This letter to the editor from a physician about the failure of Oregon’s doctor-prescribed suicide guidelines to protect a vulnerable patient is poignant, but ultimately, irrelevant. All that matters is a desire to die by the patient coupled (for now) with a terminal diagnosis. From “Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law Isn’t Working” published in the The Provence (BC, Canada):
I am a doctor in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal. I disagree that Oregon’s law has worked well. As one example, a few years ago, my patient, a 76-year-old man presented with a sore on his arm that turned out to be cancer. I referred him to a cancer specialist for evaluation and therapy. The patient was an avid hiker and as he went through his therapy, he became less able to do this activity and became depressed, which was documented in his chart. He expressed a wish for assisted-suicide to the cancer specialist, but rather than taking the time and effort to address his depression, or to contact me as his primary physician and as someone who knew him, she asked me to be the “second opinion” for his suicide.
I told her that I did not concur and that addressing his depression would be better than simply giving him a lethal prescription. Unfortunately, two weeks later my patient was dead from an overdose prescribed by this doctor. In most jurisdictions, suicidal ideation is interpreted as a cry for help. In Oregon, the only help my patient got was a lethal prescription intended to kill him. Don’t make Oregon’s mistake.
Dr. Charles J. Bentz, Oregon Health & Sciences University, Portland, Ore.
I can hear yawning.
Here’s the problem, legalizing assisted suicide changes mindsets 180 degrees. Once the law states that it will countenance doctors prescribing death, the details about who receives the poison—and the circumstances surrounding the prescribing (or administration)—increasingly don’t matter. Ending suffering—as defined by the suicidal person—becomes the paradigm. In that milieu, people stop caring because protecting the vulnerable doesn’t matter.