Oregon deaths from legal doctor-prescribed suicide climbed to 77 in 2012. Previous year totals were 71 deaths in 2011, 65 in 2010 and 59 in 2009. Prescriptions written for lethal drugs have also increased.
The Oregon report and reports from patients and families reveal gaping holes in supposed “safeguards” for citizens under this law. For example, in only 11 of the 77 Oregon deaths in 2012 was a doctor or health care provider present at the time of death. This leaves the question open as to whether there was coercion, or someone — say a family member who would inherit from the patient — administered the pills. Only 2 of the 77 patients had a psychiatric evaluation, even though it is well known that depression which could lead to feelings of hopelessness can be treated. Family members cannot get records on how their loved one died, and the death certificate states that the patient died of “natural” causes. Two Oregon patients were denied payment for chemotherapy under the Oregon Health Care Plan and instead offered payment for suicide pills, even though they did not ask for them. Patients have reported getting “sales pitches” for lethal drugs, even though they wanted treatment.
Oregon and Washington are the only states where doctor-prescribed suicide is legal. A Montana Supreme Court decision left legality in that state in doubt. And, right at this time a fierce battle is being waged in the Vermont legislature to legalize. Just this week the Vermont Senate defeated a law based on the Oregon model and substituted language which would exempt a doctor who prescribes medicine with the intent to relieve pain to a terminally ill person from prosecution or civil liability. Defeat of the Oregon model was huge, but the battle is not over since the Vermont House can gut the Senate version of the measure and go back to the Oregon model. Watch for breaking details here.
The battle does not stop in Vermont. A New Jersey legislative committee recently approved an Oregon model bill. Legislation to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide has been introduced in Connecticut, Hawaii and Kansas.
On the plus side, Massachusetts citizens defeated a ballot measure to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide in November of 2012. And, this week a Montana legislative committee defeated efforts to formally legalize there.
Wisconsin Right to Life follows this issue closely and is involved with a coalition of national groups to work against the mounting efforts to legalize death in the various states.