Oregon's assisted suicide data proves that legalization is a terrible idea
Oregon was the first state to legalize assisted suicide. Advocates of legalization hold it up as a model for other states to follow.
The Oregon Health Authority recently released its report on assisted suicide for the year 2016. This data—though limited and incapable of revealing abuses (it is based on the self-reporting of the doctors who prescribe lethal drugs for suicide)—is more than enough to establish that legalization is a terrible idea.
The report shows that concerns about pressure and coercion are fully warranted. The prescribing physician was present at the time of death in only 9.8 percent of cases in 2016; a different health care provider was present in just 10.5 percent of cases. (Indeed, assisted suicide laws require no oversight at the time of death—there are no safeguards whatsoever once the lethal drug has been dispensed.) According to Oregon itself, the circumstances of most assisted suicide deaths in Oregon (including possible complications) are a complete mystery. We do know, however, that about half (48.9 percent) of assisted suicide patients said that they felt like a "burden" on family and friends, and that this was among their reasons for (government-approved) suicide. That is horrifying.
The report shows that concerns about those who are depressed or mentally ill are fully warranted. The desire to die—even among those who are terminally ill—is closely linked to depression. Yet only 3.8 percent of assisted suicide patients in 2016 were referred for psychiatric evaluation before receiving the lethal drug. (Assisted suicide laws require no mental health evaluation.) Virtually all of these suicidal patients, then, received no such evaluation before they were assisted in ending their own lives. That is negligence.
The report shows that concerns about mistaken prognoses are fully warranted. In order to be eligible for assisted suicide, patients are supposed to have less than six months left to live. But the duration between the initial suicide request and death was as long as 539 days in 2016 (it has been more than 1,000 days—nearly three years—in the past). That's about 18 months. Oregon's own data indicates that patients who have literally years to live are given lethal prescriptions. Years of life are being lost.
The report shows that concerns about the equal dignity and rights of disabled persons are fully warranted. The top three reasons patients gave for assisted suicide in 2016 were "losing autonomy," inability to engage in certain activities, and perceived loss of "dignity." Contrary to popular myth, people don't have assisted suicides because they are experiencing physical pain. They have assisted suicides because they are disabled and dependent. And while society still aims to prevent the suicides of people who are physically healthy and able-bodied, the killing of these sick patients is approved and authorized by the government and the medical profession. There is no way to reconcile this selective suicide policy with the equality of all people. Everyone's life matters. Everyone deserves protection, care, and support.
Assisted suicide laws and bills in other states are no better than Oregon's law. In some cases, they are even worse. But Oregon's own statistics give us all the reason we need to firmly reject this harmful practice.
Oregon isn't a model. It's a warning.