Thursday, March 15, 2012

Assisted suicide in the U.S.

Assisted suicide is a prototypically repugnant transaction, in the sense that there are people who want to engage in it, and others who object. Here's an article from yesterday's WSJ, about a doctor who benefited from his own efforts to legalize assisted suicide in Oregon: Right-to-Die Advocate Ends His Life

"Peter Goodwin, a family physician who wrote and campaigned for Oregon's right-to-die law in the 1990s, died Sunday after taking a cocktail of lethal drugs prescribed by his doctor, as allowed under the legislation he championed.

"Dr. Goodwin, 83 years old, had been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder similar to Parkinson's disease and had been given less than six months to live.

"The Oregon law was the first in the nation to authorize patients to end their lives with the assistance of physicians. It doesn't allow for doctors to administer euthanasia by injection, though it authorizes them to prescribe lethal drugs that the patient can choose to take.

 "The law has withstood legal challenges including a case brought by the Bush administration. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oregon, saying that the federal government couldn't forbid doctors from prescribing drugs to help a patient die.
"Oregon voters approved the Death With Dignity Act at the polls in 1994, and voted down legislation that would have repealed it in 1997. A total of 597 people have died under its provisions, including 71 in 2011, according to Oregon state statistics.
"The act has had an impact beyond Oregon, serving as a model for a Washington State law that took effect in 2009. Massachusetts is scheduled to vote on a similar law in November, while Montana allows physician-assisted suicide as a result of a court case.

"John Kelly, director of Second Thoughts, a Massachusetts-based organization of disability activists who oppose the assisted-suicide ballot petition, said assisted suicide brings up big problems. "Dr. Goodwin "created a monster," Mr. Kelly said. "Assisted suicide is a deadly mix with the profit-driven health-care system. There are so many problems with assisted suicide. These bills sound good in some kind of a perfect-knowledge fantasy universe, but when we get down to real life they become a disaster."
"The Death With Dignity Act had a wide effect on end-of-life decisions, said Barbara Coombs Lee, executive director of Compassion & Choices, a national right-to-die organization that is a successor to the Hemlock Society. "Palliative care and hospice care got a big boost in Oregon," Ms. Lee said. "It levels the playing field between patients and physicians who are invested in giving more treatment."

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