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Efforts to legalize assisted suicide may be one cause for high suicide rates

Efforts to legalize assisted suicide may be one cause for high suicide rates

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Your article, “Cowboy culture’ factor in Montana’s high suicide rate” (Nov. 25-27), discusses possible reasons for that high rate. A reason I did not see discussed is the active and ongoing push to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Montana.

I am a doctor in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal. In Oregon, physician-assisted suicide means that a physician facilitates a patient’s suicide by providing a lethal prescription. In Oregon, our law also allows family members to participate in the suicide, for example, by helping with the lethal dose request process and by picking up the lethal dose at the pharmacy. Physician-assisted suicide is sometimes called “aid in dying.“

Oregon’s overall suicide rate, which excludes suicide under our assisted suicide act, is 35 percent above the national average. This rate has been “increasing significantly” since 2000. Just three years prior, in 1997, Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide. This statistical correlation is consistent with a suicide contagion in which the normalization of one type of suicide encouraged other suicides.

In 2011, a bill similar to Oregon’s law was proposed and defeated in the Montana Legislature. I understand that another bill will be proposed this coming legislative session. With this active promotion of physician-assisted suicide, there is the possibility of a normalization process similar to what appears to have taken place in Oregon. If so, this is another factor in Montana’s high rate of suicide.

I hope that you will encourage your legislators to keep assisted suicide out of Montana. Don’t make our mistake.

William L. Toffler,

Professor of family medicine,

Oregon Health & Science University,

National director and board member,

Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation,

Portland, Ore.

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