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Should Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal In Oregon?

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Should Physician-Assisted Suicide be legal in Oregon?

Is physician-assisted suicide a legitimate way to solve people's problems that are in pain? Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) has been a very controversial subject in recent years. Many people suffer from terminal diseases in Oregon, such as HIV/Aids, cancers, scleroses, and more. Even though technology is advancing, there are several of these diseases that have no cure.

Physician-assisted suicide was legalized in November 2007, when Oregon voters approved the Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) for the second time. Oregon is the only state that legalized physician-assisted suicide in the United States. In 2005, 39 physicians wrote 64 prescriptions for lethal medications such as pentobarbital. Of the 64 patients that received a prescription, only 32 died. This means 32 patients did not ingest their prescription ("Oregon's Death with Dignity Act", 2006).

There are a number of reasons that a patient would want to die by physician-assisted suicide. These include pain, the patient feels like he or she is a burden to their family or doctor, hopelessness, psychological distress, or even money issues. But above all, depression is the number one reason patients say they want to die. "Like other suicidal individuals, patients who desire an early death during a serious or terminal medical illness usually suffer from a treatable depressive condition. Although pain and other factors such as lack of family support contribute to their wish for death, depression is the most significant factor, and researchers have found it is the only factor that predicts the desire for death"(Recognizing and Treating Depression, 2000).

Assumptions about physician-assisted suicide are made quite often. For instance, "It is terminally ill patients with uncontrollable pain who are most likely to be interested in physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia" (Emanuel, 1998). Studies showed that pain did play a minor role in patients wanting physician-assisted suicide-however, a study done on cancer patients in Boston showed that those that are in pain are more likely to oppose physician-assisted suicide, and would change doctors if he or she knew or found out that their doctor has performed physician-assisted suicide (Emanuel, 1998).

Another myth that people maintain is that "Legalizing physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia is widely endorsed. Yes, polls show that a majority of Americans support physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia-indeed, have supported legalizing them for almost twenty-five years. But the support is neither strong nor deep. Careful analysis of the polling data suggest that there is a "rule of thirds": a third of Americans support legalization under a wide variety of circumstances; a third oppose it under any circumstances; and a third support it in a few cases but oppose it in most circumstances" (Emanuel, 1998).

Although physician-assisted suicide has been somewhat successful through the years, there are some problems with the practice. First of all there are roughly about 3,600 cases in a year, but about 1,000 of these instances were involuntary. Most of the 1,000 patients were no longer competent and could not freely request physician-assisted suicide.

"Second, euthanasia of newborns has been acknowledged. The reported cases have involved babies suffering from well-recognized (sic) fatal or severely disabling defects, though the babies were not in fact dying. Precisely how many cases have occurred is not known" (Emanuel, 1998). There is an estimate of ten to fifteen cases that occur each year.

Boudewijn Chabot, a psychiatrist, participated in a suicide of a fifty-year-old woman in 1991. She had lost both of her sons (one committed suicide, and the other one died of cancer) her father just died, and she got a divorce from her husband all in less then three years. She refused to take any sort of anti-depression medicine. The women contacted Dr. Chabot through the Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia society, a group that connects patients with pro-PAS doctors. Chabot talked to eight of his colleagues and at least two of them disagreed. Chabot took the case in front of the Supreme Court and the court decided they would not penalize him for carrying through with the suicide. He was, however, reprimanded by the Amsterdam medical disciplinary college.

When discussing legalizing physician-assisted suicide, this practice has to be measured between its benefits and dangers. Dr. Emanuel (1998) stated, "Whatever the benefits of legalized physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, they must be measured against the dangers of legalization."

Benefits of physician-assisted suicide would be

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