I received an e-mail recently from Jerry Daniel of Vancouver, Wash., asking for more details about the death of Clay Freeman, NM’s 2008 Person of the Year, who died Feb. 1. Since Freeman, a high quad/vent user who depended on multiple PCAs, lived in Oregon, the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide, Daniel wondered if Oregon’s law may have been a factor in his death. Daniel’s home state, Washington, just became the second state to allow PAS, effective March 5. He is also a vent user, and he is concerned that PAS devalues and makes more vulnerable the lives of those with severe disabilities, including vent-using quads.
As far as I know, Clay did not choose to die. He was a fighter, and PAS requires a terminal diagnosis, which rules out quadriplegia. But over the past 11 years, 401 people have died using the law, and some interesting facts have come to light.
In Oregon, of the 401 people who have ingested a lethal cocktail, 53 percent were males and 47 percent were females, most of whom were between 55-84 years of age. About 44 percent were highly educated, having received a baccalaureate degree or higher. Most came from metropolitan areas, and the most prevalent disease cited, by far, was some form of cancer, lung cancer being the most common. ALS was a distant second at 7.5 percent. Third was chronic lower respiratory disease, at 4.7 percent.