Rep. Mitch Greenlick, Chair of the House Committee on Health Care, has introduced a bill, H.B. 3337, which would expand Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law.
Currently the law requires a patient be diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die within six months before being able to request a lethal prescription. This bill redefines “terminal diagnosis” and expands the time requirement to one year.
Oregon was the first state to legalize physician assisted suicide and is touted as a model law to other states. However, the assisted suicide law is rife with dangers and flaws.
Oregon’s law requires patients who are thought to be depressed have a psychiatric exam, but only three percent in 2014 were actually seen by a psychiatrist. This low percentage has remained consistent through the years despite the fact that an Oregon study showed that 26% of patients seeking physician-assisted suicide are depressed. Depression is the number one factor in people seeking to kill themselves. Clearly Oregon’s law is failing to protect patients who could be treated for clinical depression and possibly miss many treasured times with family and friend.
Some who were first to use Oregon’s new law, as well as Brittany Maynard, used their deaths to promote physician-assisted suicide, and went to the press to “tell all.”
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However, other than those highly publicized deaths, very little is known about the other hundreds of assisted deaths. Oregon’s law shrouds all physician-assisted suicides in secrecy. There is no peer or state review to confirm if deaths were carried out according to the law, and after a year all reports by physicians are destroyed. We have a few raw numbers garnered from physicians who self-reported the deaths. There is no way to know if all deaths are reported.
Each year since the law’s passage, deaths from physician-assisted suicide have steadily climbed. The number of reported deaths in 2014 skyrocketed 44% over 2013 numbers. 105 patients killed themselves using the law in 2014. Since the law was implemented in 1998, annual deaths have increased 556%.
Predicting a patient’s life expectancy is an inexact science even among the most experienced physicians. We all know patients who have outlived their doctor’s prognosis. One patient who received a lethal prescription in 2012 outlived their six-month prognosis until 2014, when they did finally use the drug. Expanding the time frame to one year strains the capabilities of most physicians.
Unless those doctors who write a deadly prescription one year ahead of an expected death are given a crystal ball, more mistakes will be made and deaths will increase dramatically. More patients will be abandoned instead of being cared for and comforted in the hope they may outlive their prognosis or that new treatments–or even a cure–may be discovered.
Expanding the Oregon Death With Dignity Act is bad policy and even worse medicine.