May/June, 1998

Editor's note: On June 5 Attorney General Janet Reno removed the final obstacle to Oregon's doctor-assisted suicide law by deciding that physicians may provide lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients without losing their licenses to write prescriptions --overturning the position taken by the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration who had said that doctors who prescribe drugs under Oregon's assisted-suicide law could face severe sanctions.

Oregon on the slippery slope?
'Nobody has really noticed'

In the last weeks of March, a number of news articles publicized the first reported death under the new Oregon assisted suicide law. Steven L. Drake of Not Dead Yet writes:

It's important to keep in mind that we do not know if the woman was really the first to do this under the law. Nor do we know how many others there have been -since it turns out there was at least one other person before her, who has not been named.

The person we have the most information on is a woman in her mid-80s who was in the final stages (allegedly - all of this is taken on faith since her name and records were not released) of breast cancer. Her reason for wanting to die? Unbearable pain? Nope. In a tape recording she complained that her mobility was impaired and she has some difficulty breathing. She had not lost the ability to walk - it had simply become more difficult. So the argument that has been promoted - that this is something for people in the most extreme circumstances of unrelievable pain - is not borne out in this case.

Reports say the woman had to go to three doctors before she could get one who would "help" her. According to reports, the second doctor refused to give her a lethal prescription because she appeared depressed. The third doctor, whose name was given to the woman by the pro-euthanasia group Compassion in Dying, felt that she was "frustrated and crying because she was powerless." Instead of finding ways to help her out of the feeling of powerlessness, he gave her a ticket out of living. So much for the safeguard about screening for depression.

There doesn't seem to have been a lot of critical or thoughtful commentary on the information coming from Oregon. Supporters see it as working out wonderfully (although a recent fundraising letter issued by Compassion in Dying stated that the newest battle would be to secure the "right" to assisted suicide for people who were not within a few months of death by terminal illness). Right-to-life commentary seems to have been limited to "God have mercy on us," sentiments I sympathize with but don't find helpful in terms of being persuasive in opposing the pro-euthanasia movement.

A March 29 New York Times editorial said Oregon was the answer to stopping Kevorkian and possible clones. More lack of critical thinking. Kevorkian has stated he will ignore any law and continue to follow his own illusory guidelines.The most troubling thing to me is that not only has Oregon started to "slide down the slippery slope" in a very short time, but nobody really has noticed. They're too busy talking about how well it's working.

Snap judgment?

"Dr. Jack Kevorkian helped a 21-year-old quadriplegic man, who was not terminally ill but who could not breathe without a life-support machine, to commit suicide. Do you think physician-assisted suicide should be permitted for non-terminal cases?"

69.57% Yes
30.43% No

March 5 results of a Mother Jones magazine online "Snap Poll"


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