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Assisted suicide deaths soar in Oregon

A supporter in favour of Oregon's assisted suicide law outside the Supreme Court in 2005 (AP)

The number of people who have died by assisted suicide in the US State of Oregon has soared by 26 per cent in the last year, reaching a record high.

Official figures revealed that physician-assisted suicide deaths went from 105 in 2014 to 132 in 2015. In 2013 there were just 73 deaths by assisted suicide.

The statistics also show a 40 per cent surge in the number of prescriptions for lethal drugs on the previous year. A total of 218 lethal prescriptions were written out in 2015, up from 155 in 2014 and 121 in 2013.

The leap in assisted suicide deaths is the latest in an incremental succession of rises, leading critics to claim that Oregon is as prone to descending a ““slippery slope”” of end-of-life abuses as any other jurisdiction such practices have been legalised.

Phil Friend, spokesman for Not Dead Yet UK, a disability rights group opposed to assisted suicide, described the Oregon figures as “”scary”.

““We have always had our doubts about Oregon,”” he said. “It is getting easier and easier for more and more people to justify dying. Where will it end?””

He added: ““This is about a ‘right to die’ but I don’t think there is a ‘right to die’, and certainly not by somebody else’s hand. “Medicine is about trying to help us and not to kill us and we are very, very worried in the UK about what will happen to patients’ relationships with their doctor if this becomes law and they are fighting to stay alive.”

Dignity in Dying, the campaign group formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, has always held up Oregon as a model of good practice of assisted suicide. Because there were just 132 assisted suicide deaths in the US state in 2015, the group has rejected claims that the law is not working.

A statement on its website acknowledged that the 2015 figure represented “the most people that have had an assisted death in any year since the law was passed” but said it was still less than one per cent of the total number of deaths.

““Does this mean the law is no longer working?”” it continued. ““No, it means more terminally ill people are exercising their choice to be able to control the manner and timing of their deaths, subject to upfront safeguards. “As a result, fewer terminally ill people are being forced to endure suffering that they consider unbearable.””

The statement added: ““Oregon, Washington, Vermont and most recently California have introduced safe and effective legislation. It should not be beyond the wit of our Parliament to do the same.””