Evidence from the states of Oregon and Washington, where assisted suicide is legal, demonstrates conclusively that physicians make significant errors in determining a prognosis of less than six months to live in the context of a request to access assisted suicide.
Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act provides that before prescribing a lethal substance a doctor must first determine whether a person has a “terminal disease”. This is defined by section 127.800 (12) of the Oregon Revised Statute to mean “an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within six months”.
In 2017 one person ingested lethal medication 603 days (nearly 20 months) after the initial request for the lethal prescription was made. The longest duration between initial request and ingestion recorded is 1009 days (that is 2 years and 9 months).
Washington State’s Death With Dignity Act, based on Oregon’s, came into operation on 9 March 2009.
Although this Act specifies that only persons with “six months or less to live” may request lethal doses of medication from a physician, the data shows that in each year between 5% and 17% of those who die after requesting a lethal dose do so more than 25 weeks later with one person in 2012 dying nearly 3 years (150 weeks) later, one person in 2015 dying nearly two years later (95 weeks), one person in 2016 dying more than two years (112 weeks) later and one person in 2017 dying 1 year and 7 months later (81 weeks).
EVIDENTLY IN EACH OF THESE CASES THE PROGNOSIS WAS WILDLY INACCURATE.
And of course we will never know how long many of those who take the lethal dose within the 6 month period might have lived if they hadn’t been given assisted suicide.
The example of Jeanette Hall, who is still alive today after commencing the process of seeking assisted suicide in Oregon in 2000, illustrates the danger of making assisted suicide available to people when first diagnosed with a terminal illness. Thankfully for Jeanette her doctor refused to collaborate in assisting her suicide and helped her find hope – and effective treatment – instead.
There is always a better way than the counsel of despair offered by proponents of assisted suicide.