PRESS RELEASE - May 6, 2004
FAILED SAFEGUARDS: DEPRESSED PATIENT GIVEN ASSISTED-SUICIDE DRUGS
The shocking case of Michael Freeland, a 63-year-old cancer patient
with depression who was given assisted suicide drugs, will be revealed
today at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) meeting in New
York City. This report based on medical records and interviews proves
there are no effective safeguards to protect mentally ill patients
from assisted suicide in Oregon.
- Suicide haunted Michael Freeland since his early 20's when his
mother shot herself.
- Shortly after his mother's suicide, Freeland made a suicide attempt
- In March 2000, his doctor diagnosed him, at age 62, with non-small-cell
- April 20, 2000, Freeland called Physicians for Compassionate
Care (PCC), tearfully requesting assisted suicide; PCC volunteer
Cathy Hamilton encouraged him to keep living, offered to find doctors
to treat his depression, pain or other concerns, and began making
regular contact with him.
- His primary care doctor prescribed Zoloft for depression.
- In early 2001, Freeland said Dr. Peter Reagan gave him a lethal
prescription, although Freeland was not actually "terminally ill"-he
did not die for another year and a half.
- After Freeland was hospitalized at age 63 for depression with
suicidal and homicidal thoughts, the psychiatric discharge report,
January 30, 2002, said, "The guns are now out of the house, which
resolves the major safety issue." Yet, the same report claimed, "He
keeps this [the overdose] safely at home."
- The next day, the same Providence psychiatrist pronounced Freeland
- A Multnomah Co. judge found Freeland incompetent to make his
- Two weeks before his death, Doctor and Mrs. Hamilton found Freeland
alone, in pain, dehydrated, suffering from painful constipation,
confused, and afraid to take his pain medication. He said he was
about to take the overdose because of pain. He recently had mentioned
when he was in pain that Dr. Reagan agreed to sit with him while
he took the overdose. With the Hamilton's encouragement, he took
the pain medication instead of the overdose-to his great relief.
- Cathy Hamilton insisted he have 24-hour attendant care and receive
an infusion pump for better pain care.
- December 5, 2002, Mr. Freeland died comfortably, just having
reconciled with his daughter and without taking the lethal drugs.
Dr. Hamilton, Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association
and a Portland psychiatrist, and Mrs. Hamilton, a volunteer for PCC,
will disclose to the nation's psychiatrists how the Freeland case
demonstrates that allowing assisted suicide contributes "to substandard
medical care and endangers seriously ill patients, particularly those
with a history of pre-existing mental illness." Although Freeland
did not take the overdose, his case demonstrates that there are no
effective safeguards against the mentally ill being given assisted-suicide
For comment contact Dr. Hamilton (503-816-2224). For a copy of the
paper, "Competing Paradigms of Responding to Assisted-Suicide Requests
in Oregon," contact Dr. Kenneth Stevens, Professor and Chairman of
Radiation Oncology, OHSU (503-481-8410, page 503-599-4439, or firstname.lastname@example.org)
until 2 pm EDT, then it will be posted at www.pccef.org.
Dr. Herbert Hendin (212-348-4035 or email@example.com),
APA discussant of the paper from New York Medical College, will also
be available for comment.