The number of patients using the nation’s first physician-aided suicide program, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, has continued to grow since voters first approved the law nearly two decades ago.
A new study shows a 12 percent yearly increase in lethal prescriptions from 1998 to 2013, with an unexplained jump of nearly 30 percent in 2015. The research doesn’t include 2016 numbers, which haven’t been released yet.
The study – one of the first detailed analyses of 18 years of Death with Dignity data – indicates the law is working as intended to give dying people a choice of how they want to die, Blanke said.
But it also shows too many people – 25 percent – said they were suffering too much pain, he said.
#It’s gotten so bad that 1/4th of people in pain are planning suicide to end their pain.
Blanke called that a tragedy, saying scientists must make sure patients aren’t killing themselves because they’re not getting help managing their pain.
#But this is exactly what has been happening since the CDC guidelines are bieng legislated instead of being used as a guide to practice.
Another tragedy: About 3 percent of patients used the law because the cost of chemotherapy was too high, the study found.
Overall, 1,545 patients obtained a lethal prescription from 1998 through 2015. On average, 64 percent took the drugs. Almost all died but six people woke up and died later of natural causes.
The age range spanned 25 to 102 years, with a median of 71. Nearly 80 percent of the patients had cancer.
Most patients cited a decreased quality of life or loss of autonomy or dignity as reasons for using the law, according to the study, published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association – JAMA Oncology.
The study showed that as a median, patients went into a coma within four minutes and died within 25 minutes.
Almost all patients took the drugs at home, surrounded by loved ones.
many physicians refuse to write Death with Dignity prescriptions, Blanke said, and won’t even refer patients to a doctor who supports the law.
The study shows that physicians aren’t focusing lethal medications on disadvantaged people, an original concern about the law.
The conference called on physicians to improve pain care for end-of-life patients.