Friday, March 04, 2005

Weaknesses in Oregon assisted suicide

The Oregonian newspaper and the news agencies are today reporting the failed physician-assisted suicide of David Pruitt. He took the doctor-prescribed overdose but woke up 62 hours later. He died of his cancer three weeks later.

Here's my view of what wrong with the Oregon law:

The miserable path to death of David Pruitt ("Why Am I Not Dead") shows why the Oregon Death With Dignity Act which permits physician-assisted suicide should be improved and strengthened.

First, at least one of the doctors who wrote the lethal prescription should be obliged to be at the bedside when it is ingested; usually they are nowhere near.

Second -- as in the Netherlands -- when the patient has elected to drink the barbiturate, a doctor should be able to give a lethal injection if the patient has not died after four hours. Barbiturates can be unreliable.

Your article quoted two cases of dying with oral ingestion of barbiturates taking 37 and 48 hours. The only legal, medical, assisted suicide I have ever attended (by a friend who wanted me there) the man was still alive seven
hours later, and his father smothered him.

In a real and compassionate world, if we are going to allow hastened deaths by request of the terminally and hopelessly ill, then let us do it efficiently, with lethal injection overdose and bedside medical oversight.

The Oregon law as it stands allows doctors to duck out of the final supervisory responsibility.

Derek Humphry, journalist & author
President, ERGO. (Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization)
24829 Norris Lane, Junction City, Oregon 97448 USA.
Fax/Ph: +541-998-1873


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