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Assisted suicide laws cited in 95 deaths in Washington, Oregon

Ninety-five terminally ill patients died in 2009 after taking lethal doses of medications prescribed by their physicians under death-with-dignity laws in Washington and Oregon, according to health department reports released in March. Thirty-six of those deaths occurred in Washington in the 10 months after the state's physician-assisted suicide law took effect March 5, 2009, said a report from the state health department. Nearly 60% of Washington voters approved a 2008 ballot measure that made physician-assisted suicide legal. That state's law, like Oregon's, makes doctor-aided dying available to patients who have been judged terminally ill by two doctors. Patients must make an oral request and a witnessed written request. Another oral request must be made 15 days later. The characteristics of the Washingtonians who used the death-with-dignity law were similar to their counterparts in Oregon, said Linda Ganzini, MD, MPH, who has extensively researched Oregon's experience with physician-assisted suicide, in describing statistics from the report ( "The people who chose assisted-death in Washington are overwhelmingly white, they are similarly highly educated. ... Most had cancer, and the reasons for making the choice are very similar -- fears of losing autonomy, the ability to engage in enjoyable activities and fears about the loss of dignity," said Dr. Ganzini, professor of psychiatry and medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. "It's almost identical to Oregon." In 2009, 59 Oregonians died after taking lethal prescriptions, compared with a state record of 60 physician-assisted suicides in 2008, according to the Oregon Dept. of Human Services' report ( Washington's population is nearly twice that of Oregon, where the assisted-suicide law took effect in 1998. AMA policy "strongly opposes any bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide" because the practice is "fundamentally inconsistent with the physician's role as healer." The Washington State Medical Assn. opposes the physician-assisted suicide law but is not trying to get it repealed. The Oregon Medical Assn. is neutral on the matter of physician-assisted suicide per se, but the organization supported a 1997 ballot initiative to repeal the state law and reaffirmed that position in 2005. The full and original article can be found here:
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