Bias Makes Travesty of Assisted-Suicide Report
Published in The Oregonian 02/07/02
Gregory Hamilton, M.D.
On Wednesday, the Oregon Health Division reported 21 assisted suicides
in 2001. Once again, the annual report gathered information only
from those needing to justify recent participation in a suicide --
the assisted-suicide doctors themselves. There was no independent
verification of the adequacy of pain care, palliative care or psychiatric
treatment in any of the cases.
The Health Division's reporting in this area is a travesty. It discredits
what was once a fine public health organization. National medical
experts have observed that those responsible for monitoring the Oregon
assisted-suicide law have become its advocates and have biased their
In a new book, scheduled to be released in March by Johns Hopkins
Press, Drs. Kathleen Foley of Project on Death in America and Herbert
Hendin of New York University have concluded, "Even more troublesome
has been the restrictive manner in which the Oregon Health Division,
charged with monitoring the law, has interpreted its mandate." This
restrictive interpretation has resulted in biased data collection,
false assurances and the failure to disclose known cases of patients
with depression and patients under pressure from their families being
given assisted suicides.
Neither has the Health Division revealed the admitted involvement
of HMOs in assisted suicides.
What little useful information one can glean from the report all
points to one conclusion: Assisted suicide isn't necessary. Among
Oregonians who died last year, 99.9 percent did so without assisted
suicide. And the other 0.1 percent could have, too, given the availability
of pain treatment and palliative care.
The predominate concerns that led to the suicides were psychological
fears and social concerns. Only one assisted-suicide victim this
year even mentioned pain care as a possible concern. There is no
evidence that any of the victims was suffering from actual substantial
pain. That's because doctors can treat pain. No one in America needs
to die in unrelieved pain.
The psychological and social fears of the assisted suicide victims
all point to low self-esteem and anxiety often associated with depression.
Medical studies demonstrate that most patients even inquiring about
assisted suicide suffer from depression, often unrecognized by the
doctor. Yet only three of the Oregon assisted-suicide victims were
even referred for a psychiatric opinion. Such neglect of the mental
health concerns of suicidal patients would be considered malpractice
in any other state.
Dr. Gregory Hamilton, a Portland psychiatrist, is a spokesman for
Physicians for Compassionate Care.