The Oregon Studies are Invalid

By Margaret Dore, July 5, 2011

1.  Self-administration cannot be guaranteed

On February 9, 2011, Oregon assisted-suicide proponents testified before the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee in support of a proposed Oregon-style assisted suicide act, SB 167.

The next day, Senator Jeff Essmann observed that, based on their testimony, studies from Oregon claiming that assisted-suicide is safe, are invalid.  These studies include Oregon's annual reports, which indicate that patients self-administer the lethal dose.[1] Senator Essmann stated:

“[All] the protections [in Oregon’s law] end after the prescription is written.  [The proponents] admitted that the provisions in the Oregon law would permit one person to be alone in that room with the patient. And in that situation, there is no guarantee that that medication is self-administered.

So frankly, any of the studies that come out of the state of Oregon’s experience are invalid because no one who administers that drug against - to that patient is going to be turning themselves in for the commission of a homicide."

Montana Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on SB 167, February 10, 2011, page 15.

2.  Disinterested witnesses are not required at the death

A related point is that Oregon's law does not require disinterested witnesses when the lethal dose is administered.  See Oregon's act in its entirety (witnesses only required on the lethal dose request form, not when the lethal dose is ingested or at the time of death).

Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for an heir, or other person who will benefit from the death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient against his will.  Even if he struggled, who would know?

3.  The reporting physician is not usually present
The reports are also invalid because the prescribing physician, who provides the death information, is not usually present when the lethal dose is ingested or at the death.[2] He or she does not actually know what happened.  He or she also has a conflict of interest to report anything that goes wrong due to his or her prescription.[3]
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[1]  See e.g., Oregon's annual report for 2010 (stating "Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (DWDA), enacted in late 1997, allows terminallyill adult Oregonians to obtain and use prescriptions from their physicians for selfadministered, lethal doses of medications").  (Emphasis added). 
[2] See: "Oregon Death with Dignity Act Attending Physician Follow-up Form" (requiring "physicians who write a prescription for a lethal dose" to complete the form); and Annual Report for 2010, Table 1, page 2 (showing that prescribing physicians have been present at just 24.2% of the lethal dose ingestions and 18.7% of the deaths).
[3]  A prescribing doctor has immunity from civil and criminal liability and disciplinary action as long as such doctor acts "in good faith," a standard which has not been tested by the courts.  See ORS 127.885 s. 4.01(1).  Regardless of legalities, a prescribing doctor who reports that something went wrong could find himself the target of the patient's irate family member or friend.