Kathryn Judson

Oregon resident Kathyrn Judson wrote to the Hawaii Free Press in February 2011 to warn of her experience of the dangers of the assisted suicide law in her state [1].

Kathryn recounted her traumatic experience of bringing her seriously ill husband to the doctor’s office for “badly needed help” several years previously [2]. Having “collapsed in a half-exhausted heap in a chair” on arrival, Kathryn was horrified to overhear the doctor attempting to convince her husband to consider assisted suicide [3]. According to Kathryn, the doctor urged him to “think of what it will spare your wife, we need to think of her” [4].

Kathryn reported how she was shocked to hear a doctor “tempting my husband to commit suicide” [5]. Following this interaction and another encounter with a “‘death with dignity’ inclined nurse”, she was “afraid to leave my husband along again with doctors and nurses, for fear they’d morph from care providers to enemies, with no one around to stop them” [6]. Her husband continued to live for another five years.

Concluding her letter of concern, Kathryn commented that “it’s not a good thing, wondering who you can trust in a hospital or clinic. I hope you are spared this in Hawaii” [7].

Oregon legalised physician assisted suicide in 1997 following the passage of the Death with Dignity Act in 1994. This has permitted doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for self-administration to mentally competent Oregon residents above the age of 18 who are suffering terminal illness and likely to die within six months [8].

The latest report for 2020 showed around 28% increase in the number of DWDA deaths from 2019, which is fifteen times more than the number of deaths in its first year of 1998 [9]. Concern about being or becoming a burden on family, friends, and caregivers ranked significantly higher (47.5%) than inadequate pain control, or concern about inadequate pain control (27.4%) [10]. The prescribing physician has been present at only 14.6% of DWDA deaths since 1998 [11].

A 2015 study showed a majority of lethal prescriptions between 2001 and 2007 were written by a minority of the participating physicians [12]. In 2020, 21% of physicians were responsible for at least 39% of lethal prescriptions. While 79% of physicians wrote one or two prescriptions, at least one doctor wrote 31 prescriptions for lethal drugs [13].

An Oregon Health Authority press release from March 2020 announced that “suicide continues to be a concerning problem in Oregon across all age groups, including youths[14]. The concerns of the OHA about the rising suicide rates, especially among young people, contrasts sharply with their lack of concern towards the consistent growth in assisted suicide rates, which are excluded from the overall suicide numbers [15].

A 2005 study found that one particular patient in Oregon was issued with a lethal prescription nearly two years before he actually died of natural causes after receiving compassionate care instead [16].