The Oregon Public Health Division recently released its annual report, “Death with Dignity Act 2015 Data,” which details the number of people who requested physician-assisted suicide last year, and why. The report states its data is derived from the required reporting forms and death certificates that the Oregon Public Health Division receives (as of January 27, 2016).
Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) was enacted in 1997, which legally permits terminally‐ill adult Oregonians to obtain and use prescriptions from their physicians to self‐administer lethal doses of medications.
But the statistics the Department reports reveal that the greatest number of people dying are elderly, low income, isolated, unmarried/divorced/widowed women– who are not terminally ill.
Michael Burgess, a spokesman for the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide and former director of the New York State Office for the Aging (who is lobbying New York not to pass an assisted suicide bill) attests that Oregon’s findings are “disturbing.” He points out that those most likely to seek physician-assisted suicide “are vulnerable seniors who rely on government health insurance and are alone and dependent.”
Is being alone and dependent on the government “a good enough reason” for the government to help someone commit suicide?
The majority of people asking to die in Oregon did not have cancer.
They didn’t ask to die because they were in chronic, physical pain.
Nor did they have some incurable illness.
According to the statistics, “similar to previous years, the three most frequently mentioned end‐of‐life concerns were:
- decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (96.2%),
- loss of autonomy (92.4%), and
- loss of dignity (75.4%).”
Why were physicians assisting suicides for people who were not terminally ill, as the law specifies?
Shouldn’t these doctors be prosecuted for murder?
Some liken physician-assisted suicide to elder abuse. And Oregon’s assisted suicide statistics do support that concern.
According to the most recent study of elder abuse published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the most vulnerable person in society is a poor, elderly woman. Seniors who are women, isolated, have functional impairment, and little to no resources are most vulnerable to be subject to state/physician-assisted suicide.
If elderly women are lonely, isolated, and depressed they can get a pill to die in Oregon.
Is being lonely and isolated a reason to die? And to have the state pay for suicide?
Diane Coleman, President and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights organization, argues that Oregon’s data also evidences that the disabled are very much threatened by legalized assisted suicide. She says, “The Oregon data shows that unaddressed disability-related concerns underlie assisted suicide requests. A state policy of assisted suicide targeting this population sends the message that a life with a disability is not worth living, and society would rather help end your life early than address your concerns.”
Burgess argues, instead of funding physician-assisted suicide, taxpayers should support its most vulnerable through funding that would “provide them with better access to palliative care, mental health counseling and social support, rather than life-taking options.”
If Oregon is a benchmark for the rest of America, more death, in greater numbers, lie ahead.
Since the law was passed in 1997, prescriptions were written for 1,545 people under the DWDA; of these 991 patients died from taking the medicine. From 1998 through 2013, the number of prescriptions written annually increased by 12 percent. During 2014 and 2015, the number of prescriptions written increased by an average of 24 percent. During 2015, the rate of DWDA deaths was 38.6 per 10,000 total deaths.
Death with Dignity, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is lobbying to implement “Death with Dignity laws around the United States based on the groundbreaking Oregon model.” It suggests that assisted suicide laws will “expand the freedom of all qualified terminally ill Americans to make their own end-of-life decisions, including how they die.”
But if Oregon is any model, people aren’t receiving assisted suicide because they are terminally ill.
They are asking to die because they don’t enjoy life. Not enjoying life isn’t a reason for the state to pay for suicide. Rather, the state, non-profits, churches, and community organizations can become more involved with the elderly. Numerous programs exist:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline lists the following:
- Active Minds
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)
- The American Association of Suicidology
- The Jed Foundation
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors
- Man Therapy
- Mental Health America
- National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide (NOPCAS)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- SAMHSA’s National Mental Health Information Center
- SAVE – Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
- Suicide Prevention Action Network USA
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center
- The Trevor Project
- Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program
There are many options other than death. Or murder. If anything, Oregon is the example not to follow. Unless Americans want their government to kill off the elderly.