2023 in Oregon: 137 hours to die

The US state of Oregon has published its annual data for assisted suicides in 2023. The data shows a marked increase on 2022’s figures and a worrying number of serious complications after patients ingested the lethal drugs.

The number of assisted suicides increased from 304 in 2022 to a record 367 in 2023 (a 20.7% increase). The number of people prescribed with lethal drugs also increased from 433 in 2022 to 560 in 2023 (a 29.3% increase).

Furthermore, 2023 saw a reported complication rate of almost 1 in 10 (9.8%). We know at least 8 people suffered from regurgitation, 1 suffered a seizure and 1 more experienced a complication recorded only as ‘other’. A separate study found an average complication rate of 11% between 2010-2022, with a peak of 14.8% in 2015.

It is possible the comlication rate of 2023 is in fact an underestminate. Data collection is notoriously poor in Oregon, with many post-death forms simply being left blank by reporting physicians. In recent years the majority of forms have been left blank in certain areas, especially when recording whether or not patients suffered any complications resulting from the ingestion of lethal drugs. In 2023, over 72% of patients’ forms were left partially blank. There is therefore no data on complications for 265 of the 367 individuals and they are listed as ‘unknown’ in the report.

Additionally, there is no need for a physician to be present when the drugs are taken.

When asked why they applied for assisted suicide, 43.3% of people said it was because they felt like a burden on family, friends and caregivers. Since 2017, a majority of people applying for assisted suicide in Oregon have said they did so because they felt like a burden on their families, with an average of 52.1% each year.

In 2023, 30 people (8.2%) applied for assisted suicide because continued medical treatment was too expensive.

Oregon has also tragically set a new record for the longest assisted suicide in the state. The previous record was 104 hours between ingestion of lethal drugs and death, but as of 2023 it now stands at 137 hours. As the state continues to experiment with different, untested cocktails of lethal drugs, the median time to die has increased from 30 minutes between 1998-2021 to 53 minutes in 2023. In 2022, the median was 51 minutes.

Of the 367 people who had an assisted suicide in 2023, only 3 people (0.8%) were referred for psychiatric evaluation beforehand. In other words, only 3 people the whole year were queried for having sound mind to make the decision to end their life.