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Oregon breaks its assisted suicide record

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
WASHINGTON (BP) -- The state of Oregon set another record last year for physician-assisted suicides, and critics continue to decry the practice and the annual report.

Seventy-one people died by means of assisted suicide in 2011, the Oregon Public Health Division reported March 6. A total of 114 people received prescriptions for lethal drug doses during the year. Those figures surpassed the previous highs in the state: 65 deaths and 97 prescriptions, both in 2010.

The report came as efforts in two other states move in opposite directions on the issue. Assisted-suicide advocates in Massachusetts are seeking its legalization, while opponents in Georgia are advancing legislation to outlaw it. Washington is the only state other than Oregon to legalize the practice.

Oregon has recorded 596 assisted-suicide deaths since its Death With Dignity Act took effect in late 1997. That law permits terminally ill citizens of Oregon to take their own lives by using lethal drug doses prescribed by doctors.

Assisted suicide is monstrous, and the report is a mockery, said pro-life, bioethics specialists in response.

"While others are courageously providing the best of compassionate care for dying patients, a few doctors in Oregon are contributing to a grotesquery," said C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. "How many years will the number of deaths rise before the Oregonians call for a halt to this barbarism?

"Medicine is a healing ministry, not a killing machine. When patients feel that suicide is their best option, doctors have failed," said Mitchell, a biomedical and life issues consultant for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "When doctors write the prescription for life-ending drugs, they admit their failure and become complicit in the deaths of those patients."


Wesley Smith, a leading foe of assisted suicide, said the annual report is a "joke."

"One of the great propaganda coups of the assisted suicide movement was making people believe" the annual reports are "meaningful or informative," Smith wrote on his Secondhand Smoke blog. As examples, he said:

-- "They are based almost solely on self reporting by death doctors, who are about as likely to tell the state that they broke the law as they are to tell the they cheated on their taxes;"

-- The state "has no authority or budget to investigate abuses or violations -- even if a doctor did self confess. All they can do is refer to the physician's licensing board.

-- "The documentation is destroyed after the report is published so there is no independent way to check."

Massachusetts voters are expected to vote in November on an initiative to legalize assisted suicide.

The Georgia House of Representatives passed in a 124-45 vote March 7 legislation designed to prohibit assisted suicide. The Senate has yet to vote on the proposal.

The latest Oregon report again reflected concerns raised in the past by critics about inadequate care of those planning to take their own lives.

For instance, only one of the 71 who died by means of assisted suicide last year was referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist for formal evaluation. Also, prescribing doctors were present for the deaths of only six of those who took their own lives.


The Oregon report again showed people who took advantage of assisted suicide had three concerns far more than others -- 90 percent were concerned about being unable "to engage in activities making life enjoyable," 89 percent about "losing autonomy" and 75 percent about a "loss of dignity."

Twenty-five of the 114 people who obtained prescriptions in 2011 died without taking the drugs. The state did not have information on whether 25 others who received prescriptions had ingested the drugs. Seven patients who obtained prescriptions in previous years died from taking lethal doses in 2011.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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