Monday, January 27, 2014

A Legislator's Question

By Margaret Dore, Esq.
Updated February 5, 2014

A legislator considering an assisted suicide law asked me this question:  "Is there a way to allow a person to end his life without making someone else a criminal?"

This was my (slightly edited) response:

People take their lives all the time.  One of my cousins shot himself and another threw himself in front of a train.  There was no criminality involved.  Also, if people are in pain, palliative care laws allow medical personnel to give patients copious amounts of drugs, including up to sedation, which can hasten the patient's death. This is the principal of double effect.  This is legal.  For more information, read the Affidavit of Kenneth Stevens, MD, page 3, paragraph 13.

There is also palliative care abuse in which no one seems to be held accountable, except for maybe one case in California where doctors relied on a wealthy patient's daughters, who said that their father was really bad off and didn't want treatment, which was not the case.  At least, that's what's claimed by the man's son. See William Dotinga, "Grim Complaint Against Kaiser Hospital," Court House News Service, February 6, 2012.

I've had like 15-20 contacts in the past year by people upset about their family member being suddenly off'd by medical personnel and/or having DNR's put on family members/friends without the patient's consent.  My caregiver friends also talk about guarding their patients in the hospital.  Here are some letters from Montana.

Here's a letter from Washington State where assisted suicide is legal. The letter talks about doctors being quick with the morphine and also regarding the conduct of an adult son shortly after our assisted suicide law was passed ("an adult child of one of our clients asked about getting the pills [to kill the father].  It wasn't the father saying that he wanted to die").  Here's a letter from a wife about how she was afraid to leave her husband alone after a doctor pitched assisted suicide to her husband.

There is also the issue that people who say they want to die don't mean it, as with any suicide.  See

I've had two clients whose fathers signed up for the Oregon/Washington assisted suicide acts.  With the first case, one side of the family wanted the father to use the act and the other side didn't.  He spent the last months of his life torn over whether of not he should kill himself.  His daughter was also traumatized.  He died a natural death.  There is a Swiss study that you might be interested in, that 1 out of 5 family members were traumatized by witnessing the legal assisted suicide of a family member.  See

In my other case, the father had two suicide parties and it's not clear that it was voluntary.  My client, his son, was told that his dad had said "You're not killing me, I'm going to bed").  Regarding the next day, my client was told that his dad was already high on alcohol when he drank the lethal dose.  But then the person telling him this changed his story.  In Montana, Senator Jeff Essman, made a relevant observation regarding this point:
"[All] the protections [in Oregon's law] end after the prescription is written.  [The proponents] admitted that the provisions in the Oregon law would permit one person to be alone in that room with the patient. And in that situation, there is no guarantee that that medication is self-administered.
So frankly, any of the studies that come out of the state of Oregon's experience are invalid because no one who administers that drug . . . to that patient is going to be turning themselves in for the commission of a homicide."
Senate Judiciary Hearing on SB 167 on February 10, 2011

I, however, doubt that a person in Oregon could be prosecuted.  If you read the act carefully, there is no requirement of patient consent to administration of the lethal dose, and to the extent that's ambiguous, there's the rule of lenity.  In Washington State, prosecutors are required to report assisted suicide deaths as "Natural" - no matter what - at least, that's what the regulation says:   How can you prosecute someone for homicide if the death is required to be reported as "Natural?"

Here in Washington, we have already had some informal proposals to expand the scope of our assisted suicide act.  One in particular disturbed me.  A Seattle Times column suggested euthanasia as a solution for people unable to support themselves, which would be involuntary euthanasia.  See Jerry Large, "Planning for old age at a premium," March 8, 2012, which states:
"After Monday's column,  . . . a few [readers] suggested that if you couldn't save enough money to see you through your old age, you shouldn't expect society to bail you out. At least a couple mentioned euthanasia as a solution."  (Emphasis added)
So, if you worked hard and paid taxes all your life and then your company pension plan goes belly up, this is how you want society to pay you back?

As a Democrat, I see us as looking out for the little guy, not passing laws to protect perpetrators, healthcare systems, etc. from legitimate claims.  I hope that you will vote against any effort to legalize assisted suicide/euthanasia.

Thank you for writing me back.

Margaret Dore