Oregon claim of assisted suicide safeguards has critics

Assisted-Suicide-Header-640x290A key argument spurring Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent decision to sign a bill allowing physician-assisted suicide in California, and the Legislature’s desire to enact such a law, was that a similar law had worked well in Oregon after its 1997 passage because of its strong safeguards. The Oregon law, the argument went, showed that a framework could be established that was humane and sensible.

But what was rarely acknowledged in the California media is that the Oregon law — while winning positive notices from that state’s media — has a solid core of skeptics who complained of skewed or inadequate data backing up assertions that the safeguards work.

Working with Oregon residents, the Ohio-based Patients Rights Council in 2008 published a review of Oregon’s law, surveying the measure after it had been in effect for 10 years.

The review includes a list of dubious cases in which suicides were botched or influenced by family members and noted how little documentation or evidence-gathering there was for claims that safeguards were working.

Most intriguingly, it included a link to a British House of Lords report on a possible British version of Oregon’s law, based on a fact-finding trip some lawmakers had taken to Oregon. It included more than 100 pages of testimony and related information involving different Oregon agency officials and others in state medical circles. Here’s a link to the PDF: Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill [HL], Volume II: Evidence. The Oregon testimony begins on page 255.

British lawmakers rejected law after Oregon visit

As the Patients Rights Council notes, British lawmakers who went to Oregon were skeptical of the official narrative.

After hearing witnesses from Oregon claim that there had been no complications (other than “regurgitation”) associated with more than 200 assisted-suicide deaths, Lord McColl of Dulwich, a surgeon, questioned that assertion.


He said that, in his practice as a physician, “if any surgeon or physician had told me that he did 200 procedures without any complications, I knew he possibly needed counseling and had no insight. We come here and I am told there are no complications.  There is something strange going on.“

A Portland physician, Dr. William Toffler, told British lawmakers that Oregon authorities were not taking oversight responsibilities seriously.

We have to be candid about these problems with overdoses. The state of Oregon has been less ingenuous about the problems of overdoses. It took six years before the Oregon Health Division’s flawed tracking system even reported one case of vomiting. Can you imagine any pills that you give, even for overdoses, that never cause vomiting? That is what the Oregon Health would have us believe from their tracking system. …

The British House of Lords ended up rejecting an Oregon-style law in 2006 on a 148-100 vote, according to the Patients Rights Council.

Before adopting its version of Oregon’s law, California lawmakers heard out many critics and supporters. But the Oregon-specific criticisms voiced by the Patients Rights Council, and evidently shared by the House of Lords, never were spotlighted.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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