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Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide - The Oregon Experience

people study opponents patients

Assisted suicide has been legal for too short a time in Oregon to know its actual impact. As of 1999, just one study has been conducted analyzing the Oregon experience. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1999, the study reported that fifteen people died legally by assisted suicide in the calendar year 1998. None was in intractable pain. One feared future pain. The primary reason the patients gave for requesting assisted suicide, according to the prescribing doctors who were interviewed for the study, was fear of future dependency.

Proponents of the Oregon law claimed that the study demonstrated that legalized assisted suicide is a rare procedure and that the law's guidelines work to protect vulnerable people. They also stressed that the deaths were apparently peaceful with none of the patients suffering side effects, such as extended coma, about which opponents had warned. Moreover, they noted that financial pressures did not appear to be a factor in any of the cases.

Opponents countered that the law was "sold" to voters as a last resort measure for people in extreme pain, but none of the patients fits that description, thereby demonstrating the existence of the "slippery slope." Disability rights activists argued that once assisted suicide is deemed a proper response to fears of dependency, as was the case in the fifteen Oregon deaths, it cannot be logically limited to terminally ill people since disabled and elderly people also face dependency issues and for far longer periods of time. Opponents also noted with alarm that six of the people who died by assisted suicide consulted with two or more doctors before finding a physician willing to write a lethal prescription. Moreover, some of the patients knew the prescribing doctor for a very short time, indicating, opponents contend, that some of the prescriptions were written for political rather than medical purposes.

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