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Assisted suicide is suicide committed with the aid of another person, sometimes a physician. Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Colombia, and Switzerland allow physicians to physically assist in the death of patients. Physician-assisted suicide is similar to but formally distinct from euthanasia. In cases of euthanasia the physician administers the means of death, usually a lethal drug. In physician-assisted suicide, it is required that a person of sound mind voluntarily expresses his or her wish to die and requests a dose of barbiturates that will end his or her life.
One argument for assisted suicide is that it reduces prolonged suffering in those with terminal illnesses. A study of hospice nurses and social workers in Oregon reported that symptoms of pain, depression, anxiety, extreme air hunger and fear of the process of dying were more pronounced among hospice patients who did not request a lethal prescription for barbiturates, the drug used for physician assisted death. A Journal of Palliative Medicine report on patterns of hospice use noted that Oregon was in both the highest quartile of hospice use and the lowest quartile of potentially concerning patterns of hospice use. A similar trend was found in Vermont, where AiD was authorized in 2013. In Oregon, in hospital death rates are at the lowest in the nation, at home death rates are at the highest in the nation, and violent suicide among hospice patients has been reduced significantly. In February 2016, Oregon released a report on their 2015 numbers. During 2015, there were 218 people in the state who were approved and received the lethal drugs to end their own life.
Of that 218, 132 terminally ill patients ultimately made the decision to ingest drugs, resulting in their death. 65 years of age or older and predominately Caucasian, 93. An increasing trend in deaths caused from ingesting lethal doses of medications prescribed by physicians was also noted in Washington: from 64 deaths in 2009 to 202 deaths in 2015. Polls conducted by Gallup dating back to 1947 positing the question, “When a person has a disease that cannot be cured, do you think doctors should be allowed to end the patient’s life by some painless means if the patient and his family request it? A poll conducted by National Journal and Regence Foundation found that both Oregonians and Washingtonians were more familiar with the terminology “end-of-life care” than the rest of the country and residents of both states are slightly more aware of the terms palliative and hospice care.
A survey from the Journal of Palliative Medicine found that family caregivers of patients who chose assisted death were more likely to find positive meaning in caring for a patient and were more prepared for accepting a patient’s death than the family caregivers of patients who didn’t request assisted death. This includes eligibility and qualification processes, mandatory state reporting by the medical team, and medical board oversight. In Oregon and other states, two doctors and two witnesses must assert that a person’s request for a lethal prescription wasn’t coerced or under undue influence. These safeguards include proving your residency and eligibility.