Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

The Oregon Report: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

The Oregon Report: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Article excerpt

Kathleen Foley & Herbert Hendin, The Oregon Report: Don't Ask, Don't Tell, HASTINGS CENTER REP., May-June, 1999, at 37.

In a public document, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, a National Press Club briefing, and visits to various congressional offices, the Oregon Health Division (OHD) has argued that assisted suicide is being carried out safely under the state's Death with Dignity Act. Unfortunately, the report is marked by its failure to address the limits of the information it has available, overreaching its data to draw unwarranted conclusions. Most striking, and least justified, is its contention, without substantiating patient data, that patients who were assisted in suicide were receiving adequate end-of-life care. In fact, we know nothing about the physical, psychological, and existential needs of the patients requesting assisted suicide. We know little of the capabilities of the physicians who are responding to those requests. And we know nothing of the context in which these patients live and are cared for.

The authors opposed the legislation, but since it was passed both advocates and opponents share a responsibility to see to it that the law is administered so as to best protect patients. If insufficient data is being obtained in a flawed monitoring process, everyone should be concerned.

The data OHD has collected is largely epidemiological: the assisted suicide cases were divided between men and women, the median age of the patients was sixty-nine, all the patients were white, all but two of them had cancer, and the patients who chose assisted suicide were more likely to be divorced or never to have married. Physicians participating in assisted suicide are not asked to provide OHD with significant medical information about their patients. They are merely asked to check off a list on an OHD form indicating that such statutory requirements as a written request for a lethal dose of medication, a fifteen-day waiting period, and consultation with another physician have been met. Only one line is provided for both diagnosis and prognosis, although a diagnosis of terminal illness and prognosis of death within six months are the essential requirements for assisted suicide in the state. …

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