15 Assisted Suicides In Oregon

Penny Schleuter was dying of ovarian cancer last August when she revealed that she had a lethal prescription to end her life.

"I look at this as an insurance policy," she said of the deadly drug.

CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports that Schleuter became one of 15 Oregon residents who chose assisted suicide last year, after voters made it legal. Just before she took the drugs, she made a tape recording.

"You don't know how wonderful it is to have that law here tonight, when I'm going to use it," she said.

On Thursday, the Oregon Department of Health and the New England Journal of Medicine will release the first in-depth study of legalized assisted suicide.

According to the study:

  • The average age of the assisted suicide patient was 69.
  • Most had cancer.
  • Most said pain was not a factor. Their biggest concern was loss of freedom.
  • A patient's decision did not depend on their education, health insurance, or their ability to pay for long-term care.

"[The law is] being used by a very, very small number of patients who are in truly desperate situations at the end of their lives," said Barbara Coombs Lee of the Compassion in Dying Federation.

Critics of the law say the findings in the report are flawed and claim that even the basic number of reported cases is wrong.

"There's no penalty for doctors that don't report their assisted-suicide cases here in Oregon, and consequently the majority of assisted-suicide and euthanasia cases will go unreported," said Dr. Greg Hamilton, of Physicians for Compassionate Care.

Opponents were concerned that Oregon's idea might spread across the country, but no other state has passed a similar law. While activists in five states are trying to get assisted suicide on the ballot, so far none has qualified for the 2000 election.

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