'The killing has begun,' ethicist says of Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. (BP)-"The killing has begun."

So declared a Southern Baptist ethicist after news of two women's suicides under Oregon's "Death with Dignity Act," the first such reports since the law gained effect last fall.

C. Ben Mitchell, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., said, "These cases illustrate clearly what we knew would happen: that assisted suicide will be used to relieve stress and mental and physical discomfort.

"We're clearly now on the slippery slope" toward euthanasia in the United States, said Mitchell, who also is the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's consultant on biomedical and life issues.

One of the women, who committed suicide March 24, said in a tape recording two days earlier, "I will be relieved of all the stress I have." The woman, in her mid-80s, said she had been given less than two months to live from terminal breast cancer. Family members surrounded her as she died about a half hour after taking a prescription dose of barbiturates and a glass of brandy.

Mitchell also warned of the implications of Oregon's decision to pay for suicides of terminally ill poor people covered by the state's health plan.

"Because Oregon has stated it will provide public money where necessary through Medicare and Medicaid to assist in the death of those who can't afford it, the decision to have physician aid in dying is no longer a private decision between a patient and his or her doctor. It has become tax-supported homicide. It turns doctors into members of the medical Mafia."

The state's Health Services Commission adopted its provision of assisted suicide for an estimated 340,000 poor in a 10 vote Feb. 26.

The commission's action may face a test in the state legislature next year and from Washington, which prohibits federal funding for assisted suicide.

Oregon officials plan to issue a review of the assisted suicide law after 10 deaths have been reported, The New York Times reported March 26. The statute permits a terminally ill adult to request a lethal dose of prescription drugs if the individual is of sound mind and two doctors state that he or she has less than six months to live.

The Oregon statute was first approved by voters by a narrow margin in 1994 but was held up by legal challenges for three years. Last fall, it won by a wide margin in a second statewide vote.

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