It’s been almost 20 years since Oregon became the first state in the country to pass a law legalizing physician-assisted suicide. As of 2015, fewer than 1,000 patients in the Beaver State have ended their lives using legally prescribed lethal medication.
Since Oregon’s Death with Dignity law passed, 64% of patients who were prescribed medication to end their lives actually used them, according to a study published in JAMA Oncology. From 1998 to 2015, doctors wrote a total of 1,545 prescriptions and 991 patients died by using the medication. Most of those patients had cancer, the study found.
With more states adopting physician-assisted suicide laws and other states with pending legislation, researchers evaluated what has happened in Oregon. They found that the number of prescriptions written each year increased, from 24 in 1998 to 218 in 2015. Patients used the option to end their lives for reasons that included quality of life, losses of autonomy and dignity, and rarely for uncontrolled pain.
Advocates of physician-assisted suicide opposed the nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch, whose past writings make it clear he opposes physician-assisted suicide, was confirmed last week and sworn in this morning as the newest Supreme Court justice.
The question of physician-assisted suicide raises ethical questions for many doctors. In an interview with Medscape (reg. req.), Maurie Markman, M.D., president of medicine and science at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, expressed his personal concerns about physician-assisted suicide. Markman said his role as a physician is to make sure there is not something reversible that could change a patient’s state of despair, which may be behind their request to die.