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Oregon Releases Assisted Suicide Report, Pro-Life Doctors Group Worried

Steven Ertelt Editor
March 19, 2006

Salem, OR ( -- The state of Oregon released its latest annual report on assisted suicides there and a pro-life doctors group is concerned that patients are not getting proper psychological treatment before doctors give them drugs to kill themselves.

The Oregon Health Department reported 38 people took their lives under the assisted suicide law, which is about the same number of people who died under the law in previous years.

In 1998, 16 Oregonians used the assisted suicide law to kill themselves, followed by 27 in 1999, 27 in 2000, 21 in 2001, 38 in 2002, 42 in 2003, and 37 in 2004.

As in prior years, the typical profile of a patient using the assisted suicide law is a white male about the age of 70 who is battling cancer. Most have a college education and a handful suffer from either AIDS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

All but three lived in western Oregon and most died at home and were receiving hospice care at the time.

While patients cite depression and other emotional fears as their reasons for using the assisted suicide law, just two patients received psychological evaluations prior to being given the lethal drugs. That concerns a pro-life doctors group.

Physicians for Compassionate Care expressed its "profound grief for those vulnerable individuals frightened into committing assisted suicide.

"Suicidal ideation is a symptom of depression, and this raises concern that depressed patients are being medically killed in Oregon," it responded.

PCC still worries the Oregon law does not allow patients or their families to file lawsuits against doctors if something goes wrong and said the law "protect[s] doctors from peer review and from prosecution for medical killing.

That's particularly a concern since complications resulted in at least one case.

As reported last March, lung cancer patient David Prueitt took a fatal dose of drugs but woke up three days later wondering why he wasn't dead. The 42 year-old man eventually lived two more weeks before dying of natural causes.

Another patient who died in 2005 asked for the drugs three years ago, but the law specifically allows the drugs to be given only to patients expected to live for six months or less.

The Oregon Catholic Conference also issued a statement of concern about the state of assisted suicide.

"The practice of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon has entered the area of abuse of the statute which by its nature tragically devalues the lives of the terminally ill," the group said.

In a 1997 case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that no right to assisted suicide exists, but states could decide whether to allow assisted suicides to take place.

The high court ruled this year that the federal government could not used the Controlled Substances Act to restrict the use of federally controlled drugs in the assisted suicides. Pro-life lawmakers in Congress are considering a proposal to change the law to allow the restrictions.

Since the Oregon assisted suicide law went into effect in 1997, 246 people have used it to kill themselves.

California, Michigan, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont and Washington have defeated attempts to legalize assisted suicide over the years.

Related web sites:
Physicians for Compassionate Care -

Oregon Report on Assisted Suicide -

Oregon Department of Human Services -



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved