Who Takes Advantage of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Charles D. Blanke, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.S.C.O. CHAIR, SWOG Professor, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute Marquam II

Dr. Blanke

Charles D. Blanke, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.S.C.O.
Professor, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute
Marquam II

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act as a voter initiative which law in 1997 – the first of its kind in the nation. Now, physician aid-in-dying is spreading quickly, with the states of Washington, Vermont, Colorado, and California passing similar legislation, as well as the District of Columbia, and Montana (through a court ruling). Millions of Americans lives in states where they would have the opportunity, if they were terminally ill, to take a lethal dose of medication with a doctor’s prescription.

My team here at SWOG, a global cancer research community that designs and conducts publicly funded clinical trials, wanted to look at Oregon’s 18 years of aid-in-dying data and answer some simple questions: Who is using the law? Why? Are the drugs effective? What are the trends in actually taking the prescribed medications? We found that use of law has mostly increased over time – and substantially increased in 2014 and 2015.

We found that predominantly white, older, well-educated people, take advantage of the law, and many of them – 77 percent – have underlying terminal cancer. The medication is also 99.4 percent effective.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: More and more terminally ill people are getting prescriptions to end their lives, with the aid of a licensed physician. While the numbers are evenly split among men and women, the age range of participants is wide (25-102 years). Striking to the SWOG team, and what may be of interest to the public, were the reasons why people chose aid-in-dying. It was only rarely due to underlying, untreatable pain. The most common reasons for patients to wish to end their lives were loss of autonomy and dignity, and the inability to enjoy life. These people with terminal illness wanted to end their lives not for classic medical reasons, but emotional and spiritual ones.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We’re interested in learning more about why many patients get the prescriptions but never actually take the drugs, as well as why some patients remain unconscious for very long periods before succumbing to the medications. We want to use that data to ease end-of-life concerns and either delay the use of assisted dying or reduce the numbers all together.

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Blanke C, LeBlanc M, Hershman D, Ellis L, Meyskens F. Characterizing 18 Years of the Death With Dignity Act in Oregon. JAMA Oncol. Published online April 06, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2017.0243

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Last Updated on April 10, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD