The Death with Dignity Act of 1994, put into effect in Oregon in 1997, stipulates that a capable adult Oregon resident who is suffering from a terminal disease likely to produce death within six months and who has voluntarily expressed a wish to die may make a written request for medication for the purpose of ending his or her life. It states that if “in the opinion of the attending physician or the consulting physician a patient may be suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder, or depression causing impaired judgment, either physician shall refer the patient for counseling. No medication to end a patient’s life in a humane and dignified manner shall be prescribed until the person performing the counseling determines that the patient is not suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder, or depression causing impaired judgment” (Sect. 127.825).
“Counseling” is defined as “a consultation between a state licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and a patient for the purpose of determining whether the patient is suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder, or depression causing impaired judgment.”
Fenn and Ganzini (1999) write, “psychologists have been grappling with how to fulfill their legally specified role in the process of physician-assisted suicide” (p. 235).
The mental health profession is understandably reluctant to accept the role that society would like us to play. As mental health practitioners, we would rather be called in on this problem much earlier rather than at the last minute.