WASHINGTON (BP) -- The state of Oregon again has broken its record for physician-assisted suicides, recording 77 such deaths in 2012.

Last year's total -- which eclipsed the previous record of 71 established in 2011 -- means the state now has recorded 673 assisted suicide deaths since its Death With Dignity Act took effect in 1997, the Oregon Public Health Division reported Jan. 16. That law permits terminally ill citizens of Oregon to take their own lives by using lethal drug doses prescribed by doctors.

Pro-life bioethics experts again criticized the practice, which also is legal in the state of Washington.

"No medicine is either developed or approved to kill people. Yet, this is precisely what is being done under the banner of a perverse law. We should care for the dying, not kill them," said C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a biomedical and life issues consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"How can Americans sleep soundly every night knowing that frightened patients are being abandoned by their doctors, who offer them a chemical means to kill themselves?" Mitchell added.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the latest annual report demonstrates several flaws in Oregon's assisted suicide law, including these:

-- It does not prevent abuse of the elderly.

-- It does not restrict assisted suicide to the terminally ill.

-- It does not protect the depressed from being influenced to take their lives.

-- It enables a "few insiders" to operate the assisted suicide program.

The latest report and recent news articles show there are "significant problems" with the law "that no amount of control will keep hidden, forever, from its citizens," Schadenberg wrote on his blog.

The latest report again reflected concerns voiced in the past by critics about inadequate care of those who are considering assisted suicide.

For instance, only two of the 77 who died by means of assisted suicide last year were referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist for formal evaluation. In another example, prescribing doctors were present for the deaths of only seven -- or nine percent -- of those who took their own lives.

Oregon also set a record last year in the number of people, 115, who received prescriptions for lethal drug doses, surpassing by one the previous high set in 2011.

Twenty-three of the 115 people who obtained prescriptions in 2012 died without taking the drugs. The state did not have information on whether 25 others who received prescriptions had ingested the drugs. Eleven patients who obtained prescriptions in 2011 died from taking lethal doses last year.

The Oregon report again showed people who took advantage of assisted suicide had three concerns far more than others -- 94 percent were concerned about "losing autonomy," 92 percent about being unable "to engage in activities making life enjoyable" and 78 percent about a "loss of dignity."

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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