London’s Daily Mail is running a very provocative article exploring the complications and concerns surrounding assisted suicide measures – currently legal in Oregon in the U.S. and under debate elsewhere here and in the U.K.
Despite enthusiastic and sentimental pleas for assisted suicide to help terminally ill and severely suffering people to be released from their agony, anecdotal illustrations of the practice’s failures and shortcoming must not be ignored:
‘There is no evidence to support the claims that assisted suicide is working brilliantly well in Oregon,’ says Baroness Finlay, a crossbench peer, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well and a professor of palliative medicine at Cardiff University School of Medicine.
She visited Oregon in 2004 as part of a Lords Select Committee that was considering the possible introduction of an assisted suicide law in Britain. ‘I came away feeling more worried than when I went,’ she says.
Of course, no one in Oregon has come back from the grave and said “Oh dear, that was a mistake”, but there have been real problems.’
One of the great concerns about Oregon is the suggestion that the very existence of the right-to-die law means the state’s health system now has less of an incentive to provide terminally-ill people with proper care.
It is something that came to blight 64-year-old Barbara Wagner’s last days. Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, the former bus driver vowed to fight the disease so she could spend as long as possible with her family.
Even after her doctor warned last year that she had less than six months left, she refused to give up, pinning all her hopes on a new life-prolonging treatment.
But her request, at the beginning of last year, for the £2,500-a-month drug was refused by Oregon’s state-run health plan as being too expensive. Instead, she was offered lethal medication to end her life.
‘It was horrible,’ Barbara told reporters. ‘I got a letter in the mail that basically said if you want to take the pills we will help you get them from a doctor and we will stand there and watch you die – but we won’t give you the medicine to live.