In October of 1997, Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity act which allows terminally-ill residents to end their life by the voluntary taking of lethal medications prescribed by a licensed doctor. This act does require the Oregon Health Authority to collect patient information regarding the patients and physicians who participate in the act, and statistics are published each year. By reviewing the statistics, Physicians prescribe these medications for patients who face a life threatening illness such as cancer that is treated through harmful/painful means to the body like radiation and surgery.
One might question, how exactly do doctors determine that a patient is in well enough mind to make the decision between: life or death? Has this patient truly understood the stages of treatment, and the possible outcomes of that treatment? Has the patient’s family been spoken to, and has the patient spoken to the family regarding her choice? Has the patient truly weighed all options regarding treatment options? Should her family accept those choices without fight, because it is her choice? One issue with this, is what happens when the family finds that their daughter, son, mom, dad, aunt etc. has passed away following ingesting these lethal prescriptions due to the Death with Dignity Act? There is a lot of paperwork and steps a patient must go through in order for a doctor to prescribe these medications. A patient according to the Oregon Health Authority must first obtain two consulting doctors compliance/approval forms that the patient understands their condition, treatment options and the consequences of these lethal prescriptions, Psychiatric evaluation to ensure that the patient is in the right state of mind, and there is a consent form that ensures the patient understands their diagnosis, prognosis of said diagnosis, options of treatment, and that said patient understands that death may occur three hours after ingestion of lethal drugs or can happen longer than that, this form also requires two witness signatures- blood, and one non related person who has no mention in patients will (If that patient may have one), there is also an attending physicians form that documents when the patient requested the lethal medications (which must be done twice, and the third time a prescription must be written in 48 hours) this physician must also note that he has determined the patient is terminally ill, making her own choice (without being forced by someone else), is in fact an Oregon resident. The patient is also consulted about not taking these medications in public places and to have someone there when these medications are ingested. After the patient has died, the doctor has TEN calendar days to fill out a form determining if patients death was in fact caused by the lethal medications, underlying causes, or in fact by terminal illness itself. This attending physicians follow up form in depth to the point that it asks for the specific amount of time it took for patient to pass.
Everyone has heard the story about Brittany Maynard, and I’m sure most people thought “That’s an extremely cowardly thing to do” or something of that nature. I thought however, about how the physicians determine that a patient is in the right state of mind to make that decision when given a terminal diagnosis like brain cancer. Brittany Maynard began to experience really bad headaches and decided to see a doctor, after a CT scan it was found that she had Stage 4 Glioblastoma, a malignant form of brain cancer, and underwent a craniotomy to try to remove the tumor. Three months later, it was found on another scan that the tumor g actually grown in size, and this was when Brittany was told she had six months to live, at best.
Since this occurrence, four other states have legalized the Death with Dignity act: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. Whereas California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey, have campaigns in place to assist in death with dignity cases all started by Compassion & Choices.
So take a moment to ask yourself, is it really right to have someone suffer… just because Doctor assisted suicide is such taboo?
Below I’m including the links to the forms used in Oregon as well as where I got the information from.