Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Legalizing Assisted suicide led to higher suicide rate in Oregon

The Missoulian newspaper in Montana printed an excellent letter to the editor by Dr. Kenneth Stevens concerning the increased suicide rate in Oregon after the legalization of assisted suicide. The letter stated:
I am a doctor in Oregon, where we have legal physician-assisted suicide. I write in support of Sen. Greg Hinkle’s quoted comments about suicide prevention and elder abuse. See editorial, “365 Days of Debate,” Jan. 2. I also provide some statistics from Oregon.

First, Oregon’s high suicide rate. In September 2010, the Oregon Health Authority released statistics that our suicide rate, which excludes suicide under our assisted suicide act, is 35 percent higher than the national average. www.oregon.gov/DHS/news/2010news/2010-0909a.pdf. This rate has been “increasing significantly since 2000.” Just three years prior, in 1997, we legalized assisted suicide. There is at least a statistical correlation between these two events.

Second, the number of persons dying under our assisted suicide law has been steadily increasing. See www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/pas/docs/year12.pdf.

Third, and yet another distinction for Oregon, we now rank dead last in paid ombudsmen who advocate for the elderly. Just this Friday, the Oregonian newspaper reported that we rank 52nd “in the number of paid ombudsman who investigate and resolve complaints for people in long term care.”

These statistics are but part of the picture that Oregon is not the best place to be vulnerable, sick or old. Don’t follow Oregon’s lead. Keep assisted suicide out of Montana.

Kenneth Stevens,
Sherwood, Oregon


rob jonquière said...

The suggestive conclusion of doctor Kenneth Stevens that there is a causal connection between the two numbers (suicide rate versus assisted suicide rates) is (mis)leading:
1. Oregon always had and thus still has an over 30% higher rate of suicide compared to national rates; the rise over the past decade not only happened in Oregon, but is also seen in National rates and even stronger there (source: the DHS report).
2. A rise in the number of users of the Death with Dignity act, possibly demonstrates more that "users" and caregivers are more aware of the legal possibillities, then that there is a growing number of misuse (anecdotal experience).
3. I have seen a lot of argumenst opposing legalisation of assisted dying (whether assisted suicide or euthanasia), but never did I see a connection proven with elderly abuse.

I respect each person's ideas about end-of-life decision, but in a decent debate one should always be carefully using statistical data in general and one own's interpretations and conclusions of those in particular.

Rob Jonquière, Amsterdam NL

Unknown said...


The suicide rate in Oregon may, in and of itself, contribute to not only the maintenance (or acceleration) of the numbers of suicides, but also of PAS. In other words,cause and effect may be interchangeable to some degree. The detail of the lack of aged advocates may or may not be part of the problem, but it's certainly not part of the solution!
Elder Abuse is an accepted term for abuse of elderly people - that's all. No-one to my knowledge has ever attempted to make any empirical observations vis-a-vis a relationship, however, every unbiased inquiry into euthanasia (House of Lords, NY Taskforce, TAS Parliament etc.) Has identified a risk of abuse; so much so that this risk has been the basis of their recommendations for the status quo.