The Oregon Health Authority released its latest report on the “Death With Dignity” Act (DWDA) which legalized physician-assisted suicide. In 2018, the number of Oregonians reported to have committed assisted suicide and the number of obtained lethal prescriptions were both record highs. There were 168 assisted suicides, up from 158 in 2017. Two hundred and forty-nine lethal prescriptions were obtained, up from 218 in 2017. The actual number of deaths may be higher due to uncertain “ingestion” status in 43 people.
Since 1997, when assisted suicide was legalized in Oregon, 1,459 people have died and 2,217 people have obtained lethal prescriptions.
The DWDA requires the attending and consulting physicians to refer their patient for a psychological examination if they suspect their patient’s judgment is impaired by a mental disorder like depression. However, Oregon’s physicians are notoriously bad at recognizing or correctly handling mental health disorders. Oregon ranks last in the nation when it comes to addressing mental health issues. This is illustrated in the fact that only three of the 249 people prescribed lethal medication under the DWDA were referred for a psychological evaluation.
Assisted suicide proponents have long used the argument that relief from unbearable suffering is a primary reason to legalize the practice. However, once again, Oregon’s data shows that is not the main reason people chose to end their lives. Inadequate pain control was mentioned by only 31.2% of people. Rather, the three most common reasons given by people choosing to end their lives were loss of autonomy (91.7%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable (90.5%), and the loss of dignity (66.7%). As in previous years, most patients were 65 years or older (79.2%) and most had cancer (62.5%).
Oregon’s data raises additional concerns. It suggests that some assisted suicide deaths may be slow and painful. The report says that the time of death following the ingestion of lethal drugs ranged from 9 minutes to 14 hours. The journal Anaesthesia (2/20/2019) recently reported that there is no way to ensure a patient is unconscious before death. It stated that “patients currently may be dying in an ‘inhumane’ way.”
Oregon Right to Life continues to be deeply concerned about the DWDA and is fighting for expansion efforts of this dangerous, flawed legislation. For more information, visit the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division at: https://bit.ly/2SINqo2