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Oregon’s assisted-suicide numbers decline in 2004

William McCall Associated Press

PORTLAND – The number of terminally ill patients who killed themselves under Oregon’s unique assisted suicide law decreased in 2004, health officials said Thursday.

Thirty-seven people took a lethal dose of drugs last year after requesting assistance from their doctors under the landmark Oregon Death with Dignity Act, which went into effect in 1998, according to the seventh annual report on the law.

It was a 12 percent decline from what is now the peak year of 2003, when 42 terminally ill patients chose to end their lives with drugs prescribed by their doctors. The lowest total was 16 in 1998.

The median age was 64 years and most had a college education, according to the report by the Oregon Department of Human Services. As in the past, most of the patients suffered from cancer, the report said.

It also noted that the total number of lethal prescriptions requested in 2004 declined for the first time since the law went into effect. The number had been increasing every year, peaking in 2003 at 68 before decreasing to 60 last year.

“I think it’s reflective of the fact that the law is being seldom used, and it indicates there are very few complications, if any,” said George Eighmey, executive director of Compassion and Dying in Oregon, an affiliate of the national Compassion and Choices.

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