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Response to letter in The Age about voluntary euthanasia in Oregon

Saturday, 28 May 2016  | Denise Cooper-Clarke

A letter in this morning’s Age claimed that since the introduction of ‘assisted dying (voluntary euthanasia)’ in Oregon, “the published statistics show that the overall suicide rate decreased substantially”. It is difficult to know to which statistics the author is referring. Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act was enacted in late 1997, and allows physician-assisted suicide (not voluntary euthanasia) for the terminally ill. According to the Oregon Public Health report ‘Suicides in Oregon: Trends and Associated Factors’, the rate of suicide among Oregonians has been increasing since 2000, and in 2012, the age-adjusted suicide rate was 17.7 per 100,000, 42 percent higher than the national average. The report states that “Suicide is one of Oregon’s most persistent public health problems. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Oregonians aged 15 to 34 years, and the eighth leading cause of death among all Oregonians in 2012”. And “From 2003 to 2012, the highest suicide rate occurred among males aged 85 years and older (72.4 per 100,000)”. in Oregon 2015 report.pdf

The letter writer’s claim that legalising assisted dying is one of the few measures available to reduce the suicide rate in Australia is thus utterly spurious.

(The number of people dying using the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was 38.6 per 10,000 total deaths in 2015 but has steadily increased since 1998 from 16 per year (of 24 for whom lethal prescriptions were written) to 132 (so far) from 218 prescriptions written in 2015. In 2014 it was 105 deaths from 155 prescriptions. 

Denise Cooper-Clarke



Janice Newham
June 11, 2016, 7:57AM
Denise, do the quoted statistics showing the increase rate in suicide deaths in recent years include the assisted suicides? As the number of suicides among people over the age of 85 have increased, one might assume these were assisted suicides. Therefore you'd expect that the overall suicide rate would increase, but the desperate suicides like hangings and overdoses of medication would decrease. Is this correct?
Denise Cooper-Clarke
June 15, 2016, 4:23PM
Hi Janice, the quoted statistics on suicide do not include those who die under the death with Dignity Act (physician-assisted suicides) - they are not counted as 'suicide'.

Therefore, the rates of both assisted and non-assisted suicides have risen steadily, and as you note, particularly in the older age group. In 2012 which is the most recent figures I could find, there were 717 non-assisted suicides and 85 assisted suicides. So while one can speculate that some who might previously have used a violent means to end their own lives now avail themselves of physician-assisted suicide, the introduction of assisted suicide has not decreased the incidence of non-assisted suicide in the older age group (or any age group), in fact the rate has gone on increasing.

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