Pro-Suicide Doctors

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act

  • Proponents promised legalized assisted suicide would occur in context of long-standing doctor-patient relationship. Instead, many, and over time perhaps most, deaths have involved short-term relationships with pro-suicide doctors doing cursory examinations.
  • During first year under the law, one-fourth of individuals seeking lethal prescriptions “had to approach more than one physician before finding one” who would comply. Yet Oregon officials did not interview the doctors who refused.[1]
  • In half the cases 1988-2004, the doctors knew the patients less than three months. DHS statistics report “Duration (weeks) of physician-patient relationship” as ranging from “0 -1065.” Apparently some doctors prescribed lethal medications for patients they know for just a few days or not at all.[2] Yet AB 374 co-author Lloyd Levine dismissed concerns about “doctor shopping.”[3]
  • The first person to die under Oregon law was turned down by her doctor and a second physician. The latter diagnosed her as “depressed”. Nonetheless, after just two telephone conversations, Dr. Peter Goodwin, medical director of Compassion in Dying, a pro-suicide advocacy group, decided she wasn’t depressed, but “rational, determined and steadfast”. Dr. Goodwin referred her to a doctor willing to help her end her life. That doctor referred her to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist met with the woman only once. After just two weeks – the minimum time under the law – the doctor helped her die.[4]
  • Oregon M.D. Peter Rasmussen “says he has written several lethal prescriptions….” Dr. Rasmussen said 75% of the patients who come to him regarding assisted suicide are people he has never seen before, but he said he spends a minimum of three hours with each patient — either in multiple visits or by telephone conversation — before writing the prescription.”[5] Clearly Dr. Rasmussen believes three hours is enough time to decide to help a stranger commit suicide.
  • Doctors affiliated with Compassion in Dying have facilitated three-fourths of deaths.[6]
  • A few dozen pro-assisted suicide doctors participated in the vast majority of deaths. Yet official reports on the practice uncritically accept their accounts.


[1] Department of Human Resources, Oregon Health Division, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act: the First Year’s Experience (Portland, 1999), 10, 13.

[2] Oregon Department of Human Services, Seventh Annual Report on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (Portland, March 10, 2005), 25, year7.pdf.

[3] Al Rantel Show, KABC-AM (Los Angeles), (March 4, 2005).

[4] K. Foley, H. Hendin, “The Oregon report: Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Hastings Center Report (May-June 1999): 37-42; Diane M. Gianelli, “Praise, criticism follow Oregon’s first reported assisted suicides,” American Medical News(April 13, 1998), pick0413.htm

[5] Andis Robeznieks,.”Oregon sees fewer numbers of physician-assisted suicides,”, April 4, 2005, prsb0404.htm

[6] Don Colburn, “Pharmacy Board will review failed assisted suicide,” The Oregonian, (March 10, 2005).

Compiled by:
Paul K. Longmore
Professor of History
San Francisco State University