Civil Liberties

Soundbite: Death Watch


In 1990, Oregon resident and Alzheimer's disease sufferer Janet Adkins flew to Michigan and became the first person Dr. Jack Kevorkian publicly assisted in committing suicide. In the wake of her death, her husband, Ron Adkins, became a high-profile spokesman for doctor-assisted suicide and helped pass Oregon's historic 1994 ballot initiative on the matter, the Death with Dignity Act.

Adkins, a business consultant now living in Seattle and an associate with Oregon's Cascade Policy Institute, is speaking out again–this time to protest the inclusion of doctor-assisted suicide on the list of health services provided by the Oregon Health Plan, the state's health care service for the poor and the nation's first system to openly ration and prioritize treatment. REASON Senior Editor Nick Gillespie spoke with Adkins via telephone in late March.

Q: Why do you support doctor-assisted suicide?

A: We're talking about what can be called "rational" suicide; it's not an emotional decision reached during depression or a crisis, but a decision reached after long thought and reflection. Suicide is a right. Of all things, we have the right to make a choice about our own bodies and our own lives. To have the assistance of a doctor, to know that the medication will be adequate, is very important–you want to know that it won't be a botched job, a half job.

Q: So why not include doctor-assisted suicide in the Oregon Health Plan?

A: Because of the nature of the issue. I don't think the Oregon Health Plan should exist in the first place, but beyond that, many people believe suicide is morally wrong. To force them to pay for somebody's suicide is wrong too. If I were opposed to this and my money was being used for it, I would be very upset. Putting the matter in the public sector also gives the opposition carte blanche to attack the whole notion of assisted suicide. Opponents can point to a slippery-slope argument: The right to die turns into a taxpayer duty to help someone die.

Q: What about people who can't afford an assisted suicide?

A: The amount of money for the proper chemicals is so small as to not be worth discussing. Kevorkian doesn't charge for his services; most interested doctors would volunteer their time. Keep it in the private sector. There are plenty of organizations out there, like the Hemlock Society and Oregon's Compassion in Dying, that are ready, willing, and able to help out.