Issues

Oregon has had 23 years of legal assisted suicide, but ranks worst in mental health care

euthanasia assisted suicide

Oregon recently released its 23rd annual report on the state’s so-called Death with Dignity Act, which legalized physician-assisted suicide for any patient who is “1) 18 years of age or older, 2) a resident of Oregon, 3) capable of making and communicating health care decisions to health care practitioners, and 4) diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months.”

According to the report, in 2020, 370 Oregonians were given lethal prescriptions, and of those, 245 people died from ingesting them — this number includes 22 people who had received prescriptions in previous years. The fact that 22 people received prescriptions in years prior to 2020 but lived at least one year longer to take them shows that the six-month prognosis given to such patients is often erroneous. The state’s own data recorded eight people given lethal prescriptions last year who outlived their prognoses. How many of the 245 people who ended their lives in Oregon in 2020 could have gone on to live for another year, or even several years? 

The desire to end one’s life is a symptom of depression, which is a treatable illness. Yet out of the 370 people given lethal prescriptions in Oregon in 2020, only three were referred for psychological or psychiatric evaluation. Mental Health America has ranked Oregon last in the nation for adult mental health — the worst for access to mental health care and the highest for the prevalence of mental illness. Oregon’s approach to its euthanasia program is symptomatic of this larger crisis. “Since its inception, the so-called ‘Death With Dignity’ Act has raised serious concerns, including Oregon’s failures to address mental health concerns,” said Lois Anderson, Oregon Right to Life’s executive director. 

READ: Discrimination: Oregon hospitals accused of denying people with disabilities basic health care

Only 60% of those given lethal prescriptions in Oregon in 2020 went on to ingest them. This shows that nearly half of the people who were at one point serious enough about suicide to obtain a lethal prescription went on to change their minds. How much larger might that percentage be if the others had been referred for psychological care? And of those, how many might also have outlived their prognoses? We will never know.

Although Oregon could attempt to treat its ill residents and improve their quality of life for its natural duration, the state is encouraging their deaths instead. History shows that when sanctioning lethal solutions to problems for any class of citizens, criteria required to be included in that class tend to expand rapidly. The utilitarian mindset that values human beings only for their material contributions to society and promotes euthanasia for those who can no longer make such contributions must be combatted like the disease it is. 

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