What you should know about doctor-prescribed suicide
- Doctor-prescribed suicide legalization has failed more times than it has succeeded. There have been well over 175 legalization attempts in the past 20 years, yet only 6 states and the District of Columbia have actually legalized it.
- If doctor-prescribed suicide is made legal, it quickly becomes just another form of treatment and as such, will always be the cheapest option. This is troublesome in a cost-conscious healthcare environment.
- Doctor-prescribed suicide poses a threat to those living with disabilities or who are in vulnerable circumstances. When assisted suicide becomes an option, explicit and implicit pressure is placed on these individuals to take that option.
- The safeguards in Oregon and Washington have proven to be hollow as they are easily circumvented. Patients are not required to receive a lethal prescription from their attending physician and can “doctor-shop”.
- Six month diagnoses are arbitrary standards; nothing prevents these laws from being expanded to include individuals with longer prognoses or people “suffering” from other illnesses or disability. The longest and most studied examples of doctor-prescribed suicide laws in Europe provide evidence for the expansion argument.
- Nothing in the Oregon or Washington laws can protect from explicit or implicit family pressures to commit suicide or personal fears of “being a burden”.
- Oregon’s data on doctor-prescribed suicide is flawed, incomplete and disorganized. The state does not investigate cases abuse, and has admitted, “We cannot determine whether physician assisted suicide is being practiced outside the framework of the Death with Dignity Act.” The state has also acknowledged actually destroying the underlying data after each annual report. (Regarding abuses that have come to light in Oregon, see this handout on Oregon abuses.)
- Suicide requests from people with terminal illness are usually based on fear and depression. Most cases of depression among terminally ill people can be successfully treated. Yet primary care physicians are generally not experts in diagnosing depression. Neither Oregon nor Washington assisted suicide laws require evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist to screen for depression or mental illness.
- Under Oregon or Washington law, there is no requirement that family be notified when an assisted suicide prescription request is made.