Upholding assisted suicide


Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 10:27 p.m.
Sometimes the Supreme Court gets it right. By a decisive 6 to 3 vote the court stopped the attorney general from dismantling Oregon's assisted suicide law. This will not be the last assault on this law and so it is an appropriate time to look at the record.
Since 1997, citizens of Oregon who are terminally ill may request a prescription for a lethal amount of drugs to hasten their deaths. Every year since then approximately 30 patients have chosen to end their lives in this fashion, constituting less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all deaths in Oregon. The safeguards in the law have functioned efficiently and there have been no problems and no abuses reported.
A most interesting finding is that one-fourth of the patients receiving this medication do not use it, but die of natural causes. These patients say that having the medication is a great comfort, knowing that they have the means to end their suffering, that they have some control of their own destiny. As one patient said, "No one has the right to tell me how much I have to suffer."
Opponents of the law say that it permits doctors to kill patients. Not so. This is not euthanasia; doctors kill no one. It is the patient who takes the medication which he/she received after making three separate requests over a period of time. At least two physicians concurred that the patient was competent and terminally ill.
The majority of citizens of Oregon support this law; they passed it twice. It is called "Death With Dignity," a most appropriate title.
Samuel I. Greenberg, M.D., Gainesville

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