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Critics Want Assisted Suicides Examined

Mon., March 30, 1998, midnight

Opponents of assisted suicide are calling for greater disclosure in the wake of news reports last week that two people had killed themselves under Oregon’s landmark law.

Barbara Coombs Lee, head of the Compassion in Dying Federation, released information Wednesday about the suicide of an elderly cancer patient, including a tape recording in which the woman makes her intentions clear.

Lee and her organization were the only conduits for details of what actually had happened.

Critics such as Burke Balch, director of the Department of Medical Ethics at the National Right to Life Committee in Washington, D.C., suggest the state collect more thorough data - whether the deaths are long and complicated; whether patients are adequately informed of other options, such as pain management; and whether the poor or other demographic groups disproportionately turn to assisted suicide.

“The particularly extraordinary thing here is that the Oregon experience is supposed to be an experiment,” said Balch, who represents an organization that fundamentally opposes physician-assisted suicide. “If there is any place where it is critical for the public to know, it is here.”

A special interim committee, charged with reviewing the law for possible problems, has taken a handsoff approach and likely won’t meet until fall.


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