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Oregon is the only state in the nation to have legalized assisted suicide, but don’t call the grisly practice by that name anymore.

The state’s health department has decided to change the wording of the phrase when referring to the state law — a move that has pro-life advocates up in arms. The Oregon Department of Human Services has determined that it will begin referring to “physician assisted suicide” as “physician assisted death” on official reports.

The change comes as backers of the assisted suicide law claim the original term is offensive to those who kill themselves under the statute. In fact, Compassion & Choices, a national group that backs euthanasia and assisted suicide, pressured state officials to make the change. Gayle Atteberry, the executive director of Oregon Right to Life called the wording difference “outrageous” in comments to the Statesman Journal newspaper.

“They have changed it to a euphemism to make it more palatable,” she said. “Do they think it is going to make it easier for people to kill themselves?” The change may make it easier for those people who kill themselves with a doctor’s help to feel good about their actions.

Before she took her own life in August, the newspaper reports that Charlene A. of Salem told the National Press Club, “Please do not call it suicide. That is an insult to my fight against cancer. With cancer, we know when there are no treatment options.”

But Mike Gander of Salem, who took care of his son and mother in law while they were dying, told the Statesman Journal the phrase is just a euphemism put forward by those who don’t want to confront the reality of what they’re doing.

“It’s like using the terminology ‘choice’ when it comes to abortion,” he said. “No one wants to use the word ‘abortion’; they want to use the word ‘choice.’ But the terminology — whether accurate or inaccurate — still results in the same thing. ‘Physician-assisted death’ is the same as suicide.” In May, the Senate held a hearing on problems associated with the state’s assisted suicide law.

Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, a leading disability rights group said that the longer the Oregon law stays around the more disabled patients are feeling obligated to end their lives when they become a so-called “burden” to their families.

“What looks to some like a choice to die begins to look more like a duty to die to many disability activists,” she said.

Meanwhile, Wesley Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, who is a leading monitor of end of life issues, said the state is poorly monitoring assisted suicide and problems associated with it because it relies on doctors to self-report about the deaths. So far, some 246 people have used the Oregon assisted suicide law to end their lives since it went into effect in 1998.

In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that patients had a right to refuse lifesaving medical treatment and, in 1997, the court ruled unanimously that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide but that states may ban or allow the practice.

Related: Oregon Right to Life – [, 17Oct06,, Salem, OR]


OREGON CHANGES PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE TERMINOLOGY. A terminally ill patient who ends his or her life under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act will be listed as a “physician-assisted death” instead of suicide, officials said Monday.

The one-word change had been sought by advocates of the landmark state law that allows dying patients to ask their doctors to provide medication the patients can administer to themselves to end their lives, if they are capable of making a sound decision. The advocacy group Compassion & Choices said the act, as it is spelled out in Oregon law, “shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law.”

The state previously had been using the more common phrase, “physician-assisted suicide,” to describe deaths under the act. But now it will use the term physician-assisted death for reports and on the state Web site to “make it consistent with the statute,” said Bonnie Widerberg, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services.

Katrina Hedburg, with the agency’s Public Health Division, said Compassion & Choices did not threaten legal action but did approach the state with its lawyers. “We did not believe it was in the taxpayer’s best interest to defend something the statute explicitly says it is not,” Hedburg said, adding the change likely will be unpopular with opponents of the act. Supporters of the law argued the term was inaccurate — patients who have fought to stay alive and choose to end their lives are not the same as people otherwise choosing to commit suicide.

Voters passed the act in 1994 and rejected an effort to repeal it in 1997, about the same time it was supported by a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling. It was signed into law in 1998 by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is a physician.

[Comment: Ironically, PAD does not automatically imply the consent of the victim as the term “suicide” did. In the interests of real accuracy, how about PAK (physician assisted KILLING)? N.V. From Pam: Well, thank GOODNESS we found a nicer name for it.]]