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Assisted Suicide Won't Up Deaths for Vulnerable Groups: Study

Researchers saw no such rise among poor, elderly in Oregon, The Netherlands

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Legalizing doctor-assisted suicide does not lead to a "slippery slope" of excess deaths among the vulnerable poor, uninsured, elderly or other patients, according to a U.S. study in the October issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

"Fears about the impact on vulnerable people have dominated debate about physician-assisted suicide. We find no evidence to support those fears where this practice already is legal," study lead author and bioethicist Margaret Battin, a distinguished professor of philosophy and adjunct professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah, said in a prepared statement.

She and her colleagues analyzed data from The Netherlands (which legalized doctor-assisted suicide in 2002 but openly tolerated it since the 1980s) and from Oregon, the only state in the United States where doctor-assisted suicide is legal.

In the first nine years after the Oregon law took effect in the 1990s, 456 people received lethal prescriptions from doctors, and 292 of them actually used the drugs to kill themselves. That's 0.15 percent of all deaths in Oregon during those nine years, the researchers said.

Of 136,000 deaths each year in The Netherlands, about 1.7 percent involved a doctor administering life-ending drugs, and 0.1 percent involved a doctor writing lethal prescriptions for patients.

In both Oregon and The Netherlands, people who received a doctor's help to die were an average of 70 years old, and 80 percent were cancer patients.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about assisted suicide.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Utah, news release, Sept. 26, 2007

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