Oregon assisted suicide policy slammed after rise in deaths

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New data released by the US state of Oregon shows a rise in the number of people ending their lives by assisted suicide. 

Assisted suicide has been legal in the state since 1997. 

A report released by the Oregon Health Authority this month shows that 278 people died by assisted suicide in 2022, up from 238 the previous year. 

A total of 431 people received prescriptions for the doctor-assisted suicide programme.

Most of the suicides were people aged 65 years or over (85%) and white (96%). The most common diagnosis was cancer (64%), followed by heart disease (12%) and neurological disease (10%).

The most common reasons given for choosing assisted suicide were the increasing inability to participate in life activities (89%), loss of autonomy (86%), and loss of dignity (62%).

Nearly half (46%) feared being a "burden" on family and friends or caregivers. Six per cent were concerned about the "financial implications of treatment". 

Less than a third (31%) cited "inadequate pain control, or concern about it". 

Responding to the data, Oregon Right to Life, which is campaigning against the law, said that only three patients were referred for psychiatric evaluation in 2022, and that in over half of deaths, there was no health care provider present. 

It also claims that in some cases, doctors prescribed assisted suicide after knowing the patient for only a few days.

"The physicians providing these deadly prescriptions hardly know their patients and are often abandoning them in the last moments of their lives," said Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life.

"That's not care. That's churning people through the 'Death with Dignity' machine."

Michael Robinson, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said: "These sobering statistics reveal how many vulnerable people have been failed in Oregon by an irresponsible and dangerous policy.

"Death leads to more death, as we have seen in Canada, where over 10,000 people 'chose' assisted suicide in one year.

"But as Oregon shows, many such individuals were made to feel they were a burden. Some could not even afford their medical treatment. Their consequent decision to choose death was not a choice at all but a desperate conclusion forced on them by governments, society and even, it has been suggested, some doctors.

"Increasingly across the globe, governments are turning to assisted suicide as a solution to the problem of old age, disability, mental illness and even poverty. The devastating result of this trend is becoming more obvious every day.

"We must join the thousands of caregivers and good doctors around the world in saying no to assisted suicide in the UK, which is at this present time threatened by the same fatal policy that has forced so many vulnerable people into an early grave." 

SPUC is asking people to sign its petition urging the UK not to legalise assisted suicide.