An important study of family members of 83 Oregon patients who requested physician-assisted suicide (PAD) shows that people who are being prescribed assisted suicide may not be experiencing significant symptoms of their disease. This study effectively proves that people are being given lethal doses for assisted suicide without fulfilling the reasons within the law. Because the study was so effective, almost no major media outlets reported its findings.

The study by Linda Ganzini et al, published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine in February, surveyed family members of Oregon patients who made explicit requests and asked them why their loved ones requested physician-assisted suicide.

The study stated that: “Family members reported that the most important reasons for PAD requests were: wanting control of the circumstances of death; fear of poor quality of life in the future, loss of independence in the future, loss of dignity; wanting to die at home; fear of inability to care for self in the future … No physical symptoms experienced at the time of the request were rated higher than 2 on the 1 to 5 scale. In most cases, future concerns about physical symptoms were rated as more important than physical symptoms present at the time of the request.”

Some of those who were part of the study did not actually complete the act of suicide. The people who actually died by assisted suicide were more concerned about future declines in quality of life than the participants who, in the end, did not die by assisted suicide.

Ganzini concluded her study by stating: “Our data suggests that when talking with a patient requesting PAD, clinicians should focus on eliciting and addressing worries and apprehensions about the future with the goal of reducing anxiety about the dying process. Some Oregon clinicians have expressed surprise at the paucity of suffering at the time of the request among these patients. Addressing patients’ concerns with concrete interventions that help maintain control, independence and self care, all in the home environment, may be an effective way to address requests for PAD and improve quality of remaining life.”

It is interesting to note that as of 2005, Compassion and Choices, the assisted suicide political lobby group in Oregon, facilitated 73 per cent of all assisted suicide deaths in Oregon. Can it be that assisted suicide prescriptions in Oregon are more likely received when Compassion and Choices refers the person to a member physician, rather than based on the provisions in the law?

This is an important study because it proves that very few people are seeking assisted suicide because of current concerns pain or symptom management. Most people are in fact requesting assisted suicide for social or existential concerns that are best alleviated by social inclusion and psychological support, rather than death. Once again the answer to the problem is not providing lethal prescriptions to people who are naturally concerned about their end-of-life care, but rather providing the necessary physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and social care for the person.