The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is reporting a significant rise in assisted suicide prescriptions and deaths in the state, a move that comes after authorities in 2022 began allowing out-of-state residents to access the lethal services.

Since the state’s passage of the “Death with Dignity Act” in 1997, assisted suicide numbers have been generally rising there, with a markedly sharp uptick since 2013. OHA on March 20 released its 2023 assisted suicide data summary that reported a considerable increase in suicide prescriptions in 2023. 

The study found that assisted suicide prescriptions in the state rose from 433 in 2022 to 560 last year.

Of those 560 prescriptions, 367 people are known to have died from ingesting the suicide “medications.” This is up from the 304 who died from assisted suicide drugs in Oregon in 2022.

Over half, or 56%, of the assisted suicide deaths were of males, while the vast majority, 82%, were 65 years old and above, although one patient was 29. Sixty-six percent of those given a suicide prescription had cancer.

Nearly all — 92% — said their reason for obtaining the drugs included concern over “loss of autonomy.” Additionally, 82% also reported they were concerned about their “decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable” and 64% cited concerns over “loss of dignity.”  

According to the OHA report, only three patients were referred for psychological or psychiatric evaluation, and 154 patients were granted exemptions from the statutory 15-day waiting period.

Just sixty patients, 16%, had a health care provider present when they consumed the suicide drugs.

In all, 2023 saw a nearly 30% increase in assisted suicide prescriptions and a 20% rise in deaths.

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This uptick comes after the state passed a law in 2022 dropping its residency requirement for assisted suicide, which made it legal for Oregon doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to people who do not reside in the state. 

The 2023 report said 23 non-Oregon residents utilized the state’s suicide services. However, it noted that this number “may not represent all DWDA deaths from out-of-state residents,” because information on a patient’s state of residence is not collected during the prescription process and OHA does not receive death certificates from other states. 

The state’s relaxation of residency rules was condemned at the time by Oregon Right to Life, which expressed worry that it would mark the start of “death tourism” in Oregon. 

Oregon Right to Life President Lois Anderson said this month, meanwhile, that the state’s assisted suicide laws represent an “appalling lack of care and respect for the lives of Oregonians and those who travel from out of state to receive these death-inducing drugs.”

“Physician-assisted suicide targets vulnerable people who are made to feel that their lives are no longer valuable or worth living,” she said in a March 20 statement. “Instead of continuing to prescribe toxic cocktails of life-ending drugs, we should provide truly compassionate measures, ensuring that people facing end-of-life decisions have access to high-quality palliative care.” 

Anderson told CNA that she is especially concerned for the state’s most vulnerable residents, who she said are under special threat in the assisted suicide laws.

“After 26 years, the law has had a corrosive effect on medical professionals and caregivers who see assisted death as a legitimate response to illness and disability,” she explained. 

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Now, Anderson said, there “are no real protections against coercion.”  

She urged people to give special care whom she believes are most targeted by the state’s assisted suicide laws. 

“Our elderly, disabled, medically fragile, and chronically ill neighbors need us to seek them out, actively communicate that each one is a person with infinite value, and find practical ways to help them in their daily lives,” she said. 

Since assisted suicide was legalized in Oregon there have been 4,274 lethal prescriptions and 2,847 reported deaths in the state, per OHA.