Oregon Health Authority’s 23rd annual data summary of its Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) revealed something new this year: a small-yet-growing percentage of physicians around the state who help their patients kill themselves are doing so with a modified method.
The overall way to commit suicide with the state’s blessing is unchanged; doctors still prescribe pills that stop their patients’ hearts when ingested. And in 2020, at least 87 percent of the 245 people who committed suicide swallowed a drug cocktail called DDMA. This combination uses diazepam, digoxin, morphine sulfate and amitriptyline to end lives.
Some physicians, however, began adding a drug called phenobarbital to the deadly prescription of DDMA toward the end of last year. Phenobarbital belongs to a class of narcotics known as barbiturate anticonvulsants/hypnotics and is often used to control seizures or anxiety. It has a calming effect on the brain. When combined with DDMA as DDMA-Ph, the result is a quicker death. According to the American Clinicians Academy on Medical Aid in Dying, “Adding 5 grams of phenobarbital to the presently recommended aid-in-dying protocols showed a decrease in average time to death, from 1.5 to 1.2 hours.”
Craig New, a research analyst from the Oregon Health Authority, confirmed in an email that the state has zero control or input over how doctors kill their clients.“The attending physician determines the appropriate drug or drug combination, as well as the dosage, for DWDA patients,” he wrote. “We do not collect any data on how physicians determine which drug(s) to use.”