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Ore. assisted suicides hit record in ’08

WASHINGTON (BP)–Oregon established a record in 2008 for most deaths by physician-assisted suicide since legalizing the practice, according to its annual report.

The Oregon Department of Human Services reported 60 people committed suicide last year using lethal doses of drugs prescribed by doctors. The total far surpassed the previous yearly high, which was 49 in 2007. Oregon has recorded 401 such deaths since its Death With Dignity Act took effect in late 1997.

Oregon released the report only two days before legalized assisted suicide took effect in the state of Washington on March 5, where voters approved an Oregon model in the November election.

The state of Montana also has assisted suicide currently as a result of a district court judge’s ruling in December.

Bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell criticized the idea of assisted suicide being considered “death with dignity.”

“Where’s the dignity in killing oneself with the assistance of a person in a white lab coat?” said Mitchell, a consultant on biomedical and life issues for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Turning the healing profession into a suicide profession is a monstrous indignity.”

The Oregon report showed 95 percent of those who used assisted suicide expressed concerns about losing autonomy.

“Something is tragically wrong with the idea that a patient can use her right to make her own decisions by giving up her right to make any future decisions through killing herself,” said Mitchell, professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at the Chicago-area Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. “Legalized assisted suicide represents the dehumanization of medicine. Effective pain management, palliative care and loving hospice should mark our health-care system, not medicalized killing.”

Oregon permits doctors to prescribe drugs to assist in suicides but not to administer them to the person taking her own life.

Other “end-of-life concerns” expressed by those who committed suicide included: (1) “being less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable,” by 92 percent; (2) “loss of dignity,” by 92 percent; and (3) “losing control of bodily functions,” by 62 percent.

Oregon’s latest report also showed:

— Only two of the 60 people who committed suicide with the assistance of a doctor were referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist before receiving a lethal prescription

— Only three patients said they experienced inadequate pain control or expressed concern about it.

— One-third of those who used assisted suicide expressed concern about burdening family, friends or caregivers.

— The median duration of the patient-physician relationship was just eight weeks.

— The number of physicians who prescribed the drugs and were present when patients took them was 11, only 18 percent of the number of assisted suicides.

— Cancer was by far the No. 1 disease, with 80 percent of those who committed suicide having a malignancy.

— All but two of the 60 were at least 55 years of age; there was an equal number of males and females; all but one were white; and 31 were married.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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