Thursday, March 09, 2006

Death With Dignity: 2005 report

Via the Statesman Journal I see that the 2005 Report on Oregon's Death With Dignity Act (warning: PDF) is available for public review.

Despite dire predictions from opponents of the law at the state and federal level, there doesn't appear to be a large upswing in the use of the law. In fact, statistics reveal that the number of patients accessing and/or using the prescriptions seems to be consistent from year to year, and the numbers are low. For 2005:

* 39 physicians wrote a total of 64 prescriptions for lethal doses of medication.

* 32 of the 2005 prescription recipients died after ingesting the medication.

* Of the 32 recipients who did not ingest the prescribed medication in 2005, 15 died from their illnesses, and 17 were alive on December 31, 2005.

* 6 patients who received prescriptions during 2004 died in 2005 as a result of ingesting the prescribed medication, giving a total of 38 PAS deaths during 2005.

* One 2004 prescription recipient, who ingested the prescribed medication in 2005, became unconscious 25 minutes after ingestion, then regained consciousness 65 hours later. This person did not obtain a subsequent prescription and died 14 days later of the underlying illness (17 days after ingesting the medication).

The report also notes that after an initial increase during the first five years of the law, the numbers of individuals accessing it have remained "relatively stable".

I've never believed that the opposition to this law was about saving dying patients from manipulative family members or dubious insurance companies. Its about wanting control over people's lives and decisions.

There are those who sincerely believe that individuals aren't smart enough or wise enough to exercise control over their own bodies. Whether its to a supreme being or someone perceived as supremely more wise, these folks really don't think society capable of making their own choices. They see us as sheep to be led.

The right to autonomy over our bodies and lives ought to be paramount. As long as we're not infringing on the rights of other's autonomy, no government interference in these decisions should be tolerated.

The annual reports show that in Oregon we are capable and wise in the use of this law. I've been supremely proud of Oregonians for recognizing this and taking a stand against meddlesome institutions that would thwart this tenet.