Measure Reignites Assisted Suicide Debate

A bill to amend the language of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act reignited a statewide debate over the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

House Bill 2217 (HB 2217), passed the Oregon House last week, seeks to allow terminally ill patients to pursue other means to make end-of-life decisions. Specifically, it seeks to broaden the definition of “ingestion” to include intravenous methods, or through a syringe. Currently, only self-administered oral medications are accepted by law. 

Opponents of the measure claim the amendment is a “slippery slope” ending in outright legal euthanasia. Others worry that permitting patients to take these drugs intravenously would require assistance from nurses and doctors. 

“The Death with Dignity Act carves patients away from the health care delivery system when they want to commit suicide and doesn’t make us [complicit] with this,” said Dr. Bud Pierce, a Salem oncologist. “This bill makes us actors in the death of patients. I think it’s morally wrong for physicians to kill their patients.” 

The current statue has been interpreted by the state to allow medication to be administered through feeding tubes. However, most Death with Dignity patients disavow the use of feeding tubes, as they provide artificial nutrition to prolong life. 

According to OHSU oncologist Dr. Charles Blanke, roughly 10 percent of those he has examined through Death with Dignity have a swallowing problem of some kind. 

They are terrified they will only be able to force down a partial nonfatal dose, and they will then wake up or end up in a permanent coma,” Dr. Blanke said. “Some take their life earlier than they and we would ideally want, because they’re afraid they will get to the point where they can’t swallow.” 

 HB 2217 now goes to the Senate for a vote. 

By Jake Dee