Who Chooses Assisted Suicide?

Since 1997, more than 230 terminally ill Oregonians have ended their lives with lethal but legally prescribed doses of medication. The rate of "assisted suicides" has risen since the Oregon Death With Dignity Act (search) went into effect, hitting a high of 42 in 2003.

A common argument against legal assisted suicide has been that the poor, black, or uneducated would be more vulnerable to abuse. But in Oregon, those who have opted for it have tended to be college educated, white, single and suffering from cancer, AIDS or Lou Gehrig's disease (search).

Most have reported the reason they chose to commit suicide was out of fear they would eventually be unable to care for themselves, rather than out of fear of pain or becoming a financial burden to their families.

Click in the video box to the above right to view a report by FOX News' Dan Springer.

According to health department reports, most patients died within a few hours of taking a lethal amount of barbiturates.

But last year, there were three reported incidence of complications. The patients vomited after taking the pills, and while they all eventually died, one took 31 hours to do so.

This year, Oregon saw its first reported case of failure. Lung-cancer patient David Prueitt went into a coma that lasted for three days. After he woke up, he lived for two more weeks. The ordeal reinforced his brother's opposition to assisted suicide (search).

"It just seems like we are dabbling in an area that is really not ours. We are taking control in an area that ... God gives life, he's also the taker of it," said brother Steve Prueitt.

But one cancer patient said that knowing that a physician-supervised suicide is an option has given her great peace.

"All I want is the option. The amount of peace I have had, knowing from the beginning when I was given my diagnosis, that this option was available to me is beyond describing," said Lovell Svart.

Oregon voters have largely agreed that Svart and others like her ought to be given a choice. Sixty-one percent of voters backed the law in 1997, and while initial polls showed doctors overwhelmingly against it, acceptance is growing.

The medical profession is still deeply divided over the issue. Doctors who participate argue assisted suicide is compassionate, but many of their colleagues say the practice is a violation of the oath to do no harm.