Bioethics News

Oregon releases its 2015 ‘death with dignity’ stats

Oregon is the model for assisted suicide legislation throughout the United States, so its annual “Death with Dignity” report for 2015 deserves close scrutiny.

Since the law was passed in 1997, a total of 1,545 people have had prescriptions written under the DWDA, and 991 patients have died from ingesting the medications.

The figures are not as straightforward as they might seem. During 2015, 218 people received prescriptions for lethal medications, but only 132 people died. Why the difference? Many people keep the medication on hand and wait until they are ready to use it – which could be in the next calendar year. Some die before using it; some disappear from the official statistics. So, of the 218, 125 used the medication and died; 50 died before they used it; 5 died and Oregon does not know whether or not they used it; and for 38 people (17%), there is no information about whether they used it or whether they are alive or dead.  

Oregon is not far off the mean, but its population is older, whiter, more likely to live alone, and better educated than the US average. Those who died were even whiter and even better-educated than the Oregon average.

Although uncontrolled pain is often seen as sufficient justification for legalised assisted suicide, relatively few people even mentioned it. The three main reasons were “less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable” (96%); “losing autonomy” (92%); and “loss of dignity” (75%).

“Inadequate pain control or concern about it” was mentioned by 28.7% but the statistics do not indicate how many actually had actually experienced unrelieved pain.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.