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Oregon - the upward trend continues

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The latest official report on the operation of Oregon's physician-assisted suicide (PAS) law reveals that the incidence of PAS has continued to rise. The number of such suicide deaths annually is now nearly five times the number when the law came into force 15 years ago

The most recent data for deaths under Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law have been published by the Oregon Public Health Division (OPHD).

The report records 77 deaths in 2012 as a result of physician-assisted suicide (PAS).  It records, in addition, one death where a patient swallowed prescribed lethal drugs, regained consciousness two days later "but remained minimally responsive and died six days following ingestion". The OPHD does not classify this as a death under Oregon's PAS law. The official figure of 77 PAS deaths in 2012 represents an 8.5 per cent increase on the number recorded in 2011.

The report records that of those who died by PAS "most (67.5%) were aged 65 years or older" and that two of them (approximately 1 in 40 of those who took their own lives by PAS) had been referred for psychiatric evaluation.

The median length of the relationship with the prescribing doctor is recorded as 19 weeks within a range of 0 to 1,640 weeks. The median length of time between application for PAS and death by this means is given as 47 days within a range of 16 to 388 days.

As in earlier reports, there were more prescriptions for lethal drugs written than there were prescribing physicians. At least one doctor wrote as many as ten such prescriptions for patients.

The upward trend in deaths from PAS is continuing. The number of deaths from PAS in Oregon in 2012 was nearly five times the number in 1998, the first complete year of the law's operation. The 2012 figure represents a death rate which would produce 1,138 such suicide deaths in England and Wales if a similar law were to exist here. The 'doctor shopping' observed in earlier years also appears to be continuing together with a preponderance of PAS deaths among the elderly.

Click here to see the 2012 annual report.

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