Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Assisted Suicide Study in Michigan Law Review Refutes Washington State I-1000 Proponents' Claims That Law Works in Oregon

This is a reprint of the media release from the Washington State Coalition Against Assisted Suicide.

Coalition Against Assisted Suicide
August 29, 2008
Contact: Cyndie Ulrich

NOTE: Link to the Hendin-Foley Study on the Michigan Law Review site:

Olympia ~ The Coalition Against Assisted Suicide today announced they are circulating to Washington media a detailed, sharply critical analysis of the ten-year history of Oregon’s assisted suicide law that was published in the June 2008 issue of the prestigious Michigan Law Review.

The objective examination of the past decade’s worth of real-life assisted suicide practices was authored by Dr. Herbert Hendin, psychiatrist and CEO/Medical Director of Suicide Prevention International, a nonprofit organization located in New York and Dr. Kathleen Foley, neurologist and professor at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York.

Chris Carlson, chair of the Coalition stated,
 “Of great significance, the Hendin and Foley study stated unequivocally , ‘…seemingly reasonable safeguards for the care and protection of terminally ill patients written into the Oregon law are being circumvented....(and that the Oregon authority charged with overseeing assisted suicide)…does not collect the information it would need to effectively monitor the law and in its actions and publications acts as the defender of the law rather than as the protector of the welfare of terminally ill patients.’"
Carlson charged that proponents of WA's assisted suicide initiative, I-1000, continue to mislead Washington voters by falsely claiming that "…everything's going great in Oregon…" even when confronted with the numerous serious flaws with Oregon's assisted suicide law exposed by this sentinel study. “The study is replete with examples of unintended consequences to vulnerable, terminally ill patients in Oregon,” said Carlson.

The Hendin-Foley study cites specific examples where opinions of patients’ long-time attending physicians are ignored and doctors with only a smattering of familiarity with the patient write the prescription for the lethal dose of barbiturates. The study’s authors contend such “doctor shopping” is highly unethical and in no way could the “shopped doctor’s” viewpoint be considered a truly professional opinion rendered in the best interests of the patient, Carlson reported.

Carlson said what was most disturbing to him was the unintended effect that would be produced if Washington’s I-1000 were to pass which was summed up best by Drs. Hendin and Foley in this statement regarding the Oregon experience: 
"If the patient has seen no one knowledgeable enough to undertake to understand and relieve the desperation, anxiety, and depression that underlie most requests for assisted suicide, then even if the patient is capable, an informed decision is not possible."
The lack of referral to psychiatrists who might find a patient requesting assisted suicide to be not mentally competent was troubling to the authors who pointed out that in most cases no mental evaluation is conducted. Carlson said that last year in Oregon, “not one of the some 50 individuals availing themselves of physician assisted suicide asked for or received any mental health counseling.” He continued, “This has to be troubling to any thinking person. As the authors noted, the study reflects a lack of concern for the welfare of depressed patients.”

Carlson and the Coalition urge all voters to read the initiative to see for themselves its numerous dangerous flaws and he also calls on the state’s newspapers to reprint the Michigan Law Review study to make it accessible to Washington's voters. “If one reads this study, you can almost guarantee they will recognize how false is the tired refrain by I-1000 backers that the law is working well in Oregon,” he said.

Carlson concluded, 
“Assisted suicide is clearly not working in Oregon and it is pure myth to claim that it is.”

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