Report questions assisted-suicide law's safeguards

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted May 24, 2004

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A psychiatrist with Physicians for Compassionate Care, a group opposing Oregon's Death With Dignity Act allowing assisted suicide, has released the medical history of a 63-year-old cancer patient, which he said offers proof that the law's safeguards meant to protect the mentally ill or incompetent are not working.

According to N. Gregory Hamilton, MD, cancer patient Michael Freeland had suicidal thoughts ever since his mother had committed suicide some 40 years earlier. He had been prescribed Zoloft for depression, but still obtained a lethal prescription in 2001. Dr. Hamilton notes that the lethal prescription was not revoked after Freeland was hospitalized for depression plus suicidal and homicidal thoughts.

Dr. Hamilton reported that he and his wife Cathy helped Freeland live until Dec. 5, 2002, when he died of cancer complications -- 18 months after receiving his lethal prescription. Because the law states that patients who receive lethal prescriptions must have only six months or less to live, Dr. Hamilton said this was further proof that the Oregon law is faulty.

Dr. Hamilton presented his paper May 6 during the American Psychiatric Assn. meeting in New York City, and said that Freeland allowed his medical records to be released "out of a wish to help others."

Compassion in Dying of Oregon Executive Director George Eighmey questioned how Freeland could be considered too mentally incompetent to request a lethal prescription but competent enough to agree to have his records made public. He added that, since Freeland and others do occasionally live longer than expected, it shows that people who request a lethal prescription are not necessarily suicidal but are seeking a "safety net" in case their terminal illnesses become unbearable.

Dr. Hamilton's report is available online (link)

Note: This item originally appeared at

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