Treatment For Pain Has Declined Since Assisted Suicide Law
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 30, 2004
PORTLAND, OREGON--A study has found that pain management for Oregonians with terminal illnesses has declined in the years since physician-assisted suicide became legal in the state.
For the study, released last week by Oregon Health & Science University, researchers surveyed families of patients in their last week of life during the time the Death with Dignity Act was passed through 2002. Researchers found that about one-half of those from 2000 to 2002 reported the patients to be in moderate or sever pain, compared with about one-third before 1997.
The results contrast with the expectations of groups that had pushed for the physician-assisted suicide law in Oregon and elsewhere. They had argued that end-of-life care would improve with the law.
"What this study did for me was contrast our view of things versus what's actually happening," said Dr. Erik Fromme, who led the research. Fromme is an assistant professor of general medicine and geriatrics at OHSU and senior scholar in the university's Center for Ethics in Health Care.
The findings, which focused on patients who were in settings other than a hospital, "are not necessarily what people wanted to hear," Fromme said.
In the study, which was published in the Journal of Palliative Care, researchers compared 340 deaths from 1996-97 with 1,384 deaths from 2000-02. They found that 48 percent of those in the last group were said to be in moderate or severe pain, compared with 31 percent in the earlier group.
Frome said that while some of the change may have to do with increased awareness, stretched budgets for Medicaid and Medicare patients might also be blamed for a decline in pain management.
Several disability rights groups, led by Not Dead Yet, have opposed attempts to legalize physician-assisted suicide. They have argued, among other things, that people with certain disabilities are particularly vulnerable because their lives are considered 'not worth living' in a culture that values productivity, mobility, and independence. People with severe disabilities are also often represented by guardians or family members who wish to "put them out of their misery". Others are made to believe that they are a burden upon others, and that dying would be the 'loving thing to do'.
Not Dead Yet