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Study Finds Depression Overlooked In Death With Dignity Patients

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Thursday, October 09, 2008 12:49 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, Physician-Assisted Suicide, Depression, Euthanasia, Death with Dignity Act

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IMAGE SOURCE: © Oregon .gov / Summary of Oregon Death With Dignity Act 2007

Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University, find one in four terminally ill Oregon patients who elect physician-assisted suicide suffer depression and may not be capable of making rational, informed decisions about ending their lives,

The Death with Dignity Act (DWDA), enacted in 1997, allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that specific purpose.

Since the DWDA was passed, 341 patients have died under the terms of the law.

At the center of controversy have been two main issues – whether the law protects those patients whose judgment may be mentally or physically impaired and family members pressuring patients to end their lives.

For the study, researchers observed 58 Oregonians who contacted an aid-in-dying organization or requested physician-assisted suicide. Researchers used standard interviews and measures to assess patient’s mental states.

They found that 25 percent could be defined as clinically depressed, which would render them unfit to receive a lethal prescription.

Some of patients proceeded with physician-assisted suicide, while others did not. Of those that did, 15 of them were not depressed and three of them were.

“Current Death with Dignity Act practices may not sufficiently safeguard all mentally ill patients,” said Dr. Linda Ganzini, the lead author of the study.

At the time of this writing, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is supported in Belgium, the Netherlands and the state of Oregon.

Oregon Death with Dignity Act legal requirements:

The attending physician responsible for care of the patient’s terminal illness must ensure that:

The patient is 18 or older

The patient resides in the state of Oregon

The patient has made (1) written and (2) oral requests 15 days apart

The patient fully understands the risks of aid in dying and the alternatives, including hospice and comfort care

The patient is assessed by a consulting physician

Patient information is reported to the Oregon Department of Human Services

The attending and consulting physicians must ensure:

The patient is capable of making and communicating health care decisions

The decision is voluntarily made by the patient

The patient has a terminal illness that would, within reasonable medical judgment; result in death within six months

If concerns arises that the patient suffers a psychiatric disorder including depression that may impair judgment, the patient should be referred to a mental health professional. #


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