Euthanasia Safeguards

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Oregon's most recently publicized assisted suicide case invites questions as to the effectiveness of so-called "safeguards" to protect vulnerable terminally ill patients from abusive situations.

According to an October 17, 1999 Oregonian article (Is Mom capable of choosing to die?), 85 year old Kate Cheney, a terminally ill cancer patient with Kaiser Permanente, made a request for assisted suicide. Her first psychiatric evaluation revealed the patient did not have "the very high level of capacity required to weigh options about assisted suicide." Signs of dementia by the patient, combined with exhibited pressure by the patient's daughter to obtain the assisted suicide drugs made the psychiatrist wonder whose agenda the request for lethal drugs really was. He refused the assisted suicide request.

Refusing to accept the first psychiatrist's evaluation, the daughter sought and found a psychologist who agreed to the suicide request, although she also noted that the patient's "choices may be influenced by her family's wishes and her daughter, Erika may be somewhat coercive."

The final decision for the drug prescription rested with Dr. Robert Richardson, director of Kaiser Permanente Northwest Ethics Service. Dr. Richardson, administrator for Kaiser, a fully capitated HMO with a profit sharing plan for its doctors, decided in favor of the assisted suicide request. On August 29, Kate Cheney, an 85-year old woman with growing dementia killed herself with an overdose of barbiturates.

Once assisted suicide is legalized, there is no way to protect the vulnerable and mentally ill from abusive situations.

For More Information:
Gayle Atteberry 503-463-8563

Posted 6 Sep 2000.

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Copyright 1999 by Oregon Right to Life.
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