C. Ben Mitchell reports on Oregon's emerging euthanasia program.
Commentary Date: February 22 , 2001
Twenty-seven legal homicides took place last year under Oregon's physician assisted suicide program, according to the Oregon Health Division's annual report issued on February 21, 2001. The fact that twenty-two physicians provided a lethal overdose for their patients is absolutely breathtaking (no pun intended).
In three brief years in Oregon, 2500 years of medical tradition have been scrapped. Several statistics from the report leap off the page. Nearly two thirds of the patients who committed suicide with their physician's help said fear of being a "burden on family, friends or caregivers" motivated their decision. Nearly one third cited "inadequate pain control" as the reason for their request to die. This despite the fact that experts in palliative care tell us there is no reason for a patient under a competent physician to have uncontrollable pain. Over two-thirds of the victims of Oregon's lethal medicine were married and over half were female. While depression has been identified as the chief culprit in the request to have one's life ended, a psychological evaluation was only requested by the attending physician in only 19% of the cases. Another striking shift is the median time between the patient's initial request for assisted suicide and the time of his or her death. In 1999, 83 days passed between the request and the death. In 2000, only 30 days elapsed between first request and last breath.
Under the Hippocratic Oath, physicians since the 5th century BC have promised never to participate in killing their patients. The covenant between physicians and their patients began with the axiom, primum non nocere ("first, do no harm"). Under the Oregon regime the slogan should be changed to "kill as many as possible." Make no mistake about it; the Oregon experiment is decidedly not an experiment in patient's rights. It is institutionalized medical malpractice of a lethal variety. Our healers are becoming killers. The profession of medicine is being radically altered under the auspices of social engineers. The results of this revolution are chilling. We cannot allow a system to go unchecked that makes patients feel they are burdensome. In an era when pain management has become a sophisticated science, we cannot allow the purveyors of death to get away with assisted homicide. Those with terminal illnesses must not be deserted in their darkest hours by a disguised neglect. The most advanced and expensive health care system in the world is being co-opted by moral clones of Dr. Kevorkian.
Instead of abandoning patients, compassionate medicine provides hospice care. Rather than allowing dying patients to suffer, truly humane medicine treats their pain and alleviates their fears. Palliative care must trump the lethal failure of the Oregon medical establishment. Nothing less than our humanity is at stake.
C. Ben Mitchell is Senior Fellow at The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity
This commentary is a service provided by The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. Reprinted with permission.