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Study Shows Number of Physician-Assisted Suicide Cases Increasing

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June 28, 2018

Doctor-assisted suicides in California nearly doubled in 2017 on a monthly basis over 2016, a recent state report shows.

It is a cautionary statistic as attorneys carry on a courtroom fight over whether the state’s 2016 assisted suicide law is legal.

The question of suicide in contemporary society has gained new attention and generated increased discussion with the recent self-inflicted deaths of well-known people such as designer Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

Until suicides of famous people generate headlines, suicide remains a continuing and generally unnoticed reality. In California, about 4,200 people commit suicide each year, a substantial share of the more than 40,000 American suicides. 

New information about California’s legal doctor-assisted suicide came in the mandated state report for 2017, released in late June. It shows that 374 Californians died in 2017 from drugs prescribed for them by 241 doctors, about 31 a month.

That is a much higher monthly rate than 2016 when doctor-assisted suicide was legal for seven months. The state report found that 16 people died per month in 2016 with doctor-prescribed chemicals.

In 2017 some 241 California doctors prescribed a lethal combination of drugs to their clients used, about 40 percent more than the 173 who prescribed the meds in 2016.

The report was made public while a legal battle is waged over the assisted suicide law itself. There was sufficient opposition to the practice that the Legislature was unable to pass it during its regular session. So assisted suicide advocates got it enacted during a special session in order to resolve an unrelated Medi-Cal funding crisis but that did not include the normal legislative process and safeguards.

Opponents of doctor-assisted suicide eventually won a suit against the legislative defect in a Riverside County court. That ruling has been put on hold when California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appealed to allow death-by-doctor to continue.

Dr. Aaron Kheiraty of UC Irvine continues to warn of the risks.  In a recent tweet, he wrote, “Doctor-assisted suicide is contagious, too. Why aren't we sounding the alarm?”