Sunday, June 18, 2017

In Oregon, Other Suicides Have Increased with Legalization of Assisted Suicide

Oregon Coast
By Margaret Dore, Esq., MBA


The initiated measure seeks to legalize physician-assisted suicide in South Dakota. The measure is based on a similar law in Oregon, which was enacted in 1997.[1] Since then, there has been a significant increase in other (conventional) suicides in Oregon. This is consistent with a suicide contagion in which the legalization and promotion of assisted suicide has led to an increase in other suicides. A government report from Oregon states:
The cost of [conventional] suicide is enormous. In 201[2] alone, self-inflicted injury hospitalization charges... exceeded $54 million; and the estimate of total lifetime cost of suicide in Oregon was over $677 million.[2]

“Suicide” means the intentional taking of one’s own life.[3] “Physician-assisted suicide” means that a physician facilitates a person’s suicide by providing the necessary means and information.[4] For example, 
provid[ing] sleeping pills and information about the lethal dose, while aware that the patient may commit suicide.[5]  

A.  Suicide is Contagious 

It is well known that suicide is contagious. A famous example is Marilyn Monroe.[6] Her widely reported suicide was followed by “a spate of suicides.”[7]

B.  Reporting Guidelines

With the understanding that suicide is contagious, groups such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and and the World Health Organization, have developed guidelines for the responsible reporting of suicide to prevent contagion.[8] Key points include that the risk of additional suicides increases:
[W]hen the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.[9]
C. Lovelle Svart and Brittany Maynard

In Oregon, prominent cases of legal assisted suicide include Lovelle Svart and Brittany Maynard.

Svart died in 2007.[10] At that time, Oregon’s largest paper violated the recommended guidelines for the responsible reporting of suicide by explicitly describing her suicide method and by employing “dramatic/graphic images.” Indeed, visitors to the paper’s website were invited “to hear and see when Lovelle swallowed the fatal dose.”[11] Today, ten years later, there are still photos of her online, laying in bed, dying.[12]

Brittany Maynard reportedly died from assisted suicide in Oregon, on November 1, 2014. Contrary to the recommended guidelines, there was “repeated/extensive coverage” in multiple media, worldwide.[13]  Much of this coverage is still online.

D. The Young Man Wanted to Die Like Brittany Maynard

A month after Ms. Maynard’s death, Will Johnston MD was presented with a twenty year old patient during an emergency appointment.[14] The young man, who had been brought in by his mother, was physically healthy, but had been acting oddly and talking about death.[15]

Dr. Johnston asked the young man if he had a plan.[16] The young man said "yes," that he had watched a video about Ms. Maynard.[17] He said that he was very impressed with her and that he identified with her and that he thought it was a good idea for him to die like her.[18] He also told Dr. Johnston that after watching the video he had been surfing the internet looking for suicide drugs.[19] Dr. Johnston’s declaration states:
He was actively suicidal and agreed to go to the hospital, where he stayed for five weeks until it was determined that he was sufficiently safe from self-harm to go home.[20]
The young man had wanted to die like Brittany Maynard.

E. Other Suicides Have Increased

Oregon government reports show the following positive correlation between the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and an increase in other suicides.  Per the reports:
  • Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide “in late 1997.”[22]
  • By 2000, Oregon’s conventional suicide rate was "increasing significantly."[23]
  • By 2007, Oregon's conventional suicide rate was 35% above the national average.[24]
  • By 2010, Oregon's conventional suicide rate was 41% above the national average.[25]
  • By 2012, Oregon's conventional suicide rate was 42% above the national average.[26]
F. The Financial and Emotional Cost of Suicide

In the case of attempted suicides (that fail), govenrmental entities, as well as insurers and private parties, can incur costs for hospitalizations, physical and psychological rehabilitation, and nursing home care. There can also be expenditures for burial/cremation services and police investications. 

Consider also, "suicide by cop," which is a recognized form of suicide.[27] A suicidal person threatens police or civilians in order to be killed by the police, which can result in costly litigation over the use of force, and in some cases damages paid by government bodies to the suicidal person's family.[28] See, for example, Runnels v. City of Miami where the family received a $1.25 million settlement.[29] 

As another example, consider Andy Williams, a suicidal 15 year old who killed two schoolmates and injured 13 others in 2001.[30]  His "grand plan" had been suicide by cop.[31] He instead survived the incident and was incarcerated in a California state prison with his first parole hearing to be held at age 65.[32] Obviously, this incident has caused great financial  and emotional expense.


South Dakota already has a high suicide rate.[33]  If the initiated measure 
is not rejected and South Dakota repeats the Oregon experience, South Dakota will have even more suicide. As in Oregon, the increased financial and emotional cost could be enormous. I urge you to reject the initiated measure.

Respectfully submitted

Margaret Dore, Esq., MBA

Law Offices of Margaret K. Dore, PS
Choice is an Illusion, a nonprofit corporation
1001 4th Avenue, Suite 4400
Seattle, WA  98154


[1]  Cf. Oregon Committee on Health and Human Service Committee Report excerpt, filed 10/06/16,  p. 2 (regarding “physician-assisted suicide”). Attached to contagion memo attachments pdf, as page A-1.
[2]  Shen X, Millet L, “Suicides in Oregon: Trends and Associated Factors 2003-2012,” Oregon Health Authority, page 6, 1st ¶, available at this link: 
[3]  Definition of “suicide” by Medical Dictionary,
[4]  The AMA Code of Medical Ethics, Opinion 5.7, 
[5]  Id.
[6]  Margot Sanger-Katz, “The Science Behind Suicide Contagion,” The New York Times, August 13, 2014, available at 
[7]  Id.
[8]  See “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide,” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention et. all, available at, and 
Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals,” World Health Organization.

[9]  Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide download, second "important point" at this link:
[10]  Ed Madrid, “Lovelle Svart, 1945 - 2007, The Oregonian, September 28, 2007. The article can be viewed at page A-7, at this link:
[11]  Id.
[12]  Id at A-8
& A-9.  As of June 18, 2017, these photos can still be found on line (they are not directly linked here in an attempt to avoid contagion)
[13]  The worldwide coverage of Ms. Maynard in multiple media started with an exclusive cover story in People Magazine. The cover can be viewed at page A-10 at this link:  at this link: Other media included TV, radio, print, web and social media.
[14]  Declaration of Williard Johnston, MD, May 24, 2015, which can be viewed at pages A-11 to A-12, at this link:
[15]  Id., paragraph 2.
[16]  Id.
[17]  Id.
[18]  Id.
[19]  Id.
[20]  Id., paragraph 4.

[21]  Footnote removed
[22]  Oregon Death with Dignity Act: 2015 Data Summary," Oregon Public Health Division, February 4, 2016, p.2, attached to 
page A-13, 
at this link:
[23]  Oregon Health Authority News Release, September 9, 2010, attached at page 14 at this link:
[24]  Suicides in Oregon: Trend and Risk Factors, issued September 2010 (data through 2007). Attached at pages A-15 & A-16, at this link:
[25]  “Suicides in Oregon: Trends and Associated Factors, 2003-2012 (data through 2010), attached pages A-17 & A-18 at this link:
[26]  “Suicides in Oregon: Trends and Associated Factors, 2003-2012, attached at page A-19, at this link:
[27]  Bernard J. Farber, Suicide by Cop, 2007(8) AELE Monthly Law Journal, Civil Liability Section, August 2007. Can be viewed at this link at pages A-20 & A-21; Farber bio attched at A-22.
[28]  Id. at A-20 & A-21.
[29]  Farber, supra, writes:
That such shootings may result in substantial liability is clearly illustrated by.... Runnels v. City of Miami, U.S. Dist. Ct. No. 00-2930 (S.D. Fla. 2002), the family... received a $1.25 million settlement in a lawsuit against the city...
[30]  Rebecca Jacobson, "School Shooter: 'My Grand Plan Was Suicide by Cop,'" February 18, 2013, available at
[31]  Id.
[32]  Id.