Physician assisted suicides in Oregon rise sharply.

A PAS law along the lines of Oregon’s ‘Death with Dignity Act’ could be expected to result in nearly 2,500 deaths annually in England and Wales

On 25 February 2019 the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) published its latest report on legalised physician-assisted suicide (PAS) within the State.  According to the report, there was an increase of 14 per cent over the previous year in the number of prescriptions for lethal drugs issued.  The 249 prescriptions were issued by 103 doctors, at least one of whom wrote no fewer than 35 such prescriptions. 

158 of the 249 recipients of lethal drugs swallowed them: all but one of them died as a result.  One recipient regained consciousness and subsequently died from his/her underlying illness.  This is not recorded as a death under Oregon’s PAS law.  In addition, 11 persons who had received lethal drugs in previous years died from ingesting them in 2018, bringing the total number of recorded deaths to 168.

The report on Year 2017 had recorded that 143 persons had died in that year from ingesting prescribed lethal drugs.  The latest report gives a figure of 158, presumably as some 2017 recipients about whom the OHA  had no information a year ago were subsequently found to have ended their lives in that year. 

This overlap phenomenon is a common feature of every report.  The latest one states that there are 43 persons whose “ingestion status” was unknown at the time the report went to press.  However, if we compare like with like (ie numbers of PAS deaths known at the times when the two reports were issued), we can see that there was an increase of 17 per cent between the two years in the numbers of such deaths.

The proportion of PAS deaths to deaths overall in the State has also risen sharply – from 39.9 per 10,000 deaths to 45.9 per 10,000 deaths.  On this basis, and using the number of recorded deaths in England and Wales in 2018, a PAS law along the lines of Oregon’s ‘Death with Dignity Act’ could be expected to result in 2,486 deaths per annum in England and Wales.

The full report can be accessed here.