Deliberately Causing Your Own Death by Taking an Overdose of Barbiturates Is Not to Be Confused With Suicide

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Beginning this week, the Oregon Department of Human Services is calling the prescription of lethal drugs to terminally ill patients who want to kill themselves "physician-assisted death." As is clear from some lingering headings on the department's website, the official term used to be physician-assisted suicide. This was always awkward for the state of Oregon, inasmuch as the Death With Dignity Act, the law that allows the physician assistance in question, declares that "actions taken in accordance with [the act] shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law." In a press release that does not seem to be available online, Compassion & Choices, a group that supports physician-assisted, um, death, hails the change in nomenclature as "a major leap forward in clarifying the public's perception and understanding of the distinction between suicide and a terminally ill patient's choice to hasten death."

To me, it seems like a sizable step backward in clarifying the public's perception and understanding of the rather important distinction between suicide and euthanasia. Although Oregon's law is quite clear that patients themselves must initiate the process (and then jump through several hoops before they can obtain their barbiturates), the phrase physician-assisted death leaves muddy the question of whether the assistance was requested and, if so, who requested it. The term thereby provides ammunition to critics of the law who say it is the first step down a slippery slope to physician-ordered homicide. Although I'm uncomfortable with the medicalization of what ought to be a moral choice in the hands of each individual, I think the Death With Dignity Act, on balance, enhances liberty by providing a option patients otherwise would not have. But the euphemisms do not help the cause of giving people more control over their final days.

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  1. Physician-Assisted Death still kinda falls short of the mark. It doesn’t distinguish between Sam Sheppard killing his wife and a doctor helping a pain-wracked terminal cancer patient to pass on while they can still say goodbye to their families.

    Physician-assisted voluntary death might be a better term.

  2. “actions taken in accordance with [the act] shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law.”

    It’s the ‘under the law’ bit here that puzzles me. I’m pretty sure already about mercy killing and homicide, but does Oregon have laws against suicide or assisted suicide? I believe that other areas do (i.e., if you try to kill yourself you can be charged with a crime). Maybe this is a distinction they’re trying to make in legalese.

  3. “does Oregon have laws against suicide or assisted suicide?”

    No, and sort of. It’s not illegal to commit or attempt to commit suicide, and it’s a class B felony to intentionally aid in someone’s suicide, which might get you 5 to 10 years. But I’ve never heard of any convictions for that.

  4. I like slippery slope arguments. I’m a slippery slope argument kinda guy. That being said, thinking Oregon’s euthanasia statute is the first step down a slippery slope toward physician-ordered homicide is the most absurd argument I have ever heard. I wouldn’t worry about giving people like that ammunition. With logic like that, they’ll just end up shooting themselves in the foot.

  5. could the change have something to do with insurance company liabilities under law, with regard to ‘suicide’?

  6. Yeah Cab because initially allowing assisted suicide followed by euthanasia of (admittedly severely malformed) newborn infants is a slope which no modern, first world country would slip.

    Or not. See http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/352/10/959 or google the gronigen protocol

    I’m not sure how I feel about the ability to prescribe lethal med doses to patients who can request them. I sure as hell don’t want to be choosing whose life is worth living for someone else.

  7. Physician-assisted death is painless/
    It brings on many changes/
    And I can take or leave it if I please…

  8. If you cause on purpose your death or that of another person that wishes to die you have committed either your own suicide or the homocide of another person….period.You can call it whatever you will but that doesn’t change the facts of the definition.

  9. The change might also be because of life insurance. Life insurance might not pay for suicide deaths

  10. Sam Sheppard killing his wife

    He didn’t.

  11. Timothy Mcveigh described his death as assisted suicide. I just read an interesting piece on him. Its long, but worth the read. (has little to do with this topic though)

    http://www.geocities.com/gorevidal3000/tim.htm?200615

  12. Maybe they should have called it lethal prescription law. The only assistance the physcian really provides in the suicide is writing the scrip.

  13. Tokyo Joe and George have it right. Most insurance policies will not pay out for “suicide committed while either sane or insane” although some states will not allow that to be enforced after the policy has been in effect for two years.

  14. And i,ll bet the smae ones that support euthinasia and abortioin are the sam ones with SAVE THE WHALES,SAVE THE REDWOODS,SAVE THE RIANFORESTS,SAVE THE SPOTTED OWLS bumperstickers and donate to PETA and then protest by lighting candles when a convicted muderer,child molester,and rapist is exicuted

  15. Yep, redefining the facts for insurance purposes, like same-sex “marriage”. It’s effectively a “deeming” provision.

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