In states where doctor-prescribed suicide advocates are pushing for legalized assisted suicide, the claim is often made that Oregon’s law has been working well with adequate safeguards to protect patients.
It’s a claim without merit, since no one, not even Oregon State officials charged with overseeing the death practice, can say with any certainty that that is true.
State officials only know what the doctors who prescribed the lethal drug overdose tell them, and doctors are not going to report that they violated the assisted-suicide law in some way.
What’s more, officials have admitted that they cannot investigate individual prescribed-suicide deaths because the law does not give them the authority to do so.
They also have no way of knowing how many cases are not even reported, meaning the state’s annual reports are an incomplete picture of how the law is being implemented.
On February 12, 2015, Oregon released its latest assisted-suicide report showing that 105 people died in 2014 under the Death with Dignity Law. That is by far the largest number of deaths reported for any year since the law took effect and represents a 48% increase over 2013’s reported body count of 71.
Of the 155 reported lethal drug prescriptions written by 83 doctors, 94 patients (61%) ingested the drugs and died. Another 11 patients also died in 2014, but their prescriptions were written in 2012 and 2013 a clear indication that their doctors significantly erred in predicting that they only had 6 months or less to live.
The state reported it has no clue whether 24 patients took the lethal drugs they were prescribed or even if they are alive or dead. Also unknown is whether there were any complications after the drugs were taken in 85 cases.
There were only 3 patients referred for a psychiatric evaluation in 2014.
As in previous years, pain was low on the list of why patients requested assisted-suicide. Loss of autonomy, inability to enjoy life, and loss of dignity topped the list.
[2015, vol. 29, No. 1, Patients Rights Council Update, http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/update-075-volume-29-number-1-2015-1/ ; Oregon Public Health Division, “Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act—2014,” 2/12/15]