Dr Stevens examines the Annual Report on assisted suicide by the Oregon Public Health Division and he explains that their are more questions than answers concerning the assisted suicide statute in Oregon.
The Column states:
The doctor-assisted suicide information released by the Oregon Public Health Division for the past year raises more questions than answers.
Why was the report compiled and released before all of the information for the year was available? All prior years' reports were released in March, allowing sufficient time for the receipt of information from prescribing doctors for the prior year. Although the new report lists 65 deaths, there are likely to be others who died of doctor-assisted suicide in 2010 for whom the prescribing doctors' reports had not been received as of Jan. 7.
The report mentions that there is no further information about 15 patients who had received prescriptions under the law in 2010. Why was the report prepared and released so hastily rather than with more accurate and complete information?
The report did reveal, however, that two patients who attempted to take the supposedly lethal drugs did not die. The reports' sparse information states that one person regained consciousness within 24 hours and died of the underlying illness five days later, a second person regained consciousness three days after ingestion of the drugs and died of the underlying illness three months later. Vomiting was reported in both people. These drugs are not easy to take and swallow; they are very bitter and foul-tasting.
Why did the report not provide more information regarding these two unsuccessful suicides? Why did the report fail to detail why these two people chose not to repeat the overdose?
Perhaps the two patients found the experience less pleasant than promoters of doctor-assisted suicide led them to believe. The individuals and their family and friends probably had a harrowing time dealing with those unsuccessful suicides.
It seems strange to live in a society where a failed suicide is considered to be unsuccessful and an accomplished suicide is considered a success.
Why did only one of the 65 people reported to have taken their lives with the drugs have a psychiatric or psychological referral? Researchers at Oregon Health & Sciences University reported in 2008 that 25 percent of patients requesting doctor-assisted suicide were considered to be depressed. There continues to be no protection for depressed patients in the process.
Why, according to the state's report, was a doctor present for only six people when the drugs were taken and when death occurred? Why are Oregon's doctors distancing themselves from the final fatal act? Is it because of the significant personal emotional toil that occurs when doctors prescribe lethal drugs?
The report lists that there was "unknown information" for 50 to 70 percent of deaths for the following categories: whether the doctor was present when the drugs were ingested, if there were complications, if emergency services were called, and the time between ingestion to unconsciousness and to death.
When such a substantial proportion of important information is unknown and with much incomplete information, how are we to know what is really happening with doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon?
The state's report appears to be perfunctory and does little to relieve the concerns regarding the dangers of doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon.
Kenneth R. Stevens is a Sherwood physician.