4/26/2013 12:08:00 PM Assisted suicide deaths reach annual high
Catholic Sentinel file photo
Protesters stand outside Portland courthouse against a 2007 effort to thwart assisted suicide.
Reported deaths by doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon have reached an all-time annual high. In 2012, physicians in the state said that 77 terminally ill patients died by lethal overdose.
There has been a continual increase since Oregon voters narrowly legalized physician-assisted suicide in 1998. That year, only 16 patients took their lives. Since the law began, 673 people have used it to die. Each year, many patients receive lethal drugs but do not use them.
Those troubled by the law continue to speak up. Mental health workers say too few patients considering suicide receive care for depression. In 2012, only two of the 77 people who died by suicide were referred for a psychiatric evaluation. Some patients have shown how the Oregon Health Plan would pay for suicides but not for medical treatment of their diseases.
A physician or other health care provider was present at the time of death in only 11 of the 77 deaths this year, leading Oregon Right to Life to report concerns about elder abuse, coercion and undue influence by family members and health care professionals. Circumstances are difficult to investigate, because state law blocks the public from accessing most information.
One new case of that troubles assisted suicide foes has come to light. The Montana Standard newspaper printed a letter from an Oregon primary care doctor who had referred a longtime patient to specialists for melanoma. Later, one of the specialists called the doctor back, not to consult on patient care, but to ask him to give a second opinion so assisted suicide could go ahead. The dismayed primary care doctor said no mental health assessment took place.