Thursday, January 24, 2013

Oregon's New Statistics

By Margaret Dore, Esq.

Oregon's assisted suicide statistics are out for 2012.[1]

This annual report is similar to prior years.  The preamble implies that the deaths were voluntary (self-administered), but the information reported does not address that subject.[2]

Oregon's assisted suicide law allows the lethal dose to be administered without oversight.[3]  This creates the opportunity for an heir, or someone else who will benefit from the patient's death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without his consent, for example, when the patient is asleep.  Who would know?

The new Oregon report provides the following demographics:  

"Of the 77 DWDA deaths during 2012, most (67.5%) were aged 65 years or older; the median age was 69 years.  As in previous years, most were white (97.4%), [and] well-educated (42.9% had at least a baccalaureate degree) . . . ."[4]  Most (51.4%) had private health insurance.[5]

Typically persons with these attributes are seniors with money, which would be the middle class and above, a group disproportionately victims of financial abuse and exploitation.[6]

As set forth above, Oregon's law is written so as to allow the lethal dose to be administered to patients without their consent and without anyone knowing how they died.  The law thus provides the opportunity for the perfect crime.  Per the new report, the persons dying (or killed) under that law are  disproportionately seniors with money, a group disproportionately victimized by financial abuse and exploitation.

Oregon's new report is consistent with elder abuse.


[1]  The new report can be viewed here: and
[2]  Id.
[3]  Oregon's law can be viewed here:
[4]  Report cited at note 1.
[5]  Id.
[6]  See "Broken Trust:  Elders, Family, and Finances," a Study on Elder Financial Abuse Prevention, by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, March 2009.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Not Dead Yet: More on Double Euthanasia in Belgium

January 15, 2013 | posted by Stephen Drake

The 24+ hours since I posted on the double euthanasia of two deaf men in Belgium has resulted in some developments, varied reactions, and some reflection on my own part.  My apologies if this post seems a little scattered – a little like mental  multi-colored pasta thrown against the wall -  but sometimes that’s how my mind works.

First, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) issued a statement from Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the NFB:
“This disturbing news from Belgium is a stark example of the common, and in this case tragic, misunderstanding of disability and its consequences.  Adjustment to any disability is difficult, and deaf-blind people face their own particular challenges, but from at least the time of Helen Keller it has been known that these challenges can be met, and the technology and services available today have vastly improved prospects for the deaf-blind and others with disabilities.  That these men wanted to die is tragic; that the state sanctioned and aided their suicide is frightening.”
You can view the entire release and learn more about the NFB here.

At the same time, I’m sure that others have noticed that there are suicides getting a lot of coverage this week.  The Pentagon reports that deaths by suicide reached a record number in 2012, with more military deaths occurring due to suicide than from combat.  The suicide of programmer/activist/open source advocate Aaron Swartz – apparently overwhelmed by the double effects of depression and what is being called “overreaching” prosecution over his download of millions of journal articles.  He was faced with decades in prison and enormous fines.

Read through the comments on any of the countless articles covering these suicide stories and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone reacting like this:
  • “It’s their body, their choice.”
  • “When people decide they need to end it, they should be able to get help to do so.”
  • “It’s too bad they had to use violent means – animals can get euthanized; we treat animals better than humans.”
The lack of statements like those struck me because they’re common sentiments expressed in article “comments,” and interactions on Facebook when people react to “double euthanasia” of Marc and Eddy Verbessem, the identical twins whose deaths are still making news.

I think that we don’t see those comments in the cases of Aaron Swartz and the military because those people are valued.  I know that euthanasia proponents say that their movement is all about respecting individual choice, but why are the “choices” of  Marc and Eddy Verbessem “respected” while the suicides of military personnel and the suicide of Aaron Swartz are treated as preventable tragedies?  The answer, of course, is that euthanasia isn’t about “respect,” but agreeing that another person’s continued existence is pointless.

The animal comparisons always get me.  I’ve written before (with Dick Sobsey) about the myths surrounding the “kindness” of pet euthanasia.

What struck me this time was an even deeper disconnect.  Anyone who spends a lot of time on the internet knows that cats are probably the most popular thing in existence.  Some of the most popular pictures/videos of cats involve disabled cats – and dogs.  Right now, the most popular cat on the internet seems to be Oskar the Blind Cat:

If you look around, you’ll find stories of a deaf and blind dog rescued from euthanasia and a pet now for seven years and there’s even a story out there about a deaf/blind dog with three legs that rescued his family from a fire.

Oskar has lots of fans.  Stories like the ones about the dogs seem to make people just tear up and feel generally inspired.

But two deaf men losing their vision getting “put down”?  That evokes shrugs and even applause.

I don’t get it.  And I think I’m grateful I don’t. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chicago lottery winner's death ruled a homicide

From Kate Kelly:

It seems ageism is getting younger. The victim in this case was 46 years old. Note that, except for a concerned relative's persistence, this murder would have gone undetected. Apparently it is not considered "suspicious" when you die suddenly at 46 - even when you have "suddenly" become wealthy... 

By Jason Keyser, Associated Press 

CHICAGO (AP) — With no signs of trauma and nothing to raise suspicions, the sudden death of a Chicago man a day after he collected a large pile of lottery winnings was initially ruled a result of natural causes.
This undated photo provided by the Illinois Lottery shows Urooj Khan, 46, of Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood, posing with a winning lottery ticket. The Cook County medical examiner said Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, that Khan was fatally poisoned with cyanide July 20, 2012, a day after he collected nearly $425,000 in lottery winnings.  (AP Photo/Illinois Lottery)
Urooj Khan with lottery ticket

Nearly six months later, authorities have a mystery on their hands after medical examiners, responding to a relative's pleas, did an expanded screening and determined that Urooj Khan, 46, died shortly after ingesting a lethal dose of cyanide. The finding has triggered a homicide investigation, the Chicago Police Department said.

"It's pretty unusual," said Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina, commenting on the rarity of cyanide poisonings. "I've had one, maybe two cases out of 4,500 autopsies I've done."

In June, Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, stopped in at a 7-Eleven near his home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city's North Side and bought a ticket for an instant lottery game.

He scratched off the ticket, then jumped up and down and repeatedly shouted " I hit a million," Khan recalled days later during a ceremony in which Illinois Lottery officials presented him with an oversized check. He said he was so overjoyed he ran back into the store and tipped the clerk $100.  "Winning the lottery means everything to me," he said at the June 26 ceremony, also attended by his wife, Shabana Ansari; their daughter, Jasmeen Khan; and several friends. He said he would put some of his winnings into his businesses and donate some to a children's hospital.

Khan opted to take his winnings in a lump sum of just over $600,000. After taxes, the check, issued July 19 from the state Comptroller's Office, was about $425,000, said lottery spokesman Mike Lang.

Khan died a day later.

No signs of trauma were found during an external exam and no autopsy was done because, at the time, the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office didn't automatically perform them on those 45 and older unless the death was suspicious, Cina said. The cut-off has since been raised to age 50.

A basic toxicology screening for opiates, cocaine and carbon monoxide came back negative, and the death was ruled a result of the narrowing and hardening of coronary arteries.

But a relative came forward and asked authorities to look into the case further, Cina said. He refused to identify the relative.

"She (the morgue worker) then reopened the case and did more expansive toxicology, including all the major drugs of use, all the common prescription drugs and also included I believe strychnine and cyanide in there just in case something came up," Cina said. "And in fact cyanide came up in this case."
Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Melissa Stratton confirmed the department was now investigating the death and said detectives were working closely with the Medical Examiner's Office.