Assisted Suicide Declined in Oregon in 2004 New Report Shows

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 1, 2009   |   12:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assisted Suicide Declined in Oregon in 2004 New Report Shows Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 10, 2005

Salem, OR ( — A new report issued by Oregon’s state health agency shows 37 people killed themselves last year with a doctor’s help under the nation’s only law allowing assisted suicide. That’s down from the 42 who ended their lives in 2003, the highest number since the law was approved in 1998.

The Oregon Department of Human Services released the seventh annual report about the people who used the law. It showed the average age of those who died was 64 years-old. Most of those who took their lives were cancer patients.

The report shows 40 doctors wrote 60 prescriptions for lethal drugs. In 1998, 24 prescriptions were written, followed by 33 in 1999,
39 in 2000, 44 in 2001, 58 in 2002, 68 in 2003, and 60 in 2004.

Thirty five those who received lethal drugs in 2004 died. Of the 25 recipients who did not ingest the prescribed medication in 2004, 13 died from their illnesses, and 12 were alive on December 31, 2004.

Three of the patients receiving drugs were reported to have complications with taking the lethal dose of barbiturates prescribed for them by Oregon physicians. They each regurgitated the lethal cocktail.

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.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit that would affect whether the drugs used in the suicides are subject to federal control.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled in November 2001 that the drugs used in assisted suicides in Oregon violated the Controlled Substances Act because killing a patient does not constitution a "legitimate medical purpose." Under Ashcroft’s ruling, doctors who prescribe drugs for patients to use to kill themselves would lose their presctiption-writing ability.

All of the 208 assisted suicides in the state in the six years the law has been on the books have used the federally controlled drugs.

The complications are continuing into 2005.

Doctors and pro-life groups are concerned about one patient who woke up following his taking the lethal dose of drugs.

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 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.

In a 1997 case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that no right to assisted suicide exists, but states could decide whether to allow assisted suicides to take place.

Related web sites:
Oregon Department of Human Services –
Physician: Abuses of Oregon Euthanasia Law Could Occur Regularly –