Newspaper Uncovers Abuse of Assisted Suicide Laws and Pressure to Euthanize Patients

National   |   Alex Schadenberg   |   Nov 29, 2016   |   11:13AM   |   Washington, DC

The Des Moines Register newspaper published an in-depth examination of the practice of assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington States and uncovered significant problems. They learned that the data is incomplete, that there missing reports (under-reporting) and that the laws are not designed to be effectively monitored.

They found that the assisted suicide lobby wants to extend assisted suicide laws to permit euthanasia or lethal injection.

Des Moines Register columnist, Kyle Munson, and investigative reporter, Jason Clayworth examine the practice of assisted suicide in America by analyzing the data and interviewing leaders from both sides of the assisted suicide debate. Their report was published on November 25, 2016

The report states that Betsy Davis, who died by assisted suicide in California, received assistance in administering the lethal dose bringing into question the meaning of the term “self-administer.” According to the report:

So when it came time to end her life under a new California law for the terminally ill, her caregivers propped her up and held the cup as she drank a fatal mix of prescription drugs.

But physical assistance in taking the toxic medications is illegal, multiple experts contend. The report then examines the meaning of “self-administer.”

Kelly and Okray, Betsy’s caregiver, were left with a lingering question: Is there an easier way to do this?

Kelly said she also was troubled by the legal gray area: Had they violated the “self-administer” clause of California’s law?

The law defines “self-administer” as the “physical act of administering and ingesting the aid-in-dying drug to bring about his or her own death.”

“That doesn’t mean they couldn’t hold a cup that a person is drinking out of,” said Matt Whitaker, state director in California of the organization, which supports assisted-suicide laws. “That would be fine.”

Jennifer Holm, who lobbies for assisted suicide in Iowa, stated that concerns with the definition of “self-administer” would be solved by legalizing euthanasia (lethal injection). According to the report:

Holm has been one of Iowa’s most outspoken advocates for assisted suicide. She says the data tell her that doctors should be allowed not only to prescribe the lethal drugs but to administer them as well, to help avoid complications.

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The report not only uncovers problems with the definition of “self-administer” it also uncovers problems with the practice of assisted suicide laws. The report states:

“Assisted suicide is nearly untraceable. There is minimal reporting and tracking,” said Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund in California. “It almost appears as if the practice of assisted suicide has deliberately been made secretive, all with the claim of patient confidentiality.”

Among the 1,642 documented assisted suicides in Oregon and Washington since the states began reporting statistics in 1998 and 2009, respectively, the Register found:

  • COMPLICATIONS: At least 38 people (about 2.5 percent) experienced complications as they were dying, including regurgitation of the fatal medicine, seizures or waking up after taking the medication.
  • INCOMPLETE RECORDS: At least 478 deaths occurred without record of key details, such as whether complications occurred. At least 203 people have died without a record of whether the deaths were from ingesting medication or from natural causes.
  • PROLONGED DEATHS: In 2009, a person in Oregon took more than four days to die after taking the medication. Of the two states, Washington had the most complete data. For deaths where time was recorded, 17 percent took 91 or more minutes. In Oregon, the median time before death in 2015 was 25 minutes.
  • NO DATA: Two of the states where assisted suicide is an option — Vermont and Montana — do not track deaths at all. Data from California and Colorado, the most recent states to legalize assisted suicide, is not yet available.

The Des Moines Register report uncovers similar abuses and problems with assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington State as reported by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. Note: Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and you can read his blog here.