New Doctors Group Criticizes Oregon Assisted Suicide Law

WASHINGTON -- March, 1999 -- A new group opposed to assisted suicide criticized Oregon's report on the Death With Dignity Act, saying on last Thursday that the study's conclusions are unfounded.

Americans for Integrity in Palliative Care questioned the finding that people who died under Oregon's landmark law received adequate pain relief because more than two-thirds of them were enrolled in a hospice.

While arguing that high levels of enrollment don't necessarily guarantee adequate care, the group also targeted the report for saying no person who chose suicide expressed a concern about the financial impact of their illness. The group said that just because patients didn't convey cost concerns to their doctors doesn't mean that the patients weren't worried about their pocket books.

"There are conclusions here that are based on a lack of information," said Dr. Herbert Hendin, a professor at New York Medical College and a member of the group. "That's the big mistake in the report."

Dr. Arthur Eugene Chin, who helped prepare the report for the Oregon Health Division, said the critics "bring up some very interesting points." He said it's true there were better sources for information about level of care and financial issues. But he said study authors didn't pursue that course because of privacy concerns.

The group critical of the report lists former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop among the nine doctors and two lawyers who founded it late last year. It formed in part to call for federal legislation similar to bills proposed last year by pro-life Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) and pro-life Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) which would have derailed Oregon's assisted suicide law.

The bills would have would have barred doctors from prescribing narcotics and other federally controlled drugs to help patients commit suicide. The presence of the new group could be an indication of the high stakes of the federal fight over the Oregon law this year. Nickles has promised to bring back his bill this Congress.

People handed out information on the new group in a hallway at the National Press Club, where Dr. Katrina Hedberg, another author of the Oregon report, was giving a briefing on the report's findings last Thursday.

Hendin and Dr. N. Gregory Hamilton, a clinical associate professor at Oregon Health Sciences University, later held a telephone conference call to criticize the Oregon report.

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