The New York Times reports on assisted suicide and who chooses and uses it:
Dr. Richard Wesley has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the incurable disease that lays waste to muscles while leaving the mind intact. He lives with the knowledge that an untimely death is chasing him down, but takes solace in knowing that he can decide exactly when, where and how he will die.
Under Washington State’s Death With Dignity Act, his physician has given him a prescription for a lethal dose of barbiturates. He would prefer to die naturally, but if dying becomes protracted and difficult, he plans to take the drugs and die peacefully within minutes.
“It’s like the definition of pornography,” Dr. Wesley, 67, said at his home here in Seattle, with Mount Rainier in the distance. “I’ll know it’s time to go when I see it.”
Washington followed Oregon in allowing terminally ill patients to get a prescription for drugs that will hasten death. Critics of such laws feared that poor people would be pressured to kill themselves because they or their families could not afford end-of-life care. But the demographics of patients who have gotten the prescriptions are surprisingly different than expected, according to data collected by Oregon and Washington through 2011.
Dr. Wesley is emblematic of those who have taken advantage of the law. They are overwhelmingly white, well educated and financially comfortable. And they are making the choice not because they are in pain but because they want to have the same control over their deaths that they have had over their lives.
“There was a lot of fear that the elderly would be lined up in their R.V.’s at the Oregon border,” said Barbara Glidewell, an assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University.
That has not happened, although the number of people who have taken advantage of the law has risen over time. In the first years, Oregon residents who died using drugs they received under the law accounted for one in 1,000 deaths. The number is now roughly one in 500 deaths. At least 596 Oregonians have died that way since 1997. In Washington, 157 such deaths have been reported, roughly one in 1,000.
In Oregon, the number of men and women who have died that way is roughly equal, and their median age is 71. Eighty-one percent have had cancer, and 7 percent A.L.S., which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The rest have had a variety of illnesses, including lung and heart disease. The statistics are similar in Washington.
There were fears of a “slippery slope” — that the law would gradually expand to include those with nonterminal illnesses or that it would permit physicians to take a more active role in the dying process itself. But those worries have not been borne out, experts say.
Read more here.
Another story from Canada is here.
h/t to frequent commenters Murdoch Matthew and Gary Paul Gilbert