The Data Doesn’t Lie, But PAS Supporters Will

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Over and over again, legislators hear arguments from PAS supporters that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide has not led to any documented cases of abuse. They further argue that PAS should be legalized because the legislation is full of safeguards, and because not that many people take advantage of the law anyway. However, the official state data from Oregon, where PAS has been legal since 1997, shows a different story. Thanks to our friends at Not Dead Yet for opening our eyes to these critical issues.

In the most recent report from the Oregon Public Health Division on the state’s Death with Dignity Act (released February 2016) they summarize the use of physician-assisted suicide in 2015. A close reading of this report shows that “death with dignity” supporters are not telling the whole truth about the lack of abuse.

1. The state has no idea what happened to 20% of patients who received the lethal drugs under the PAS law

Out of the 218 people who requested and received a lethal prescription in 2015, Oregon has no records of whether or not 43 people ingested the drugs, died by other means, or are still alive. If we assume that half of that group took the lethal prescription (less than the 57% of the 218 who Oregon knows took the assisted suicide drugs in 2015 and died) that is 21 people whom we have no record of their death from physician-assisted suicide. How can we say that there are no records of abuse when in 20% of cases there are not any records at all?

2. 40% more people requested PAS in 2015 than in 2014

The number of people requesting PAS, and committing suicide, rose dramatically in 2015. As we’ve seen in other states, this is largely because Compassion & Choices, the same group who advocates so aggressively to legalize PAS, also spends significant resources to “educate” people about PAS laws in an effort to convince people to die via assisted suicide. It’s clear that the number of people using assisted suicide to die is rising quickly and with the explicit aid of PAS’ leading supporter.

3. No data exists on circumstances of death if a health care provider was not present

As the Oregon report states, they have no information on the large majority of PAS deaths because state reporting does not require it if a health care provider was not present at the time of death. How can we possibly know if there was any abuse if we don’t know the circumstances of the death for more than 77% of cases in 2015 where a health care provider was not present?

“A procedure revision was made in 2010 to standardize reporting on the follow‐up questionnaire. The new procedure accepts information about the time of death and circumstances surrounding death only when the physician or another health care provider was present at the time of death. For 27 patients, either the prescribing physician or another healthcare provider was present at the time of death.”

To summarize: there are massive holes in the required reporting of the PAS law in Oregon. And the slim data they do have presents a very troubling picture. To say that there are no documented cases of abuse is not only misleading, it purposely obscures the truth: no one knows if there was abuse and nothing written into the law can stop that now or in the future.

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