Assisted Suicide Laws in Oregon and Washington: What Safeguards?

Update: Oregon & Washington Suicide Study A suicide study, published in the Southern Medical Journal, found an increase (6.3%) in total suicides, with a larger increase (14.5%) among individuals 65 or older, in Oregon and Washington after doctor-assisted suicide was legalized. Moreover, there was no decrease in non-assisted suicides, even for those over 65. The findings counter claims by prescribed-suicide advocates that legalizing the practice reduces the overall number of non-assisted suicides. Instead, according to the researchers, the introduction of doctor-assisted suicide “seemingly induces more self-inflicted deaths than it inhibits.” [Jones & Paton, “How Does Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide Affect Rates of Suicide?” Southern Medical Journal, 10/15, pp. 599-604] In a commentary that accompanied the study, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a psychiatry professor at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine, wrote that the study’s findings point to a phenomenon called suicide contagion, when one suicide generates other copycat suicides. He suggests that the media attention given to doctor-prescribed suicides can encourage copycat suicides particularly for vulnerable individuals. Dr. Kheriaty described the widely-publicized assisted suicide of Brittany Maynard, the young, attractive newlywed with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to end her life using doctor-prescribed lethal drugs, as a case that could easily encourage copycat behavior. But suicides don’t need to be publicized to be “contagious,” Kheriaty wrote. “[R]esearch suggests that behaviors like suicide, whether assisted or nonassisted, influence the behaviors of not only one’s friends but also of one’s friends’ friends’ friends.” [Southern Medical Journal, 10/15, pp 605-606] [ http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/update-078-volume-29-number-4-2015-4/ ]   Assisted Suicide Laws in Oregon and Washington: What Safeguards?  (17 Aug 2015) [Comment: This factual analysis should...

A Doctor-Assisted Disaster for Medicine

[Comment: The last time there was a good op-ed on assisted suicide, I was surprised to see that the subsequent letters to the editor were almost all from the pro-assisted suicide side. If you would like to write a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, please send it to [email protected] or consider going to the article link to make a comment in the comments section of this article. N. Valko RN, 18 Aug 2015] As a physician in Oregon, I have seen the dire effect of assisted-suicide laws on patients and my profession Since the voters of Oregon narrowly legalized physician-assisted suicide 20 years ago, there has been a profound shift in attitude toward medical care—new fear and secrecy, and a fixation on death. Well over 850 people have taken their lives by ingesting massive overdoses of barbiturates prescribed under the law. Proponents claim the system is working well with no problems. This is not true. As a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, as well as a licensed physician for 35 years, I have seen firsthand how the law has changed the relationship between doctors and patients, some of whom now fear that they are being steered toward assisted suicide. In one case a patient with bladder cancer contacted me. She was concerned that an oncologist treating her might be one of the “death doctors,” and she questioned his motives. This was particularly worrying to her after she obtained a second opinion from another oncologist who was more positive about her prognosis and treatment options. Whichever of the consultants...