As a new starter at Dignity in Dying and strong believer in a change in the law, I find the recent annual report from Oregon reassuring.
Oregon has had an assisted dying law in place for fifteen years; the latest report demonstrates both the compassionate benefits to patients and the success of the legal safeguards in providing protection for the vulnerable.
Report findings – care and control
Deaths as a result of assisted dying were 0.24% of all deaths in Oregon in 2012, a figure that has remained constant since 2008. Many patients who are eligible for assisted dying and have the prescription for life-ending medication do not use it. The fact the choice has been made available to them, and that they are in control of their dying process, provides them with comfort at the end of their life.
Also in line with previous years are the reasons many choose to take the final option of an assisted death:
- Loss of autonomy – 93.5%
- Decreasing ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable – 92.2%
- Loss of dignity – 77.9%
This data, combined with the fact that the vast majority of patients were receiving palliative and hospice care (97%), suggests that the decision to take the option of an assisted death is based on a desire for control, rather than a lack of palliative care and support.
Legal safeguards in action – the vulnerable are protected
One argument frequently used against the legalisation of assisted dying is the notion that a law to allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults the right to an assisted death would have knock-on effects that may put vulnerable adults at risk. The Oregon report provides further evidence that this fear is unfounded when strict legal safeguards are built into the process; the report found no examples of failure to comply with the legal requirements.
The safe guards built into the UK Assisted Dying Bill, which will be taken to parliament this year, build on those incorporated in the Oregon law. It’s extremely encouraging to see how well they work to provide real choice and also protect the vulnerable.
How the UK can benefit
The situation in Oregon demonstrates that an assisted dying law can work safely, that optimal palliative care makes assisted dying a last resort and that the choice alone provides real comfort and peace of mind to dying adults.
An assisted dying law in the UK could provide the people of this country with the same level of comfort, care and dignity at the end of their lives – we just need to make a change to our current law possible.