In the debate over physician-assisted suicide, opponents have long argued that legalizing it could lead to disproportionately high suicide rates in vulnerable patients. But a new study published in the October 2007 issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics suggests that this concern is more fear than fact: an analysis of reports of doctor-assisted deaths in Oregon and the Netherlands ”” two areas where the practice is legal ”” found that rates of assisted death were no higher than average in nine of 10 patient groups that could be at risk for coercion, such as the elderly or the poor. In fact, the one group that researchers found sought assisted suicide more frequently was younger white men ”” a generally more privileged few.
“People who tend to take advantage of this tend to be well educated when it comes to their options,” says Russell Korobkin, a professor at UCLA School of Law. In the last 13 years in Oregon, only 292 have died under the law. “Mostly what this is good for is giving people peace of mind. They feel like they have control if they need it.”