North America

Washington DC moves to adopt assisted suicide bill


The Council of the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital, is on the verge of becoming the fourth state to approve doctor-assisted suicide, joining Oregon, Washington and California.

The Council is expected to submit the measure to Mayor Muriel Bowser for her signature and ultimately to Congress for its review. It will become the most dangerous law yet writes Richard Doerflinger for Mercator.

Proponents say the data show there is no “abuse,” and no slippery slope toward a broader agenda, but the opposite is true, says Doerflinger a former resident of the area.

Richard M. Doerflinger is associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Richard M. Doerflinger is associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

A reporting system is designed to hide abuses, he says. “The Oregon and Washington laws create a closed system, in which all reporting is by the doctor who prescribes a lethal overdose of barbiturates to his patient. No one may question the truthfulness of this account. The same doctor, often working with the suicide advocacy group “Compassion & Choices,” certifies the patient as likely to die in six months, decides whether there should be a psychological evaluation to check for depression, and selects the doctor who will give a second opinion on these matters.

“Not surprisingly, all doctors self-report that they are doing a fine job of following the law, that the patient is competent to request a lethal overdose, and that there is almost never a need for psychological evaluation. This doctor may even sign the death certificate, though generally he is not present at the time of death. Oregon’s law allows the doctor to falsify the certificate, reporting the patient’s underlying illness as the cause of death. Washington’s law requires him to do so.

“This system creates the misleading impression that the doctors are uncannily accurate in predicting that these patients would have died in six months. In fact, some patients taking the drugs had received them in previous years, showing they had not been that close to death when diagnosed. And some who received the drugs but did not take them have lived much longer than six months before dying of natural causes. Because most patients die from the drugs within six months, we can only speculate as to how long they would have lived.”

Despite the closed reporting system, word of abuses are reported in Oregon. In one case a woman a woman was found competent to take her life despite suffering from dementia. In another, a man suffering from ‘suicidal depression’ was given the drugs.

According to Doerflinger, “The annual number of people taking their lives under the Oregon law is now eight times what it was in the law’s first full year of operation. In Washington state, the number has tripled in only seven years. Most patients are aged 65 or over, with no current spouse; a growing majority have no health insurance or only government insurance.