Assisted suicide numbers in Oregon continue to rise

In 1997, Oregon became the first jurisdiction to legalise physician-assisted suicide for people with a terminal illness. Since then, numbers have increased year-on-year, and this shows no sign of slowing.

Last week, Oregon produced its 26th report. This shows that 2023 saw a 20 percent increase in assisted suicide compared to 2022, which itself had been a record-breaking year.

Last year, at least 367 people died by assisted suicide, an average of one a day. This would be equivalent to 15 assisted suicides per day in a population the size of the United Kingdom.

Afraid and alone

Not all these deaths were quick or easy. In 159 cases, death was motivated by a fear of being a burden on family, friends or caregivers. In 28 cases, death occurred without the presence or even the knowledge of a loved one.

Complications such as seizures or vomiting occurred in around ten percent of cases, and this does not include lingering deaths. 

As Oregon continues to experiment with different cocktails of lethal drugs, median times to death have increased (from 22 minutes in 1998 to 52 minutes in 2023). One patient in 2023 took more than five days to die. If this had been an execution, it would have been cruel or unusual punishment.


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The law is supposed to be restricted to people who would otherwise die of natural causes within six months, but in 2023 it was provided to 17 people who had outlived their six-month prognosis. One patient had lived four and a half years since being approved for assisted suicide.

These were people who had decided to delay taking the lethal drugs. For the majority, who took the drugs within four weeks of requesting them, we have no way of knowing how many more months or years they otherwise could have lived.

Culture of death

While Oregon continues to break records for numbers of assisted suicides, numbers who did not inform their families, and numbers and length of lingering deaths by assisted suicide, its rate of non-assisted suicide also continues to climb.

Statistics from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention show that between 2005 and 2021 the (“non-assisted”) suicide rate in Oregon increased from 14.9 per 100,000 to 19.5 per 100,000. For comparison, the suicide rate in England and Wales in 2021 was 10.7 per 100,000.

Research published in 2022 demonstrated that, in the United States, legalising physician-assisted suicide had been associated with a 6 percent increase in the suicide rate, with a 14 percent increase among women. These results were statistically significant even after controlling for socio-demographic factors. Legalisation of euthanasia or assisted suicide is a threat to suicide prevention.

In England and Wales, it is illegal to encourage or assist suicide. The current law helps prevent suicide and helps protect vulnerable people. The example of Oregon this year, as in the past 25 years, continues to provide a warning of what can happen if this protection is removed.

How can societies better serve the suffering and the dying? Is assisted suicide a suitable panacea? Leave a comment below.

This article has been republished with permission from the Anscombe Bioethics Centre.

David Albert Jones is the Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, Professor of Bioethics at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and Vice-Chair of the Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee.

Image: Pexels


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  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-04-09 10:00:20 +1000
    David, I think you did the right thing by alleviating her suffering.

    From what you write, it seemed that she couldn’t give consent. Which makes the issue more complicated.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-04-09 09:55:14 +1000
    I have approached this subject before. My wife died at home. We did hospice care. She outlived the six month requirement. Toward the end I had complete control of the pain killing medication. I will never know if she died of cancer, or the pain medication. She was no longer responsive. I had to guess how much medication was necessary. Perhaps I killed her. I will never know. The point is that assisted suicide it is difficult to tell the difference between assisted suicide (or murder) and death by natural causes. So the numbers for assisted suicide are suspect at best. I’ll let you decide. Did I murder my wife?
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-04-06 08:40:29 +1100
    Mrscracker, no one refuses artificial nutrition unless they want to die. The same applies to people who refuse respirators that breathe for them. There’s no reason to say no unless you want to die.

    Respirators and PEG tubes could keep people alive for years, if not decades.
  • mrscracker
    Suicide & requiring that healthcare workers cooperate in that is immoral. Refusing certain types of therapies might be unwise, but not immoral. It’s not the direct taking of a human life.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-04-05 15:39:07 +1100
    If cancer patients stopped taking their chemo or radiation therapy, they would die much sooner.

    So if your argument is that these drugs (which offer a peaceful alternative to cancer or terminal sedation) are immoral, then it should also be equally illegal to refuse life-saving chemotherapy, regardless of the harmful side effects.
  • David Albert Jones
    published this page in The Latest 2024-04-05 11:47:13 +1100
  • Michael Cook
    followed this page 2024-04-05 11:47:04 +1100