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
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
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