Oregon is no assisted suicide paradise for Scotland to copy

Liam McArthur MSP has finally introduced his long-promised assisted suicide Bill to the Scottish Parliament.

Months of delay suggest McArthur’s team has struggled with the draft wording – hardly surprising given the number of well-publicised euthanasia horror stories coming out of Canada recently.

But McArthur says his Bill is not modelled on “permissive and expansive” systems like Canada’s, but on places like the US state of Oregon where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997 for terminally ill adults who are not expected to live for more than six months.

McArthur claims that eligibility criteria there “have not changed”. Campaign group Dignity in Dying (which rebranded from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) claims Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) has always “worked safely”.

The truth, however, is that the law has changed, and there is evidence of state-sanctioned killing becoming easier and easier under the DWDA.

Behind the headlines

In total, 2,847 people in Oregon have died from ingesting lethal medication legally provided for them; 367 of them in 2023 alone.

more than 50 per cent people cited being a burden on family, friends or caregivers as a reason they chose assisted suicide

The annual death toll under the DWDA has risen by over 400 per cent in ten years. The number killed in 2023 is a 21 per cent increase on the previous year and the Oregon Health Authority admits that these numbers will be under-reported.

Worryingly, over the last ten years more than 50 per cent people cited being a burden on family, friends or caregivers as a reason they chose assisted suicide. In 2023, only just over a third of patients cited concerns about “inadequate pain control”.

Only 3 people (0.8 per cent) were referred for psychiatric evaluation last year – the same as 2022.

Missing data

One of the biggest problems with evaluating the Oregon regime is the large amount of data that is simply missing, particularly around complications during death.

Difficulty with ingesting drugs, regurgitation, seizures and other complications were recorded in 2.7 per cent of cases in 2023, but this data is missing for a staggering 72.2 per cent of patients.

Of the 560 people who were prescribed lethal drugs last year, it is not even known whether one-in-four actually took them. And it is impossible to retrospectively ascertain this kind of information – source records are destroyed after one year.

Expanding the law

In reality, eligibility is much wider than the letter of the law. Under the DWDA, patients with non-terminal illnesses have been approved for assisted suicide, including those with treatable conditions like arthritis, anorexia and even hernias.

In 2020, the law changed to allow patients deemed to have a short prognosis to skip the 15-day waiting period. In 2023, 154 patients (28 per cent of DWDA prescription recipients) were granted this exemption.

The residency requirement was also repealed last year, permitting those living outside the state to travel to Oregon to seek assisted suicide. This followed a legal challenge of the sort that has led to such a dramatic liberalisation of the law in Canada.

Don’t be fooled by Liam McArthur’s flawed assurances.

Oregon’s data deficit, as well as the subtle but significant expansion of the law, are extremely concerning. He should take on board a recent report from the Danish National Council on Ethics. It considered the scheme in Oregon and still concluded:

“The only thing that will be able to protect the lives and respect of those who are most vulnerable in society will be a ban without exceptions.”

This is right. Scotland should not introduce any form of assisted suicide.