ASSISTED SUICIDE: Oregon Law Sees Few, If Any, Takers
Five months after Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide, "[s]upporters of the measure say ... they do not know of a single person who has used the new law," the New York Times reports. Opponents of the measure warned "Oregon would become a mecca for people who wanted medical assistance in ending their lives, a virtual suicide express." "Previous surveys of doctors elsewhere" also showed that a "fairly high number of them were breaking the law, privately, and helping their terminally ill patients to die." However, "in Oregon ... there has not been a single case of someone who has chosen to hasten death coming forth to make a larger point in the public eye about the right to die." In fact, state officials, who say "they will release a preliminary report as soon as they have recorded 10 suicides ... would not acknowledge whether they even have a single case."
Dr. Katrina Hedberg, an epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Division, said the lack of assisted suicides "surprises" her. She said, "I think doctors are worried about repercussions. And patients don't want to be a poster child for what is really a private event." In addition, the Times reports there are still many ethical issues to be sorted out, such as "what a prescription for death should say," and the role of nurses in helping terminally ill people, who are "too sick to take their own medication," kill themselves. To date, however, the state's decision to place assisted suicide on "the list of medical procedures available to" Medicaid recipients "has ignited the biggest furor." By law, federal funding cannot be used for assisted suicide. Critics claim that the state is subsidizing suicide, while supporters believe it to be "a logical extension of state-financed 'comfort care' at the end of life." Political leaders note that the state Legislature is likely "to remove assisted suicide from the list of procedures financed by the public when it meets next year." State Sen. Ken Baker (R) said "the Republican-controlled Legislature had enough votes to take assisted suicide off the list of things covered by the state medical plan" (Egan, 3/15).