Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Users of Assisted Suicide are Seniors with Money

By Margaret Dore, Esq.
Updated August 18, 2012
Users of assisted suicide "are overwhelmingly white, well educated and financially comfortable."[1]  They are also age 65 and older.[2]  In other words, users are older people with money, which would be the middle class and above, a group disproportionately at risk of financial abuse.[3]

The Oregon and Washington assisted suicide acts, and the similar Massachusetts proposal, do not protect users from this abuse. Indeed, the terms of these acts encourage financial abuse.  These acts allow heirs and other persons who will benefit from an elder's death to actively participate in the lethal dose request.[4]  There is also no oversight when the lethal dose is administered, not even a witness is required.[5]  This creates the opportunity for an heir, or someone else who will benefit from the person's death, to administer the lethal dose to that person without his consent.  Even if he struggled, who would know?

Under the Washington act and the Massachusetts' proposal, the death certificate is required to reflect a natural death.[6]  In Oregon, a natural death is listed by custom.[7]  A concerned nephew, learning that his aunt has suddenly died and that she had a new will favoring a ne'er do will son, will thereby be mislead as to what actually happened.

This does not mean that all deaths under the Oregon and Washington acts are  abusive or without consent.  What it means is that these laws, and the similar Massachusetts proposal, invite abuse and have a distinct lack of transparency.  In Oregon, not even law enforcement is allowed to access state-collected information about these deaths.[8]  Even if the person struggled, who would know?

For more information about specific problems with the Massachusetts' proposal, click here and here.  For a "fact check" on the proposal, click here.

* * *

[1]  Katie Hafner, "In Ill Doctor, a Surprise Reflection of Who Picks Assisted Suicide," New York Times, August 11, 2012.
[2]  See e.g., the most current official report from Oregon, "Oregon Death with Dignity Act--2011" ("Of the 71 DWDA deaths during 2011, most (69.0%) were aged 65 years or older; the median age was 70 years"), available athttp://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Documents/year14.pdf
[3]  The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse, "Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America's Elders," June 2011 (a follow up to MetLife's 2009 "Broken Trust: Elders, Family, and Finances"), available athttp://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/2011/mmi-elder-financial-abuse.pdf
[4]  See Memo to Joint Judiciary Committee (regarding Bill H.3884, now ballot measure No. 2), Section III.A.2. ("Someone else is allowed to speak for the patient") and 
and Section II.C. ("One of the [two] witnesses [on the lethal dose request form] is allowed to be an heir who will benefit financially from the patient's death"), available at http://www.massagainstassistedsuicide.org/p/memo-to-joint-judiciary-committee.html
[5]  See above memo at Section III.A.1("No witnesses at the death").  See also entire proposed Massachusetts Act at http://choiceisanillusion.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/ma-initiative.pdf 
[6]  See proposed Massachusetts Act at Section 4 (2) ("The attending physician may sign the patient's death certificate which shall list the underlying terminal disease as the cause of death").  Washington's act, RCW 70.245.040(2) has this same language. 
[7]  See e.g., Charles Bentz, "Oregon Doctor's Letter to Massachusetts Medical Society," posted November 28, 2011 ("His death certificate listed the cause of death as melanoma.  The public record is not accurate. My depressed patient did not die from his cancer, but at the hands of a once-trusted colleague."), available at http://www.massagainstassistedsuicide.org/2011/11/oregon-doctors-letter-to-massachusetts.html#more 
[8]  See E-mail from Alicia A. Parker, Mortality Research Analyst, Center for Health Statistics, Oregon Health Authority, January 4, 2012 ("We have been contacted by law enforcement and legal representatives in the past, but
have not provided identfying information of any type"), available at http://epcdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/alicia-a-parker.pdf