Professional News
Psychiatrist Reaches a Conclusion
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 18 page 4-4

Psychiatric News attempted to interview a number of Oregon psychiatrists to learn more about assisted suicide in their state and the role psychiatrists have played in it. Virtually all of them declined—even one who has evaluated patients who wanted assisted suicide.

But psychiatrist Scott Reichlin, M.D., editor of the Oregon Psychiatric Association's (OPA) newsletter, was willing to comment. And he explained why Oregon psychiatrists are generally loath to discuss assisted suicide.

"When the [assisted-suicide] law was first being debated, I was president of our district branch. And it was awful. It was awful mostly in retrospect because we all thought we, the psychiatrists in our district branch, should have a role in shaping this law. And at the same time we didn't want to be involved in it...And part of the problem...[was that] the organization was quite split over the law. And actually it caused a rift." One district branch member even resigned over the issue, Reichlin noted.

Then, after the option of assisted suicide became law in Oregon, he pointed out, the OPA ceased discussing the subject, and as things stand today, Oregon psychiatrists "have not had a lot of involvement" with assisted suicide. "We psychiatrists concluded very early on that we did not want to be the gatekeepers for the competency of the patients who asked for physician-assisted suicide."

So what is Reichlin's view of the assisted-suicide law? "I was concerned at the beginning, and I think some other psychiatrists were concerned, just with the idea of suicide. We have been taught from day one that suicide is bad. I got concerned that this would somehow legitimize suicide in a more global way.... [But] that has not happened. [On the other hand] I think that it has created some conflict and split in our state, and in our country, but more specifically in our district branch.... So while [this aspect of the law] is not a big negative, it is a negative."

And would Reichlin advise other states to enact an assisted-suicide law?" I am sort of reluctant to say yes, but I guess I would say yes. Well, let me draw back a little bit. I do not think that physician-assisted suicide does or should involve psychiatrists very much. [But] I think from a general patient-care point of view it has benefits because...patients feel that they have some hope, that they don't have to be consigned to certain pain."

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