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OREGON ASSISTED SUICIDE REPORT PROVIDES LITTLE PROTECTION FOR THE POOR AND SERIOUSLY ILL
Physicians for Compassionate Care
P.O. Box 6042
Portland, Oregon 97228-6042
503-533-8154; Fax: 503-533-0429
Affirming an ethic that all human life is inherently valuable
The Oregon Health Division report on assisted suicides released Wednesday, February 17, 1999, will be published Thursday, February 18, 1999, in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to Physicians for Compassionate Care President, Dr. Gregory Hamilton, "The report provides little useful information with which to protect the poor and disabled in this state, because the assisted suicide law has no penalty for doctors who do not report cases of assisted suicide." Due to excessive confidentiality for doctors and health care institutions, the majority of assisted suicide and euthanasia cases will go unreported in Oregon, as has been documented in the Netherlands. Assisted suicide in Oregon is shrouded in secrecy.
The press and the public, as well as researchers, have been denied access to key information. Due to the shroud of secrecy, the report overlooks key features of actual cases. Nothing is mentioned about the fact that the first publicly reported case of assisted suicide was found depressed by her own doctor (American Medical News, April 13, 1998). Then, her family contacted Compassion in Dying, an assisted suicide advocacy group, which moved to Oregon weeks after the law was implemented. Within three weeks of contacting Compassion in Dying, the patient was dead by lethal overdose. "The opinions of the two doctors who did not support the patient's decision -- one of whom knew her for some time and the other who considered her depressed -- were essentially ignored" (Hendin, H., Foley, K. and White, M., "Physician-Assisted Suicide: Reflections on Oregon's First Case," Issues in Law & Medicine 14:243-270, 1998). The report reduces this tragic case to a number, 1 of 15, with nothing at all said about failure
It is tragic that even one patient would be offered suicide instead of hope and treatment.
The report fails to mention real dangers for the future. During the year covered by the report:
The Oregon Health Plan put barriers in the way of funding state-of-the-art antidepressants on its rationed health plan for the poor and disabled ("The Enemy Within," Oregonian, January 21, 1998). The Oregon Health Plan, which is financially beleaguered, began "...restricting pain medication for poor patients while fully funding their assisted suicides" (American Medical News, September 28, 1998). Oregon Health Plan recipients "... reported serious hurdles in getting mental health services," (Oregonian, February 3, 1999). Some 38% of patients found "barriers" to treatment for "physical or mental disability" (Oregonian, February 3, 1999), yet assisted suicide is fully funded by the same plan. Some private HMO insurances put caps on in home palliative care (hospice), while fully funding assisted suicide.
Oregon state government statistics thus far provide only a dangerous illusion of safeguards.
For more information: N. Gregory Hamilton, M.D., President of Physicians for Compassionate Care. (503) 241-8887.
(Released Wednesday, February 17, 1999. Not for publication prior to 5:00 PM EST).