Oregon assisted-suicide rate stable
■ An occasional snapshot of current facts and trends in medicine.
Quick View. Posted April 3, 2006
For the fourth year in a row, the number of lethal prescriptions written and taken under Oregon's controversial physician-assisted suicide law has remained stable.
The fate of the state's Death With Dignity Act was uncertain in 2005 as the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that could have given the U.S. attorney general the power to punish physicians who prescribed life-ending drug doses under the law. The Supreme Court upheld the Oregon law in January, but the decision has not affected participation rates, according to George Eighmey, executive director of Compassion & Choices of Oregon, which helps physicians and patients navigate the law's requirements. "We're going to be at about this level for another two or three years," Eighmey said. His group, which aided 25 of the 38 terminally ill patients who committed suicide in 2005, has seen similar numbers this year -- about three deaths a month.
While the ratio of physician-assisted suicide deaths per 10,000 total Oregon deaths has hovered between 12 and 14 since 2002, a 2004 study of dying Oregonians found 17% considered the option seriously enough to have discussed it with family, though only 2% of patients formally requested it. Eighmey speculated the social stigma surrounding suicide is inhibiting wider usage of the law.
Source: Oregon Dept. of Human Services