Study: Quarter of Oregon Assisted Suicide Victims Depressed, Still Got Drugs

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 8, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Study: Quarter of Oregon Assisted Suicide Victims Depressed, Still Got Drugs

by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 8
, 2008

Washington, DC ( — A new study shows about one-fourth of the people killed in assisted suicides in Oregon were depressed, yet they received lethal cocktails anyway. Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University conducted the study and skeptic say it shows the guidelines in the assisted suicide law don’t work.

The researchers published their findings in the British Medical Journal after following 58 patients in Oregon who requested an assisted suicide.

Most of the patients were terminally ill or afflicted with ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Of the patients involved, 26 percent were independently diagnosed with depression.

Psychiatrist Linda Ganzini, the lead author of the study, says the results show doctors need to do a better job of screening for depression before allowing an assisted suicide to go forward.

She and her colleagues wrote in the BMJ that "the current practice of Death with Dignity Act may not adequately protect all mentally ill patients" and they call for "increased vigilance and systematic examination for depression among patients who may access legalized aid in dying."

But Wesley J. Smith, an author and attorney who is a leading euthanasia watchdog, says the guidelines in the law only a way for assisted suicide proponents to make citizens feel safeguards are in place.

"As I have repeatedly pointed out, the guidelines are not actually there to protect the vulnerable, but merely to give the appearance of control," he said in response to the study.

"And if one doctor says no, the patient just goes doctor shopping until one is found who will prescribe–usually referred by [pro-euthanasia] Compassion and Choices," Smith says. "So, there is no protection of depressed patients in Oregon, and none is really intended."

Smith says the guidelines in Oregon, and those proposed in the assisted suicide initiative appearing on the ballot in November in Washington, do not require treatment for depression before the lethal cocktail is issued.

"Indeed, the attitude of Dutch euthanasia supporters demonstrate that even if depression is detected, it really doesn’t matter in making the killing decision," he said.

Last year, none of the patients requesting assisted suicide in Oregon were referred to mental health professionals.

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