Only 28% of Oregon Assisted Suicide Dead Cite Pain Management as Factor in Decision; 92% Cite Loss of Autonomy

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There is much debate about the proposed legislation in New York to allow physician assisted suicide.  While the issue is being called “a human right,” or a “moral issue,”  it is important to take a look at the actual persons who have made this choice and what their reasons have been.   A required annual report for 2015 on the law enacted in the state Oregon in 1997 provides some interesting data.

Clearly, one has to sympathize with those who faced the end of their lives and terminal illness.  Unless you have been in that situation, I am sure none of us knows what it is like.  What the data show though is that the decisions made were not entirely based on pain.  Only 28% cited inadequate pain management as a factor in their decision to end their lives with medication.  75% cited a  loss of dignity, 92% cited a loss of autonomy and 96% said the loss of the ability to have an enjoyable life were factors.  48% said they felt a burden on family and caregivers.  Doctors were present for only 11% of these deaths reported in 2015.

Also, the statistics reveal that those choosing to end their lives this way were disproportionately white and well educated.  62% were Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries and 99% had some form of health insurance.  92% were enrolled in hospice.  Most had terminal cancer.  Here is a summary from the actual report.

Patient Characteristics

Of the 132 DWDA deaths during 2015, most patients (78.0%) were aged 65 years or older. The median age at death was 73 years. As in previous years, decedents were commonly white (93.1%) and well‐ educated (43.1% had a least a baccalaureate degree).

While most patients had cancer, the percent of patients with cancer in 2015 was slightly lower than in previous years (72.0% and 77.9%, respectively). The percent of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was also lower (6.1% in 2015, compared to 8.3% in previous years). Heart disease increased from 2.0% in prior years to 6.8% in 2015.

Most (90.1%) patients died at home, and most (92.2%) were enrolled in hospice care. Excluding unknown cases, most (99.2%) had some form of health care insurance, although the percent of patients who had private insurance (36.7%) was lower in 2015 than in previous years (60.2%). The number of patients who had only Medicare or Medicaid insurance was higher than in previous years (62.5% compared to 38.3%).

Similar to previous years, the three most frequently mentioned end‐of‐life concerns were: decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (96.2%), loss of autonomy (92.4%), and loss of dignity (75.4%).

Here is a link to the full report

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I have been a senior advocate for most of my career. I was Executive Director of the New York StateWide Senior Action Council and the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans. In 2007-2010 I was the Director of the New York State Office for the Aging

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