Oregon Hospices Shun Physician-Assisted Suicide

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Even though physician assisted suicide has been legal in Oregon for more than a decade, a new survey has found that most hospices decline to become involved in the procedure, citing legal and moral reasons.

The Post Chronicle is reporting that a survey published in the latest issue of the Hastings Center Report has found that of the 55 hospices surveyed, 25 percent did not participate in physician assisted suicide at all and 27 percent said they do so only on a limited basis.

The findings are significant because most patients who choose to end their lives are enrolled in hospice care.

According to the Death with Dignity Law, which was passed in 1995, only physicians are permitted to prescribe a fatal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient who requests, providing certain conditions are met. As a result of these restrictions, all of the hospices surveyed prohibited staff from doing anything to help patients end their lives other than referring them to a physician. Only a few hospices had a policy in place that allowed staff to be present when patients took the lethal dose.

The study identified several reasons for this reluctance to participate in physician assisted suicide. One reason is a fear of violating the law in some way. Another reason concerned moral issues.

“Core values (such as commitments not to abandon patients and to neither hasten nor postpone death) are necessarily in tension and do not lend themselves to a clear consensual conclusion for hospice providers,” the authors write.

They go on to say the hands-off approach is a problem because hospices should be a place where patients’ needs are being met.

However, Wesley Smith, anti-euthanasia author and lawyer, says the results of the survey are important because they confirm that “hospice philosophy is completely at odds with doctor prescribed suicide philosophy,” he writes on his blog, Second Hand Smoke.  “They cannot occupy the same space.  I am very pleased that Oregon hospices are generally keeping assisted suicide there at arm’s length. It has no place in proper end of life care.”

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