Physician-assisted death is low at most Oregon hospices

Hospice programs in Oregon do not fully participate in physician-assisted death, according to a study published in the Hasting Center Report (40, no. 5 (2010): 26-35).

According to background information provided by the authors, the Death with Dignity Act, passed in 1995, permits physicians to prescribe a fatal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient who requests it, as long as several criteria are met.

Conducted by Courtney Campbell, the Hundere professor of religion and culture at Oregon State University, and Jessica Cox, the Hundere program assistant and second year graduate student at Oregon State, researchers obtained information from 55 hospice programs in Oregon. During the study, researchers compared the hospice programs' policy statements, program guidelines, and staff education materials to address patient inquiries about the Death with Dignity Act.

The study found that most hospices in Oregon either do not participate in or have limited participation in requests for physician-assisted death. In addition, the study identified legal and moral reason for the restrictions. Specifically, since Oregon's Death with Dignity Act sanctions aid in dying from a physician only, a compassionate hospice staff member who offers assistance risks violating laws against assisting suicide, mercy killing, active euthanasia, or homicide.

“Hospices can avoid the legal and moral obstacles by adopting a position of ‘studied neutrality,' which recognizes a diversity of views among providers and patients about physician-assisted death and encourages open discussion about the issue,” the authors concluded. “This approach can bring much-needed dialogue and transparency to a process that is unnecessarily opaque, permit hospice programs to acknowledge tensions in their core values, and promote efforts to assure congruence among values, policies, and procedures.

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