Report Shows Oregon Assisted Suicide Deaths Up 30 Percent Since 2006

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 3, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Report Shows Oregon Assisted Suicide Deaths Up 30 Percent Since 2006

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
March 3
, 2009

Salem, OR (LifeNews.com) — A new report from Oregon shows the number of people killed via assisted suicide there has increased 30 percent in the last two years. The news comes just two days before Washington becomes the second state to legalize assisted suicide.

The new report from the state health department finds 88 prescriptions for lethal medications were written during 2008 compared with 85 during 2007 and 65 during 2006.

Of those who received the deadly drugs, 54 people used them to take their own lives, 22 died from their underlying disease or medical condition and another 12 had not used their drugs by the end of 2008.

Another six people used the drugs they obtained in 2007 to kill themselves in 2008 — resulting in a total of 60 people who died from assisted suicide last year.

That is an increase from the 49 people who killed themselves in 2007 and the 46 people who used the lethal cocktail in 2006. As a result, the number of assisted suicide deaths has risen 30 percent from 2006-2008.

This corresponds to an estimated 19.4 deaths per 10,000 total deaths, up from an estimated 14.7 deaths per 10,000 total deaths in 2006.

Alex Schadenberg, the head of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is worried about the report and the increase in the number of assisted suicides.

"The annual report continues to lack the essential information for determining the social context of these decisions," he says — making it hard to help patients find life-affirming alternatives.

Schadenberg is also concerned that "the reporting system continues to lack any safeguards for the people who die by assisted suicide based on the fact that reporting is completed by the physician who prescribes the lethal drugs."

That is a problem since the physician who gave the patient the drugs was only present at the time of ingesting the lethal drugs 11 times or 18.3 percent of the time when patients died.

The number of assisted suicide deaths in Oregon could be higher than state officials are reporting.

"Further, there are no third party reports or investigations to ensure that the cases fulfilled the requirements of the law and/or that the reports are accurately reported," Shadenberg said. "There are no investigations to confirm that reports were submitted for all assisted suicide deaths."

"In other words, we do not know whether other assisted suicide deaths occurred and we do not know if any of the people who died by assisted suicide were socially pressured or died outside of the guidelines of the law," he said.

He said because the Oregon law relies on physicians to submit reports based on their own actions, "it is unlikely that any physician will ever submit a report that admits to decisions or actions that are outside of the legal parameters."

Shadenberg said many people who support assisted suicide say they do so because they want to make sure patients have adequate pain control, but he noted that the report indicates just three of the 60 people who died by assisted suicide listed concerns about inadequate pain control as a reason for requesting it.

The stated reasons for wanting suicide assistance include: 95% loss of autonomy, 92% decreasing ability to participate in activities, and 92% saying loss of dignity.

Pro-life advocates are also worried that only two people received proper psychological evaluations prior to getting the lethal drugs. With many patients citing depression as a reason for an assisted suicide, they say patients should receive better mental health care rather than an assisted suicide.

The report also indicates that 59 physicians wrote 88 prescriptions — indicating some doctors are writing more than one lethal prescription for patients.

That leads pro-life advocates to wonder if they are truly finding better alternatives for their patients or just encouraging them to seek death as a solution.

Of those who died in assisted suicides, 78% were between 55 and 84 years of age, 98% were white, 60% were well educated, 80% were believed to have cancer, and the median age was 72 years old. Almost all had health insurance .

"The 2008 report, like the previous reports lacks the necessary information to assure the public that all is well in Oregon," Shadenberg concludes.

Since the law was passed in 1997, 401 people died under it.

Related web sites:
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition – https://www.epcc.ca

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