News Articles

LIFE DIGEST: Ore. assisted-suicide law still under microscope; Rice ‘mildly pro-choice’; sextuplets’ parents reject abortion

WASHINGTON (BP)–The number of people who committed suicide legally with a doctor’s assistance decreased last year in Oregon, but that decline did nothing to allay the concerns of the practice’s foes.

Thirty-seven people died by physician-assisted suicide in 2004, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services’ annual report. That is five less than the 42 who used drugs prescribed by doctors to kill themselves the previous year. The 2003 total is the largest since Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act took effect in late 1997.

Oregon remains the only state to have legalized physician-assisted suicide. The state has now recorded 208 deaths by assisted suicide.

The annual report of Oregon’s “assisted suicide practice is always sobering,” bioethics specialist C. Ben Mitchell told Baptist Press. “People are dying unnecessarily in Oregon, and the government is complicit,” said the bioethics consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“The fact that physicians could become accomplices in the suicide of their patients is so far removed from competent, compassionate medicine that it is a tragic parody of medicine.”

The report, which was released March 10, showed:

— The median age of those using physician-assisted suicide fell to 64 from 70 in previous years.

— The percentage of physicians who prescribed the drugs and were present when patients took them continued to decline. In 2004, it was 16 percent, which marked a further decrease from an average of 47 percent in the years 1998-2002 to 29 percent in 2003.

— The primary reasons patients chose to kill themselves were concerns about an increasing inability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable (92 percent), a decrease in autonomy (87 percent) and a loss of dignity (78 percent).

— The percentage of patients who received a psychological evaluation remained at its lowest point, 5 percent. It previously had fallen from 31 percent in 1998 to 5 percent in 2003.

Mitchell described the tiny percentage of patients receiving psychological help as a “failure of gargantuan proportions.”

“Patients who want to end their lives are afraid of something — afraid of pain, abandonment, isolation, being a burden,” said Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. “Sadly, it’s easier to help them end their lives than to help them deal with their fears.”

Physicians for Compassionate Care, an anti-assisted suicide organization based in Portland, continued to decry shortcomings in the content and form of the yearly report, citing a “continued shroud of secrecy” that surrounds it.

“Physician-assisted suicide is not medicine,” PCC said in a written release. “It is contrary to and is not compatible with the doctor’s proper role in caring for patients.”

The latest report came barely two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rule in a case that could halt Oregon’s use of federally controlled drugs for assisted suicide. The high court announced Feb. 22 it would review a lower court decision last year that blocked a Department of Justice ban on the use of federally regulated drugs in assisted suicides. The justices will hear oral arguments in Gonzales v. Oregon during the next term, which begins in October.

RICE ‘MILD’ ON ABORTION — New Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has described herself as “mildly pro-choice” and, “in effect, kind of libertarian” on abortion.

In an interview with The Washington Times published March 12, Rice said she has been “concerned about a government role in this issue.”

“We should not have the federal government in a position where it is forcing its views on one side or the other,” she told The Times. Rice said, however, she agrees government probably should not fund abortion. Rice said she also strongly supports parental notification and a ban on late-term abortion.

“We ought to have a culture that says, ‘Who wants to have an abortion? Who wants to see a daughter or a friend or a sibling go through something like that?’” she said.

Though Rice’s view apparently conflicts with that of President Bush, a primary role of the State Department on abortion relates to funding issues. The Bush administration has enforced policies opposed to funding international organizations that promote abortion or seek its legalization in other countries.

NO REDUCTION FOR THEM –- “Selective reduction” may be frequently recommended in the case of multiple pregnancies, but it was never an option for Ben and Amy Van Houten -– even with six children on the way.

“The Lord wanted us to take them,” Amy, 27, told The Detroit News. “He didn’t create life for us to destroy it.”

The Van Houtens are “devout Baptists,” and their children -– John, Gerrit, Samantha, Nolan, Peyton and Kennedy –- are the only sextuplets in Michigan and one of a dozen sets in the United States, The News reported.

“Selective reduction” is the practice of eliminating one child or more when a woman is carrying multiple unborn babies, sometimes to increase the odds the others will survive or be healthy. Though the children didn’t face the threat of being aborted by their parents, they confronted an uphill battle after being conceived with the aid of fertility drugs.

The six were born over a 10-day period at 24 to 26 weeks of pregnancy and weighed in at 1 pound, 6 ounces to 2 pounds, 1 ounce. They survived a few months in intensive care and in January celebrated their first birthdays. Two of the children have ongoing health problems, and all of them are susceptible to common sicknesses that could endanger their underdeveloped organs, according to The News.

A group of 20 volunteers helps care for the sextuplets. Though their community has given $70,000 to help them purchase a new home, the Van Houtens are staying in their 1,200-square-foot house in Hamilton, Mich., until they can pay for the rest of a new house.

Despite the burdens of the last 14 months, the Van Houtens count their blessings.

“You really don’t know what the Lord has planned for you every day,” Ben, 30, told The News. “Sometimes He puts trials in your life, sometimes joy and happiness. But we’ve never looked at this as a negative.”