By Crystal Kupper, Editor, Life in Oregon
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) released their latest data summary of the state’s Death with Dignity Act (DWDA). The law — in effect since 1998 — allows Oregonians with terminal illnesses the right to kill themselves with governmental blessing through ingestion of death-inducing pharmaceuticals.
DWDA requires annual information collection, including details like illness identification, length of time between ingestion and death and how long each patient has known his or her doctor before procuring the suicide prescription.
In 2019, the report reveals, 188 Oregonians ended their lives via assisted suicide, although over a hundred more (290 in total) received prescriptions. Eighteen “successful” DWDA recipients in 2019 received prescriptions in previous years. This highlights the question of whether all patients even met the requirement of having a terminal illness leading to certain death within six months.
In one case, a patient officially asked to die under the DWDA more than four years before actually swallowing the drugs xin 2019, clearly demonstrating that the answer is not always yes.
“There are always so many unknowns revealed in these reports,” says Lois Anderson, ORTL executive director. “There continues to be a gap, for example, between the number of prescriptions written and filled. Because there is no tracking of prescriptions, we don’t know where they are — and this is a major safety concern.”
Indeed, the word “unknown” appears numerous times in the 2019 report, illuminating many blind spots. Oregon has no idea, for instance, who was with 60 patients last year when they ingested their life-ending drugs (often the same kind used to kill death row prisoners).
“Was a doctor there? A family member who stood to benefit? Did the person die willingly? We just don’t know,” says Anderson.
The idea of a patient passing peacefully and quickly resonates with DWDA supporters, but it often does not ring true. In 2019, at least one patient lingered alive nearly two days after starting the suicide process.
What’s more, one physician wrote 33 fatal prescriptions in 2019 alone, while some patients only knew their doctors one week before receiving prescriptions. This suggests that certain doctors develop reputations for those wishing to end their lives via assisted suicide. Yet OHA referred only one physician to the Oregon Medical Board for DWDA non-compliance in 2019 — and even more tellingly, only one patient requesting to die was sent for psychiatric evaluation.
“The annual DWDA report illustrates that this law has produced a system of poorly-tracked and unethical suicide encouragement,” Anderson stated. “What we need is compassionate end-of-life healthcare. That is what we will continue to advocate for.”