We Knew This Was Going To Happen

Oregon legislature seeks to expand assisted suicide

By Gayle Atteberry, Executive Director, Oregon Right to Life

oregon-washington_mapMitch Greenlick chairman of the House Committee on Health Care has introduced a bill which would expand Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law. Currently the law requires a patient be diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die within six months before being able to request a lethal prescription. HB 3337 expands the time requirement to one year.

Oregon was the first state to legalize assisted suicide when it passed a ballot measure in 1994. I was involved in fighting that ballot measure as well as the 1997 ballot measure which would have repealed the law. Those involved in trying to repeal the law were aware that this was a defining moment: if assisted suicide was legalized in one state, just like a line of dominoes, many more states would soon follow.

Thankfully, we were not as right as we had thought. And though the pro-assisted suicide folks quickly started trying to legalize assisted suicide in other states, their efforts were always defeated… until recently. Physician assisted suicide in now legal in Washington, Vermont, and Montana [1]. Assisted suicide groups are picking up steam and pushing their agenda in many states.

As they promote their agenda, they tout Oregon as a model to follow. However the assisted suicide law is rife with dangers and flaws.

While Oregon’s law requires that patients who are thought to be depressed have a psychiatric exam, only three percent of patients in 2014 were actually seen by a psychiatrist. This low percentage has remained consistent through the years despite a study which showed that 26% of patients seeking physician assisted suicide are depressed.

Depression is the number one factor in people seeking to kill themselves. Clearly Oregon’s law is failing to protect patients who could be treated for clinical depression and possibly miss many treasured times with family and friends.

Some who were first to use Oregon’s law, as well as Brittany Maynard, used their deaths to promote physician assisted suicide, and went to the press to “tell all.” However, other than those highly publicized deaths, we know very little about the other hundreds of assisted deaths.

Oregon’s law shrouds all physician-assisted suicides in secrecy. There is no peer or state review to see if deaths were carried out according to the law, and after a year all reports by physicians are destroyed. We have a few raw numbers garnered from physicians who self-reported the deaths. There is no way to know if all deaths are reported.

Each year since the law’s passage, deaths from physician assisted suicide have steadily climbed. The number of reported deaths in 2014 skyrocketed 44% over 2013 numbers. One hundred and five patients killed themselves using the law in 2014. Deaths have increased 556% since the law was implemented in 1998.

Contrary to the mantra of pro-assisted suicide folks that unrelenting pain is the reason assisted suicide needs to be legalized, the three most common reason given for using the deadly potion were “losing autonomy” (96%), “less able to enjoy activities” (91%) and “loss of dignity” (75%).

Those who promote assisted suicide pretend they want a very limited law. We knew back in 1994 that was not their goal. Their real agenda can be seen in Belgium and the Netherlands, where they now are legally euthanizing people with “mental anguish.” Even children can legally “request” euthanasia.  It is also legal to have parents request euthanasia for their infants

Their goal, it appears, is “death on demand.”

Now in Oregon, the slow, but relentless push to their goal has started.

Predicting a patient’s life expectancy is an inexact science even among the most experienced physicians. We all know patients who have outlived their doctor’s prognosis. One assisted suicide patient who received a lethal prescription in 2012 did not use the drug until 2014. Expanding the time frame to one year strains the capabilities of most physicians.

Unless those doctors who write a deadly prescription one-year ahead of an expected death are given a crystal ball, more mistakes will be made and deaths will increase dramatically. More patients will be abandoned instead of being cared for and comforted, as well as the possibility they may outlive their prognosis or that new treatments- or even a cure- may be discovered.

Expanding the law is bad policy and bad medicine.

Oregon residents should use the “Find Your Official” form here to contact their state Senator and state House Representative TODAY and ask him/her to vote NO on HB 3337.  Ask him/her politely to not expand Oregon’s assisted suicide law!

[1] Montana’s highest court held that physicians charged with homicide can raise the defense that the victim consented –opening the door to euthanasia