median duration of the patient-physician relationship was only 15 weeks, with a range from one to 767 weeks," which the group says undermines the premise of physician-assisted suicide. "We know that many of these patients are receiving prescriptions for lethal medications from doctors that are new to them, rather than from their usual doctor."

Physicians for Compassionate Care is also troubled that the time between the first request for the assisted suicide and the actual death ranged from 15 to 747 days.

"As we have previously noted, many non-terminal patients are dying from assisted suicide," it said of the longer durations.

Finally, the physicians want to see more emphasis placed on adequate pain control for patients and pointed to information in the report showing that patients are concerned about it as well.

The new report showed that the number of assisted suicides in 2006 increased from the 38 people took their lives under the assisted suicide law in 2005 and higher than in other years.

But state health officials claim 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.

Related web sites:
Physicians for Compassionate Care –