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MARCH 2016

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Assisted suicide numbers on the rise in Oregon


There have been reports in the media of the increase in physician-assisted suicides in the state of Oregon in the United States, following the release of the figures for 2015. According to the Oregon Health Authority, the Death with Dignity Act was passed in October 1997, and allows “terminally ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.” @


Organisations such as Dignity in Dying argue on their website that the recently published figures prove this approach is working “safely and effectively.”@ Whilst acknowledging the figures for 2015 are the highest yet, accounting for “just 0.39%” of deaths in Oregon, according to Dignity in Dying this does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the law is not working – rather that it indicates more people are choosing the “manner and timing of their deaths…[As] a result, fewer terminally ill people are being forced to endure suffering that they consider unbearable.”


In contrast, Care Not Killing provide a more contextual analysis of what these published figures mean by translating them into what similar figures would mean for the UK.@ According to the report, there were 132 assisted suicides – a 24.4% rise from 2014 which “would translate to 2,147 for a population the size of the UK…a few seats short of filling the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.” Care Not Killing also provides a more in-depth summary of what the statistics can tell us – including the wide range in the amount of time it took for people to die (from five minutes to thirty-four hours), the number and type of complications experienced, and perhaps most worrying, the reasons cited for choosing this option. As Care Not Killing points out, one of the most commonly cited reasons by advocates of assisted suicide is that of “unremitting pain”; the figures from Oregon however, show that this reason only accounted for 28.7% of deaths and raises a very important question:


“The three most commonly cited reasons for seeking assisted suicide remain being less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable (96.2%), losing autonomy (92.4%) and loss of dignity (75.4%). These are not physical but existential symptoms. Should lethal drugs be prescribed to people who feel their lives no longer have meaning and purpose?”