Oregon Report Shows Assisted Suicide Deaths Increase Again

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 26, 2011   |   6:08PM   |   Salem, OR

Every year the number of people who kill themselves under the Oregon first-in-the-nation law allows assisted suicide increases and the new report containing 2010 figures proves to be no exception.

The Oregon Public Health Division released the 2010 “Death With Dignity” report and it found 59 reported deaths from the 96 lethal prescriptions that were written with an additional six deaths from lethal prescriptions written in previous years. With the exception of 2009, the number of people dying has gone up every year as has the number of lethal prescriptions written.

Of the 65 patients who died under the law in 2010, most (70.8%) were over age 65 years of age, all were white, well‐educated and had cancer. Almost al of them died at home and were receiving hospice care at the time of their suicide. About one-third were on Medicare at the time.

Since the law was passed in 1997, 525 patients have died from ingesting the lethal cocktail of federally-controlled drugs.

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition says the report shows people continue to die without dignity.

“The Oregon stats continue to indicate that elder abuse is likely. Those who died by assisted suicide indicated that 61 (93.8%) of the people felt a loss of autonomy, 61 (93.8%) felt a decreasing ability to participate in activities, while 51 (78.5%) of the people felt that they had lost dignity,” he explained.

In addition, just one of the patients was referred for psychiatric or psychological evaluation prior to the suicide — indicating patients may be pushed into suicide without proper mental health care beforehand.

The numbers of prescriptions written and deaths contained in the report are based on paperwork and death certificates received by the Public Health Division as of January 7.

The report also shows problems associated with assisted suicide continue as two of the patients who took the medications during 2010 did not die after ingestion but died later from their underlying illness. One of the two patients who awoke after ingesting the medication regained consciousness within 24 hours after ingestion and died of their underlying illness five days later; the other gained consciousness three and a half days after ingestion and died of their underlying illness three months later. 

Twenty of the patients who received prescriptions in 2010 did not take the medications and died of their underlying illness, according to the report.