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Assisted suicide trend portends thousands of deaths

By David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics) | February 25, 2016

Excerpted from "According to Oregon’s Numbers, Here’s What Will Happen If Assisted Suicide Is Legalized Nationwide," The Daily Signal commentary by Kelsey Harkness, February 12, 2016 - An annual report examining physician-assisted suicide trends in Oregon shows a growing number of individuals seeking to die under the state’s Death with Dignity Act.

“In the past two years the number of deaths as a result of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon has nearly doubled,” said Ryan T. Anderson, who researches and writes on physician-assisted suicide at The Heritage Foundation. “In the past 15 years, the number has increased six-fold. If physician-assisted suicide is allowed in other states, we are likely to see a similar growth in the number of deaths by suicide across the U.S."

In 2015, the Oregon Public Health Division reported that 132 people died using physician-assisted suicide, compared to 105 the previous year. The number of people who received the life-ending prescription increased from 155 in 2014 to 215 in 2015. If the rate of physician-assisted suicide deaths in California were the same as Oregon’s rate, that would result in 2,118 deaths a year. Advocates for physician-assisted suicide attribute the rising numbers to a growing acceptance among doctors to prescribe the life-ending drugs.

“As more physicians recognize that a small percentage of terminally ill adults experience unbearable suffering that no medical treatment can relieve, they are more accepting of voluntary requests for aid in dying medication,” Sean Crowley, media relations director at Compassion and Choices, told The Daily Signal.

“The current numbers are not the ceiling; they’re the launching pad. Once a society or a state or a culture starts accepting this agenda, the numbers go up,” said Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and consultant to the Patients Rights Council.

Those who oppose “Death with Dignity” laws look to Europe, where three countries—the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland—allow assisted suicide for non-terminal illnesses, including psychiatric disorders like depression and schizophrenia. A study published Wednesday by JAMA Psychiatry raised serious concerns among opponents, finding that 56 percent of people who were prescribed life-ending drugs refused treatment that could have helped their condition.


Commentary

Dr. David StevensCMDA CEO David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics): “With zealous fervor, Compassion & Choices is going beyond their unrelenting, well-funded efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide in more states. They are also laboring to normalize and promote it in the minds of physicians, other healthcare professionals, hospital ethics committees, the elderly and the media. Before California’s new law even takes effect, they are blanketing the state with promotional materials and speakers to convince everyone how heroic and noble it is to take a handful of lethal pills.

“What good is legalizing physician-assisted suicide if no one exercises this new ‘right?’ The need to market physician-assisted suicide undermines credibility of advocates who insist on how much it is needed. What if no one kills himself or herself in the first year? This happened in Vermont after legalizing the practice.

“Compassion & Choices desires to break down any other fences that could constrain physician-assisted suicide. California’s new law makes all records having to do with physician-assisted suicide undiscoverable for legal purposes--to shield proponents and healthcare providers involved. (I deliberately don’t call them professionals.) Barbara Coombs Lee, the head of Compassion & Choices, extolled the court decision in Canada that not only allowed physician-assisted suicide but also euthanasia by lethal injection. She is delighted that they desire to force physicians to refer their patients if the physicians won’t participate otherwise.

“After fighting physician-assisted suicide legalization for more than 20 years on behalf of CMDA’s members, it is obvious to me that there is no desire by its promoters to account for a ‘small percentage’ of deaths. No, they want us to allow it, then endorse it and finally participate in it.

“We shouldn’t be surprised. Death cults are like that.”

Action

Check this list of states considering legalizing assisted suicide.

If your state is included on this list of state legislative issues, will you join in your local state efforts to help stem the tide and defeat physician-assisted suicide? Contact communications@cmda.org to get involved.

Resources
Physician-Assisted Suicide Fact Sheet
CMDA Physician-Assisted Suicide Ethics Statement
State Legislative Issues

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