The Dangers of Removing the Safeguards of Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law

An open letter from Dr. Kenneth Stevens, President, Physicians for Compassionate Care

Since 1994, the proponents of Oregon’s assisted suicide law have touted the importance of the safeguards and protections of that law.

Now, Oregon’s legislators are considering bills (HB 2232, HB 2903, SB 579) to eliminate many of those safeguards (eliminates waiting periods, expands definition of “terminal illness,” permits lethal injection and inhalation euthanasia) and expand access to assisted suicide.

Why and Why now?

What is happening in medicine in the United States? There is increasing concern regarding the cost of medical care. A current (February 13, 2019) editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), titled “Rationing of Health Care in the United States – An Inevitable Consequence of Increasing Health Care Costs” reviews the challenges of increasing medical costs, and it deems it critical to control health care costs.

One way to control health care costs is to expand Oregon’s assisted suicide law, to make it available to more people. The assisted suicide drugs can be less expensive than continued medical care.

Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society, argued in 1998 that physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia can solve the problem of rising health care costs, “Economics makes case for euthanasia,” The Oregonian, Dec 2, 1998.

We have seen this in Oregon, where the Oregon Health Plan refused to cover beneficial life-extending cancer treatment to patients such as Barbara Wagner, but offered assisted suicide instead.

It is wrong and dangerous to expand the criteria for assisted suicide in Oregon. It is harmful to very vulnerable Oregonians. The Oregon legislature should not proceed with the proposed bills.

I encourage you to contact your legislators regarding these dangers.

Kenneth R. Stevens Jr., MD, President, Physicians for Compassionate Care Educational Foundation