Pages

Monday, October 7, 2013

Quick Facts About Assisted Suicide

By Margaret Dore, Esq.*
October 7, 2013  
1.  Assisted Suicide

Assisted suicide means that someone provides the means and/or information for another person to commit suicide.  When a physician is involved, the practice is physician-assisted suicide.[1]

2. The Oregon and Washington Laws

In Oregon, physician-assisted suicide was legalized in 1997 via a ballot measure.[2] In Washington State, a similar law was passed via another ballot measure in 2008 and went into effect in 2009.[3]  

3.  Throwing Away Your Life

The Oregon and Washington laws apply to state residents predicted to have less than six months to live.[5] Such persons are not necessarily dying. Doctors can be wrong.[6]  Moreover, treatment can lead to recovery. Consider Jeanette Hall, who was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to a year to live.[7] She was adamant that she would "do" Oregon’s law, but her doctor, Ken Stevens, convinced her to be treated instead.[8] Today, she is thrilled to be alive, 13 years later.[9]

With legal assisted suicide, people with years to live are encouraged to throw away their lives.


4.  A Recipe for Elder Abuse

The Washington and Oregon laws are a recipe for elder abuse. The most obvious reason is due to a lack of oversight when the lethal dose is administered.[10] For example, there are no witnesses required at the death; the death is allowed occur in private.[11] With this situation, the opportunity is created for an heir, or some other person who will benefit from the patient’s death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without her consent. Even if she struggled, who would know?

For more detail about Washington's law, which is similar to Oregon's law, read a short article by clicking here or here.

5. Empowering the Healthcare System

In Oregon, patients desiring treatment under the Oregon Health Plan have been offered assisted suicide instead. 

The most well known cases involve Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup.[12] Each wanted treatment.[13] The Plan denied their requests and offered to pay for their suicides instead.[14] Neither Wagner nor Stroup saw this scenario as a celebration of their "choice." Wagner said: "I'm not ready to die."[15] Stroup said: "This is my life they’re playing with."[16]

Wagner and Stroup were steered to suicide. Moreover, it was the Oregon Health Plan, a government entity, doing the steering.[17]  For more detail about the current situation, read the affidavit of Kenneth Stevens, by clicking here.

6.  Increased Suicide in Oregon

Oregon's suicide rate, which excludes suicides under its physician-assisted suicide law, has been "increasing significantly" since 2000.[18] 

Just three years prior, Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide. This increased suicide rate is consistent with a suicide contagion in which removing the stigma from one type of suicide encouraged other suicides. 

7.  Proposed Expansion in Washington State

Washington State legalized physician-assisted suicide in March 2009.  Less than there years later, there were discussions to expand that law to direct euthanasia of non-terminal people. See, for example, Brian Faller, "Perhaps it's time to expand Washington's Death with Dignity Act, The Olympian, November 16, 2011.[19]  More disturbing to me, on March 8, 2012, there was a Seattle Times column causally suggesting euthanasia for people unable to support themselves, which would be involuntary euthanasia.  See Jerry Large, "Planning for old age at a premium," The Seattle Times, March 8, 2012 at  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/text/2017693023.html ("After Monday's column,  . . . a few [readers] suggested that if you couldn't save enough money to see you through your old age, you shouldn't expect society to bail you out. At least a couple mentioned euthanasia as a solution.") (Emphasis added). 

Prior to our law's being passed, I never heard anyone talk like this. 

Don't make our mistake.

Margaret Dore is an attorney in Washington State where assisted suicide is legal. She is also President of Choice is an Illusion, a nonprofit corporation opposed to assisted suicide.  For more information, see www.margaretdore.org and www.choiceillusion.org 

[1]  Compare: American Medical Association, Code of Medical Ethics, Opinion 2.211, available at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion2211.page
[2]  The Oregon and Washington laws are similar. For a short article about Washington’s law, see Margaret K. Dore, "'Death with Dignity': What Do We Advise Our Clients?," King County Bar Association, Bar Bulletin, May 2009, available athttps://www.kcba.org/newsevents/barbulletin/BView.aspx?Month=05&Year=2009&AID=article5.htm
[3]  Id.
[5]  See ORS 127.800 s.1.01(12) and RCW 70.245.010(13).
[6]  See e.g., Nina Shapiro, "Terminal Uncertainty: Washington’s new "Death With Dignity" law allows doctors to help people commit suicide—once they’ve determined that the patient has only six months to live. But what if they’re wrong?," 01/14/09, available athttp://www.seattleweekly.com/2009-01-14/news/terminal-uncertainty 
[7]  See Jeanette Hall, Letter to the editor, "She pushed for legal right to die, and - thankfully - was rebuffed, Boston Globe, October 4, 2011 ("I am so happy to be alive!), available at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/letters/articles/2011/10/04/she_pushed_for_legal_right_to_die_and___thankfully___was_rebuffed/ Kenneth Stevens MD, Letter to the Editor, "Oregon mistake costs lives," The Advocate, the official publication of the Idaho State Bar, Sept. 2010, (scroll down to last letter atwww.margaretdore.com/info/Stevens.pdf ).
[8]  Id.
[9]  Per her telephone call today.
[10]  The Oregon and Washington Acts can be viewed in their entirety here and here.
[11]  Id.
[12]  See Susan Donaldson James, "Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon," ABC News, August 6, 2008, athttp://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=5517492&page=1; "Letter noting assisted suicide raises questions," KATU TV, July 30, 2008, athttp://www.katu.com/news/specialreports/26119539.html ; and Ken Stevens, MD, Letter to Editor, "Oregon mistake costs lives," The Advocate, the official publication of the Idaho State Bar, September 2011, to view, scroll down to bottom of second page here:http://www.margaretdore.com/info/September_Letters.pdf
[13] Id.
[14] Id.
[15] KATU TV at note 12
[16] ABC News at note 12
[17]  See also Affidavit of Ken Stevens MD (Leblanc v. Canada), with attachments, available athttp://maasdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/signed-stevens-aff-9-18-12.pdf  
[18]  See "Suicides in Oregon: Trends and Risk Factors," Oregon Department of Human Services, Public Health Division, September 2010, page 6, ("Deaths relating to the death with Dignity Act (physician-assisted suicides) are not classified as suicides by Oregon law and therefore excluded from this report"), available athttp://epcdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/or_suicide_report_001.pdf
See also Oregon Health Authority, News Release, "Rising suicide rate in Oregon reaches higher than national average," September 9, 2010, ("suicide rates have been increasing significantly since 2000") available athttp://www.oregon.gov/DHS/news/2010news/2010-0909a.pdf
[19] Available at http://www.theolympian.com/2011/11/16/1878667/perhaps-its-time-to-expand-washingtons.html

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Montana State Senator Greg Hinkle Corrects New England Journal of Medicine

Assisted Suicide is Not Legal in Montana
 
Dear Editor:

I am a Montana State Senator.  I disagree with your article, "Redefining Physicians' Role in Assisted Dying," claiming that assisted suicide is legal in Montana.  At the very least, Montana law is unclear.

Last year, Senate Bill 167, which would have legalized assisted suicide in Montana, failed.  This leaves assisted suicide governed by a Montana Supreme Court case, Baxter v. Montana.  An analysis by attorneys Greg Jackson and Matt Bowman describes Baxter as follows:


"The Montana Supreme Court s assisted-suicide decision . . . didn't even 'legalize' assisted-suicide. . . . After Baxter, assisted-suicide continues to carry both criminal and civil liability risks for any doctor, institution, or lay person involved."[1]

Since then, competing articles have appeared in the official Montana State Bar publication disputing whether Baxter legalized assisted suicide.[2]  The editor's headline states: "Court ruling still leaves the issue open to argument." [3]

Correct reporting would be that assisted suicide is not legal in Montana and/or hotly disputed.  Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Senator Greg Hinkle
Thompson Falls, MT 


* * *

[1] Greg Jackson, Esq., and Matt Bowman, Esq., "Analysis of Implications of the Baxter Case on Potential Criminal Liability," Montanans Against Assisted Suicide & For Living with Dignity, April 2010, available at
http://montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Analysis-of-Baxter.pdf                                                
[2] Senator Anders Blewett (pro article), Senator Jim Shockley and Margaret Dore (con article), "The aid-in-dying debate: Can a physician legally help a patient die in Montana?  Court ruling still leaves the issue open to argument," The Montana Lawyer, November 2011, available at http://maasdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/montana-lawyer-pro-con-articles-nov-2011.pdf[3]  Id.

Friday, August 31, 2012

New England Journal of Medicine Article Misleading

Dear Editor:

I am a lawyer in Washington State, one of two states where assisted-suicide is legal.  The other state is Oregon, which has a similar law.  Lisa Lehmann's article, "Redefining Physicians' Role in Assisted Dying," is misleading regarding how these laws work.

First, the Oregon and Washington laws are not limited to people in their "final months" of life.[1,2]  Consider for example, Jeanette Hall, who in 2000 was persuaded by her doctor to be treated rather than use Oregon's law.  She is alive today, twelve years later.[3]

Second, these laws are not "safe" for patients.[4][5]  For example, neither law requires a witness at the death.  Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for the patient's heir, or someone else who will benefit from the patient's death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without his consent.  Even if he struggled, who would know?  

Third, the fact that persons using Oregon's law are "more financially secure" than the general population is consistent with elder financial abuse, not patient safety.  Do not be deceived. 

* * *

[1]  Margaret K. Dore, "Aid in Dying: Not Legal in Idaho; Not About Choice," The Advocate, official publication of the Idaho State Bar, Vol. 52, No. 9, pages 18-20, September 2010, available athttp://www.margaretdore.com/pdf/Not_Legal_in_Idaho.pdf.
[2]  Kenneth Stevens, MD, Letter to the Editor, "Oregon mistake costs lives," The Advocate, official publication of the Idaho State Bar, Vol. 52, No. 9, pages 16-17, September 2010, available athttp://www.margaretdore.com/info/September_Letters.pdf 
[3]  Ms. Hall corresponded with me on July 13, 2012.
[4]  See article at note 1.  See also Margaret Dore, "Death with Dignity": A Recipe for Elder Abuse and Homicide (Albeit Not by Name)," at 11 Marquette Elder's Advisor 387 (Spring 2010), original and updated version available at http://www.choiceillusion.org/p/the-oregon-washington-assisted-suicide.html 
[5]  Blum, B. and Eth, S.  "Forensic Issues: Geriatric Psychiatry." InKaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, Seventh Edition, B. Sadock and V. Sadock editors.  Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, pp. 3150-3158, 2000. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dore v. Morris: Assisted suicide debate deals with abuse, compassion


http://www.kamloopsnews.ca/article/20120419/KAMLOOPS0101/120419759/-1/kamloops01/assisted-suicide-debate-deals-with-abuse-compassion

April 19, 2012

Lawyer cautions against legislating through courts

By Mike Youds, Daily News Staff Reporter
 
Margaret Dore (L) and Wanda Morris (R)

A right to medically assisted suicide may sound compassionate and just, but beware the details when it comes to the act itself, a U.S. lawyer warned Wednesday in a debate at TRU.

Margaret Dore shared some of her experiences with assisted suicide in Washington State, where the practice became legal through a ballot measure four years ago.


 "A lot of people think this is a great idea until they start thinking and reading about how you do it," she told an audience of about 30 people in the Irving K. Barber Centre.

In effect, laws in Washington and Oregon empower people who may choose to abuse the responsibility, Dore said.

"Your heir can be there to help you sign up. Once the legal dose leaves the pharmacy, there is no oversight whatsoever."

Wanda Morris, head of the Canadian charity Dying With Dignity, advocated for the right to choose to end life humanely.

"These are individuals who want to live, but they are individuals facing a horrific death," she said. "The fundamental difference is choice. Choice is important in Canada. Why is it, at the time of life when we're facing our toughest decision we could ever make, that choice is taken away?"

The issue has long been debated in Canada, where two years ago Parliament easily defeated a bill that would have permitted assisted suicide and euthanasia. Recently the subject has made headlines again with two court high-profile court cases in B.C. and Quebec.

"Autonomy is such a critical value, it is a cornerstone of modern medicine," Morris continued. "Nothing can be done without consent. And yet here, at the end of life, I'm not given that choice."

Dore said she agrees that people should have the right to choose how they die, but the U.S. laws don't give that. Four days after the Washington State law passed, the adult son of a care facility resident showed up asking how "to get them pills," she said.

"Who's choice?," she asked rhetorically. An adult child can administer the lethal dose with no one else to tell whether it was a matter of consent. "There is no oversight over administration."

Morris insisted that the law her organization has long pushed for would only apply to individuals with six months or less to live. Dore countered that such a restriction does not apply in the U.S. and pointed to a case where an Oregon woman, who was talked out of suicide by her doctor, remains thankful she has survived another 12 years.

There was a $5.4-million lobby for assisted suicide in Washington, a machine that was up against a volunteer group, she said.

"In Canada and the U.S., there is a very significant funder in this debate and it is the Catholic church," Morris said.

Opponents of assisted suicide argue from dogmatic positions and cannot be satisfied, she said.

"Excuse me, but I never said anything about Catholic dogma," Dore replied.

She warned that Canada, having rejected the idea in Parliament, is facing the possibility of legislating it through the courts with the Carter and Leblanc court cases.

"We have a blank slate and we can write in whatever controls we want to protect the weak and the vulnerable," Morris said.

New York Times: Assisted Suicide: A Recipe for Elder Abuse


April 10, 2012 

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/04/10/why-do-americans-balk-at-euthanasia-laws/assisted-suicide-laws-are-a-recipe-for-elder-abuse


Margaret DoreMargaret Dore, a lawyer in Washington State where assisted suicide is legal, is the president of Choice is an Illusion, a nonprofit organization opposed to assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide means that one person provides the means or information for another person to commit suicide. In Oregon and Washington, assisted-suicide laws were passed by ballot measures. No such law has made it through the scrutiny of a legislature despite more than 100 attempts.

The Oregon and Washington acts apply to "terminal" patients, defined as patients predicted to have no more than six months to live. Doctor prognoses, however, can be wrong. Moreover, treatment can lead to recovery. My friend Jeanette Hall was adamant that she would "do" Oregon's act. She had been diagnosed with cancer and was given six months to a year to live. Her doctor convinced her to be treated. That was nearly 12 years ago.

Proponents tout assisted suicide as providing "choice" over the timing of one's death. But choice under the Oregon and Washington acts cannot be assured. For example, neither act requires witnesses at the death. Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for an heir, or someone else who will benefit from the patient's death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without his consent. Even if he struggled, who would know?

Assisted suicide is a concept contrary to public safety and a recipe for elder abuse.  Americans are right to be skeptical of these laws.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Massachusetts Assisted-Suicide Initiative Fact Check: The Baloney Meter is Running High


Margaret Dore
March 1, 2012
1.  Legalization will Empower the Government

Proponents claim that legalizing assisted suicide will keep the government out of people's lives.  The opposite is true.

Fact check:  In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, legalization has allowed the Oregon Health Plan, a government entity, to steer people to suicide.  The most well known cases involve Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup.  Each wanted treatment.  The Plan denied coverage and steered them to suicide by offering to cover the cost of their suicides instead.  See  See Susan Donaldson James, "Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon," ABC News, August 6, 2008; and "Letter noting assisted suicide raises questions," KATU TV, July 30, 2008.


2.  The Initiative Allows Someone Else to Administer the Lethal Dose

Proponents claim that only the patient may administer the lethal dose.  This is not true.

Fact check:  The initiative, H.3884, states that patients "may" self-administer the lethal dose. There is no language stating that administration “must” be by self-administration.  "Self-administer" is also a specially defined term that allows someone else to administer the lethal dose to the patient.  See here.

3.  An Heir is Allowed to Witness the Lethal Dose Request

Proponents claim that the lethal dose request form must be "independently witnessed" by two people.  This is not true. 

Fact check:  The initiative, Sections 3 and 21, provides that one of two witnesses on the lethal dose request form cannot be a patient’s heir or other person who will benefit financially from the patient's death; the other witness can be an heir or other person who will benefit financially from the death.


4.  Substantial Compliance

Proponents claim that the initiative has "strict safeguards" to protect patients.  The initiative, however, only requires "substantial compliance" with its provisions.  Section 18(1)(a) states:  "A person who substantially complies in good faith with provisions of this chapter shall be deemed to be in compliance with this chapter."

5.  Assisted Suicide is a Recipe for Elder Abuse

Proponents claim that the initiative is safe, which is not true.

Fact check:  The initiative does not require witnesses at the death.  Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for an heir, or someone else who will benefit financially from the death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without the patient's consent.  Even if he struggled, who would know?


6.  Patients are not Necessarily Dying

Proponents imply that the initiative only applies to people in their "final days." This is untrue.

Fact check:  See Nina Shapiro, "Terminal Uncertainty — Washington's new 'Death with Dignity' law allows doctors to help people commit suicide — once they've determined that the patient has only six months to live. But what if they're wrong?," Seattle Weekly, January 14, 2009; and Jeanette Hall, "She pushed for legal right to die, and - thankfully - was rebuffed," Boston Globe, October 4, 2011.

7.  Assisted Suicide is a Wedge Issue
 
Proponents deny that assisted suicide is a "wedge issue" to legalize direct euthanasia of non-terminal people.

Fact check:  In Washington state, where assisted suicide has been legal since 2009, there has been a proposal to expand Washington's law to direct euthanasia for non-terminal people.  See Brian Faller, "Perhaps it's time to expand Washington's Death with Dignity Act," The Olympian, November 16, 2011.


8.  Legal Assisted Suicide Threatens People with Disabilities

Proponents claim that people with disabilities are not at risk from legalization of assisted suicide, which is untrue.

Fact check:  Disability rights groups such as Not Dead Yet oppose assisted suicide as a threat to their lives.  In Oregon and Washington, official government forms for assisted suicide acts in those states promote disability as a reason to commit suicide.[1]  People with disabilities are thereby devalued.  In 2009, there was a proposed assisted suicide bill in New Hampshire that squarely applied to people with disabilities.[2]  If the initiative were to be passed now, people with disabilities see themselves as potentially next in line under a future expansion of that law.  As noted above, there has already been a proposal in Washington state to expand its law to direct euthanasia for non-terminal people.
 

* * * 


[1]  See e.g. "Oregon Death with Dignity Act Attending Physician Follow-up Form," question 15, providing seven suggested answers as to why there was a lethal dose request.  Some of the answers are written in terms of disability being an acceptable reason to kill yourself.  These answers include:  "[A] concern about . . . the loss of control of bodily functions."
[2]  Stephen Drake and Not Dead Yet, "New Hampshire Poised to Redefine "Terminally Ill" - to PWDs and others for Assisted Suicide Eligibility," January 30, 2009 (regarding New Hampshire's 2009 assisted suicide bill, HB 304, which applied to people with disabilities, people with HIV/AIDS and other non-dying people).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Better Response Would be to Repeal Washington's Act as a Fraud on the Voters

On November 16, 2011, an article appeared in a Washington State newspaper arguing for expansion of Washington's physician-assisted suicide act to direct euthanasia and to persons without a terminal disease.[1]  The author, Brian Faller, candidly admitted:  "To improve the chances of passage, the Death with Dignity Act was written to apply only to the choices of the terminally ill who are competent at the time of their death."[2]  Now, he shows the other side's true colors.

In any case, this is my response:

Dear Editor:

I am an attorney who has written multiple articles about our physician-assisted suicide act. I am also President of Choice is an Illusion, a non-profit corporation opposed to assisted-suicide. I disagree with Brian Faller that our physician-assisted act should be expanded to include direct euthanasia. A better course would be to repeal that act as a fraud on the voters.

Our assisted-suicide act was enacted as Initiative 1000 in 2008 and went into effect in 2009. During the election, proponents claimed that its passage would assure individuals control over their deaths. The act is instead a recipe for elder abuse. Key provisions include that a patient’s heir, who will benefit financially from his death, is allowed to actively assist him to sign up for the lethal dose. Specifically, an heir is allowed to be one of two witnesses on the lethal dose request form. In the context of a will, the same situation would create a presumption "duress, menace, fraud, or undue influence." (RCW 11.12.160(2)).

There are also no witnesses required at the death. Without disinterested witnesses, the opportunity is created for someone else, including an heir, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without his consent. Even if he struggled, who would know?

The idea that our act promotes patient control or individual liberty is untrue. Our act instead puts older people and others in the cross-hairs of abuse. For more information, please see www.choiceillusion.org and click on the page for Washington State.

* * *
[1]  Brian Faller, "Perhaps it's time to expand Washington's Death with Dignity Act, The Olympian, November 16, 2011, available at http://www.theolympian.com/2011/11/16/1878667/perhaps-its-time-to-expand-washingtons.html
[2]  Id.