Monday, January 28, 2013

Depressed patient died by assisted suicide in Oregon

The following letter was printed in the Montana Standard newspaper on January 27, 2013 under the title: Oregon doctor could not save patient from assisted suicide.

I am a doctor in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal. A few years ago, I was caring for a 76-year-old man who presented to my office a sore on his arm, eventually diagnosed as melanoma. I referred him to specialists for evaluation and therapy.
I had known this patient and his wife for more than a decade. He was an avid hiker, a popular hobby here in Oregon. As his disease progressed, he was less able to do this activity, becoming depressed, which was documented in his chart.
During this time, my patient expressed a wish for assisted suicide to one of the specialists. Rather than take the time to address his depression, or ask me as his primary care physician to talk with him, she called me and asked me to be the “second opinion” for his suicide. She told me that barbiturate overdoses “work very well” for patients like this, and that she had done this many times before.
I told her that assisted suicide was not appropriate for this patient and that I did not concur. I was very concerned about my patient’s mental state, and told her that addressing his underlying issues would be better than simply giving him a lethal prescription. Unfortunately, my concerns were ignored, and two weeks later my depressed patient was dead from an overdose prescribed by this doctor.
Under Oregon’s law, I was not able to protect my depressed patient. If assisted suicide becomes legal in Montana, you may not be able to protect your friends or family members.
I urge you to contact your legislators to tell them to keep assisted suicide out of Montana. Don’t make Oregon’s mistake.
Dr. Charles J. Bentz
Portland, Oregon
For further information read: Oregon 2012 Assisted Suicide update.


Unknown said...

Not everyone who seeks a relief from suffering is doing so arbitrarily. I think depression, chronic and severe, should be grounds for self euthanization. Just because you cannot comprehend the suffering and agony some people live in does not mean you have the right to tell them they have to continue enduring it. Life isn't a blessing for everyone, and people should be able to seek medically assisted suicide if, after serious thought, they deem it the humane and merciful thing to do. I understand you lost a patient and all the revenue they bring, but your desire to capitalize on the suffering of others is ethically reprehensible.

Alex Schadenberg said...

Dear Brian:

I question your language, "self-euthanasia" knowing that euthanasia by definition is an act that may be requested by the individual but is done, by another person.

Nonetheless, depression should never be even considered for euthanasia or assisted suicide. These people need treatment for depression, and lethal injection is not a treatment for depression.

ajchub said...

Your language reflects a single-minded judgement about a situation you have never experienced. You think depression for all people is some disease which can be reliably treated, when it's so much more complicated than that- especially in this case. When a person can't do the things that made life worth living anymore, especially when they are nearing 80 years of age, why shouldn't they be allowed to die with dignity? Even with treatment for depression, your patient may not have felt he had the strength or will to fight through years of treatment for his melanoma and whatever other complications that brings. Even after going in remission, he'd likely spend his remaining years deteriorating until he was just waiting for death anyway. As someone who has worked with the elderly, you should know how many of them are simply waiting for death, and have no hope for life anymore. This patients of yours was able to die of his own volition, with his mental faculties in tact and his wife by his side. Most people die attached to tubes and machines, barely aware of their surroundings, in pain. You should evaluate whether you are fighting for the right thing, because to me it sounds like you want to take an option away from people and prolong their suffering, because of your own personal beliefs.