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October 7, 2005

The Oregon Assisted Suicide Law

Topics: Assisted Suicide

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in Gonzales v. Oregon, a case which tests whether the federal government can be forced to facilitate assisted suicide through the use of federally controlled drugs whenever a state no longer prevents assisting suicide as a matter of state law.

In commenting on the case, Burke Balch, J.D., Director of the National Right to Life Committee's Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, said, "The Bush Administration has properly determined that federally controlled medical drugs should be used to heal and help, not to kill. Most Americans do not want their federal government to be forced to facilitate euthanasia."

Not Dead Yet, a disability advocate organization opposes the Oregon Law as well:

The Oregon Law grants civil and criminal immunity to physicians providing lethal prescriptions based on a stated claim of "good faith" belief that the person was terminal, acting voluntarily, and that other statutory criteria were met. This is the lowest culpability standard possible, even below that of "negligence," which is the minimum standard governing other physician duties. As the Oregon Reports on physician-assisted suicide make clear, the state has not been able to assess the extent of non-reporting or noncompliance with the law's purported safeguards. There are no enforcement provisions in the law, and the reports themselves demonstrate that non-terminal people are receiving lethal prescriptions.

More disturbingly, the reasons doctors actually report for issuing lethal prescriptions are the patient's "loss of autonomy" (87 percent), "loss of dignity" (80 percent), and "feelings of being a burden" (36 percent). People with disabilities are concerned that these psycho-social factors are being widely accepted as sufficient justification for assisted suicide, with most physicians not even asking for a psychological consultation (5 percent in 2004, 16 percent overall or the intervention of a social worker familiar with home and community-based services that might alleviate these feelings. The societal message is "so what?" or "who cares?" Recent government reports rank Oregon highest in the nation in elder suicide.

Posted by tim at October 7, 2005 8:26 AM


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