Oregon doctor could not save patient from assisted suicide

2013-01-27T00:00:00Z Oregon doctor could not save patient from assisted suicide Montana Standard
January 27, 2013 12:00 am

I am a doctor in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal. A few years ago, I was caring for a 76-year-old man who presented to my office a sore on his arm, eventually diagnosed as melanoma. I referred him to specialists for evaluation and therapy.

I had known this patient and his wife for more than a decade. He was an avid hiker, a popular hobby here in Oregon. As his disease progressed, he was less able to do this activity, becoming depressed, which was documented in his chart.

During this time, my patient expressed a wish for assisted suicide to one of the specialists. Rather than take the time to address his depression, or ask me as his primary care physician to talk with him, she called me and asked me to be the “second opinion” for his suicide. She told me that barbiturate overdoses “work very well” for patients like this, and that she had done this many times before.

I told her that assisted suicide was not appropriate for this patient and that I did not concur. I was very concerned about my patient’s mental state, and told her that addressing his underlying issues would be better than simply giving him a lethal prescription. Unfortunately, my concerns were ignored, and two weeks later my depressed patient was dead from an overdose prescribed by this doctor.

Under Oregon’s law, I was not able to protect my depressed patient. If assisted suicide becomes legal in Montana, you may not be able to protect your friends or family members.

I urge you to contact your legislators to tell them to keep assisted suicide out of Montana. Don’t make Oregon’s mistake.

Dr. Charles J. Bentz

2400 SW Vermont St.

Portland, Ore.

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(6) Comments

  1. Outraw
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    Outraw - February 01, 2013 7:11 pm
    I've always said "let go and let God", implying that suicide is wrong. But I'm reminded of the story of the man that was on the peak of his roof as the waters of hurricane Katrina lapped at his heals. A helicopter came by and offered to take him to dry land. He said no, he'd wait for his Father to save him. A while later a boat comes by and he says no, he'll wait for for his Lord God to save him. When he gets through the Pearly Gates, he asks God, what happened? I thought you would save me? God says, "Why do you even ask? I sent you a helicopter and a boat."
  2. Fred Brewer
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    Fred Brewer - January 30, 2013 10:23 pm
    My sympathy goes out to 'Erica' also. The right to decide when one has reached the limit of suffering, and to choose how to bring that to an end, has to be considered one of the most fundamental rights we can have.

  3. Erica
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    Erica - January 30, 2013 11:34 am
    I was diagnosed with a disease 7 years ago and told that I will be lucky to live 10 years. I have been in pain every day since my diagnosis. Do you know what it is like to be in pain everyday, to not know how bad the pain is going to be from day to day, knowing that it is just going to get worse? Do you know what it is like to not know when you are going to wake up and not be able to take care of yourself? Besides the disease with which I was diagnosed 7 years ago, I have three other autoimmune diseases, need aortic bypass, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol. I have no insurance and, even if someone was willing to issue insurance, I could not afford what they would charge. I still have to work because the government says I am not sick enough. I do not currently live in a state that has assisted suicide, but I would seriously consider moving to a state that does. When I get to the point that I can no longer take care of myself, I do not want to end up in some hospice or hospital or nursing home having someone else do everything (and I mean everything) for me. I want to be able to go home and see my maker and my parents at that time instead of sitting around for who knows how many months being "taken care of". I should be able to terminate my life without being told it is illegal or immoral. I have lived in enough pain for the past 7 years.
  4. Fred Brewer
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    Fred Brewer - January 29, 2013 12:48 pm
    My sympathy goes out to KJL's brother, for his lifelong battle against schizophrenia and the suffering that it has involved. My sympathy also to KJL for the heartache and sacrifice he has endured in his efforts to help.

    Yet, the simple fact is that his brother in no way qualifies to make any decision under Oregon's 'Death with Dignity' law. As KJL notes, the law requires a mental health evaluation of any person seeking to make that choice. Not only that, it requires a second, concurring opinion that the patient is indeed facing intolerable physical suffering and is competent to make such a decision.

    While emotionally captivating, the two cases have nothing in common. KJL's brother is not terminally ill, and is not competent to make such a decision. Even repeated, close reading of this letter gives no indication that he has even asked for that choice.

    Dr Bentz's "patient", on the other hand, received the full benefit of the safeguards that are such an important part of Oregon's law. Even Dr Bentz couldn't argue that he was not terminally ill (even after his own inexplicable failure to diagnose that illness at an earlier stage), and facing ever-increasing suffering. Dr Bentz even spelled out the fact that the patient's physical condition and mental competence had been verified by two doctors and multiple witnesses.

    Of course a terminally ill patient gets depressed! It wouldn't be sane NOT to get depressed in that circumstance. That does not mean that the patient is not competent to make end-of-life decisions.

    Read at least some of the detail behind Robert Baxter's case that led to the MT Supreme Court's decision that affirms a terminally ill patient's right to decide when to request a doctor's assistance to bring an end to intolerable suffering.

    You'll find that every bit as emotionally captivating as KJL's concern for his brother. His brother, who does not face any such choice.
  5. KJL
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    KJL - January 28, 2013 6:23 pm
    I live in Oregon. I oppose assisted suicide because I have a brother with a chronic illness. As a family we fight every single day to help him find joy in his life and live it to the fullest. Despite our best efforts and those of the medical professionals that surround us, his life still is full of mental pain and various problems. However, we still alter our own lives and schedules to make room for him and his care, because we love him and he loves us – and his life has value and dignity, though some people (even some medical professionals) do not agree.

    Some of you readers are thinking, “Why is she so attached to him still? Hasn’t he suffered enough? Why can’t they just let him go?” – well-meaning, ‘compassionate’-sounding questions. But ask this question, too: What illness does my brother suffer from, and what is it that causes his great pain and suffering? Answer: Schizophrenia. And I dare you - even any readers suffering from end stage cancer, renal disease, ALS, or Alzheimer’s – I dare anyone to compare their level of suffering to that of my brother and judge his to be the lesser. After having had this organic brain disease for nearly 40 years, his psychosis and tormenting delusions have reached a level that is barely manageable even with large amounts of targeted medication and near constant supervision.

    And I dare you further, that if you accept the premise that mental suffering (including loss of autonomy, feeling like a burden, etc.) qualify one for assisted suicide, you must open the procedure to the mentally ill, to people like my brother, since his profound suffering qualifies by any standard you could name – and in so doing, you'll turn 100 years of psychiatric theory on its head.

    Which appears in fact to be what the Oregon specialist has done. Either she didn’t have the expertise to recognize the patient’s depression, or she did notice the symptoms and brushed them off in order to support an ideology. She’d “done this many times before”. Really? Hm. There couldn’t be any truth to the idea that some Oregon doctors’ practices have become prescription mills for PAS, could there? (Look at the statistics; it’s obvious.) And this is despite the fact that the guidelines developed for the implementation of the "Death With Dignity Act" in 1997 state that _everyone_ requesting assisted suicide should be evaluated for depression.

    Don’t accept assisted suicide; disabled Montanans deserve better.
  6. Fred Brewer
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    Fred Brewer - January 26, 2013 1:09 pm
    Dr Bentz acknowledges that he was not able to override the wishes and decision of a former patient. Despite Dr Bentz's role as President of an extremist group opposed to Oregon's strongly supported law guaranteeing a patient's right to decide, the law protected the patient from his arrogant interference.

    The man was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in an advanced stage. Since Dr Bentz claimed him as a long-time patient, how could that happen? How could his primary care physician miss the presence of a visible, growing cancer until it was beyond cure?

    The man went through the miseries of radiation treatment and chemotherapy without success. He was dying, beyond any question, and facing rapid deterioration of all faculties along with inevitable agony as the cancer ate away at him. He chose to decide for himself when to bring an end to that suffering. Two physicians, apparently ones with more compassion than Dr Bentz, affirmed the patient's condition and his competence to make that decision.

    We're seeing a directed, choreographed influx of scare tactics and horror stories about this issue, many from fundamentalist zealots who aren't even Montana residents. Oregon has had years of experience with their law, without even one credible instance of abuse or misconduct. These activist groups have been unable to convince Oregon voters to withdraw their strong approval of that law.

    This session of the Montana Legislature may look at establishing guidelines for the protection of doctors and patients following the Montana Supreme Court's ruling that the Constitution protects a patient's right do decide this issue.

    So, now the extremists are trying to interfere with that Legislative process and use our government to force us to abide by their own narrow beliefs. They have absolutely failed in Oregon, but they think they might succeed in Montana.

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