The Death With Dignity Act has been effect for over a decade in Oregon. This means that in the state of Oregon, terminally ill patients may be prescribed lethal doses of certain drugs approved for physician assisted suicide. Whether you are a health care professional of any kind, have a family member who is terminally ill or suffering, or just an ordinary citizen with no opinion in the matter this is a program that has ramifications not just in the US but the whole international medical community. Everybody dies sometimes right?
First let us be fair, proponents of the Death with Dignity Act abhor the word suicide because they wish to distinguish themselves from that demographic group that is young, without medical illness, and usually a result of depression or other psychiatric conditions. Even Jack Kevorkian was sure to exclude those cases which he deemed psychological rather than a defined terminal illness with biological measurables.
Patients must make two separate requests 15 days apart, must be free of mental condition, must have two non-medical witnesses and any physician who questions a patients reasons for having a lethal dose of phenobarbital, along with secobarbital the two most commonly prescribed medications, may send that patient for a psychological evaluation before treatment will be approved.
Holding aside all moral judgment for the moment what is being done in the state of Oregon is truly different. They are the first state in America to sanction doctor assisted death, euthanasia, and in the world they are one of the first provinces to allow a person to choose, maybe not the manner of their death, but at least the timing. Let’s think about this for a second. There is a place that exists in the world, as we speak, which a person may choose to end their lives without legal and or moral stigma? That is a very interesting and new concept at least to me.
Let’s be honest any person can commit suicide if they wanted to, but if you had children and threw yourself off the roof in California or New York (even with a terminal disease) your children would have a conundrum whenever asked the question, “Did you ever have a parent who committed suicide.” It poses a new paradigm in physiology, law, and medicine.
People have tried unsuccessfully to repeal MEasure 51, as it was called on the ballot. Meaning either Oregon is so far left, they will not go back on this issue, or the people of Oregon and maybe the greater elderly communities of the world are asking the world’s collective to accept the fact that people may want to die earlier than their supposed time frame.
What is interesting to note is that not all those who are approved and receive the lethal dose pills end up dying taking them. Some have died before they could take the dose, naturally or unnaturally (however you wish to see it) from their terminal cancers, or decided not to take the dosage. But approximately 65% or 59 of 95 patients died from ingesting the lethal dose prescribed in 2010.
As a doctor I am quite torn on the subject because although as compassionate caregivers we wish the least amount of pain for our patients. I also don’t believe that physicians have a code to live by, the hippocratic oath which basically goes: Do no harm. This idea of having your doctor help you to decide to end your own life may put this oath in conflict. But as a leftist liberal I believe, as is the case with abortion, that we should ultimately be given the option and choice to do something and leave it up to the individual to make the ultimate decision. Could you imagine if abortions were never legal in this country. Maybe one day we will look back and say, could you ever have thought there was a time where terminal patients weren’t able to relieve their suffering?
You can access the Death With Dignity act statistical information on their website: http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Pages/index.aspx
and for further information watch How to Die in Oregon, documentary directed by Peter Richardson.