Dr. Peter Goodwin killed himself this week. He took advantage of Oregon’s 15-year-old assisted-suicide law, which allows residents of the Beaver State to score a legal dose of drugs by obtaining a prescription from an enabling physician.
Goodwin happened to be one of the first physicians to voice support for Oregon’s euphemistically titled “Death With Dignity Act,” which took effect in late 1997.
“I don’t think we would have aid in dying in Oregon without Dr. Goodwin,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, who worked closely with the former family physician to get the law the passed.
Indeed, the late Dr. Goodwin’s legacy is nearly 600 assisted suicides over the past decade and a half, including the record 71 souls who took their own lives in 2011, according to a report this month by the Oregon Public Health Division.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Coombs Lee, who heads an outfit, Compassion and Choices, which helps patients and doctors learn how to use Oregon’s assisted suicide law, complained that it’s unfair to say that a person who takes his or her own life committed “suicide” if their death is imminent and inevitable.
“Would we say that the people who jumped from the World Trade Center committed suicide?” she asked. “I wouldn’t, because the fire was in their face and they chose a different kind of death.”
That’s the kind of specious reasoning that provides the dubious intellectual and ethical underpinnings of Oregon’s assisted suicide law. It is on a par with the argument of abortion-rights advocates that taking the life of a pre-born child is not infanticide because the child has not emerged from his or her mother’s womb.
What particularly troubles about Oregon’s assisted suicide law is that it is almost as easy for a person to obtain a lethal dose of drugs – Dr. Goodwin reportedly swallowed a fast-acting barbiturate prescribed by his doctor – as it is in Californiato obtain a doctor’s prescription for “medicinal” marijuana.
There is little doubt that some of those who took advantage of Oregon’s assisted suicide law really weren’t six months away from the grave. There also is little doubt that some of those who took their lives suffered from depression or other mental issues.
Yet, the Public Health Division’s annual report revealed that only one of the 71 individuals who died by physician assisted suicide last year was referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist for formal evaluation. Moreover, doctors who prescribed fatal doses of drugs were present for the deaths of only six of those who took their own lives.
One needn’t be a pro-life Christian to find Oregon’s assistant suicide law morally repugnant. There is no “dignity” in artificially hastening the death of those diagnosed as terminally ill.