Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Accurate Analysis of Oregon Assisted Suicide


The media is dizzy with ideological fervor for legalizing assisted suicide. (For example, see this editorial in the San Jose Mercury News that just swallows the pro-assisted suicide advocacy whole, including the use of language and the canard that assisted suicide is reserved for those whose pain cannot be relieved, when even the law requires no such thing and the Oregon statistics illustrate that it is not.) In such a media milieu, the anti-side can get the occasional op/ed published (as this one of mine in the Seattle Times), but we do not benefit from the pounding repetition ceaselessly regurgitated by the MSM uncritically pushing the other side's agenda in stories and editorials.

This is too bad, because it means that meaningful and accurate analyses from the opposition standpoint--such as this piece by Dr. Kenneth Stevens--remains mostly unnoticed. Stevens is vice-president of Physicians for Compassionate Care, which opposes assisted suicide and promotes proper end-of-life care. The whole article is worth your time, but here are a few excerpts:
The arrival of "death with dignity" in Oregon has not created a health paradise. The national organization, Last Acts, issued a "report card" in November 2002 to states regarding their end-of-life care. Oregon was given a D grade for hospice care and an E grade for palliative care programs. There are concerns regarding pain management in Oregon. After four years of assisted suicide, an Oregon medical university study reported that there were almost twice as many dying patients in moderate or severe pain or distress as there had been prior to the law change.
What about the vaunted guidelines "to protect against abuse?"

The so-called "safeguards" in Oregon's law are meant to limit access. It is to be expected, however, that when controlling-type people--as PAS patients in Oregon allegedly are--come up against the requirements of the law, something has to give, and so the boundaries around assisted suicide in Oregon have stretched...

Some of the legal requirements are: being an Oregon resident, being mentally capable, being diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months, and self-administering the prescribed medication. Predictably, there are reported instances of these rules not being followed. In any case, there is no protection for the depressed or mentally ill: in recent years, only five per cent of those dying from assisted suicide had a mental health consultation. In 2006, only two of the 46 patients dying from assisted suicide were referred for psychiatric evaluation, yet depression is the most common cause of suicidal thoughts.

There are published reports about a patient diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having dementia, who still received a prescription for lethal drugs. The drug is supposed to be self-administered and ingested, and yet we have media reports of cases where that has not occurred because the patient was not capable of doing it. Other reports concern two patients whose lethal medication entered the body via a feeding tube, one of them a PEG tube (feeding straight into the stomach) placed for the sole purpose of taking the lethal medication. Terminally ill people are reportedly moving to Oregon from other states because of Oregon's assisted suicide law.

Many doctors are writing prescriptions for lethal drugs to patients for whom they have not previously cared and some appear to be making it their specialty. Dr Peter Rasmussen reported that 75 per cent of the patients who come to him regarding assisted suicide are people he has never seen before. In the past four years, one doctor each year has written between six and eight prescriptions.

Don't expect the MSM to report any of this--or to care. But these are matters that deserve serious consideration as the country continues the debate over whether it would be right and proper to turn doctors from healers into faclitators of induced death.


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