Oregon Doctor Opens Death Clinic

Oregon assisted suicide law allows terminally ill to plan death like a wedding.

June 23, 2010, 3:49 PM

June 24, 2010 -- For $5,000, terminally ill patients who are eligible to take advantage of the Oregon's suicide law can book a death that might look a lot like a wedding package.

Dr. Stuart Wiesberg, a 37-year-old psychiatrist, is already promoting his new Dignity House in the Sellwood neighborhood in Portland, where those who meet all the state standards, may go to die.

"A patient would check in at 3 p.m.," Wiesberg told ABC's affiliate KATU. "We have music, flowers, catering. They can bring as many family members as they wish, their pets, their attorney."

The flat fee includes catering, security, videotaping, music, flowers and, for an extra $1,200, three hours of psychiatric help from Weisberg and his therapy dog.

"They can have as many family members there as they want ---they can bring their pets -- and, I guess for lack of better expression, do the deed," he said.

It's not clear how profitable - or tasteful -- this business might be.

The Oregon Department of Human Services reports 59 people used the law last year to end their lives.

Almost all of them take life-ending medication at home, "so it's highly unlikely he would be having too many people using his service," said George Eighmey, executive director of

Compassion and Choices of Oregon.

"It's the commercialization of death with dignity," said Eighmey, who helped pass Oregon's controversial law in 1997.

"He's creating a dying house, videotaping it, providing goods and services -- I think it degrades what's going on."

"I don't think his setting up a business to do it -- in my opinion is not appropriate, and even the taking of the photographs and videos is ghoulish," he said.

Oregon's Death with Dignity Law went into effect in 1997, and, according to Eighmey, only about one-fourth of those who fill a prescription actually use the drug.

"Many many more -- about eight out of 10 who start the process, never complete it at all," he said. "But they all find it comforting knowing the law is available to them."

"Basically we provide a service free of charge," said Eighmey. "What we do is facilitate the patient through the process with their physician, family and pharmacist. [Weisberg's] expressed intent is to do all that at a one-stop place and charge $5,000."

Weisberg's medical background does not involve working with the terminally ill. In 2002, he opened a mental health walk-in clinic in downtown Portland for homeless youth. He boasts that there were no suicides. He says he treated 400 youths in two years of operation.

He opened his psychiatric and addiction-medicine clinic in 2004. Weisberg, who is the father of two children, said he hopes to publish the data, according to his website, End of Life Consultants.

According to a report from the Oregon Department of Human Services, 95 prescriptions for lethal medications were written in 2009, compared to 88 during the previous year. Of those, 53 patients took the medications, 30 died of their underlying illnesses, and 12 were alive at the end of 2009.

In addition, six patients with earlier prescriptions died from taking the medications, resulting in a total of 59 deaths during 2009.

Eligible Patients Must be Dying in 6 Months

In order to be eligible for physician-assisted suicide, the patient must be an adult with proof of residence in the state. Two medical doctors must provide a diagnosis saying that the patient's life will probably end within six months. If one doctor is concerned that the patient is depressed, a psychiatric evaluation can be ordered.

The patient must make two oral requests 15 days apart and one written request with a signature witnessed by two people, only one of whom may be a family member.

Once eligible, the attending physician may write a prescription for a lethal dose of the barbiturate secobarbital. The bitter powder is taken orally in liquid or applesauce.

"It's very peaceful," said Eighmey. "They go to sleep within three to five minutes."

Dignity House will start to take its first patients in August, but because of a state-required waiting period for patients, sanctioned suicides may not take place until September.

"This really is a death clinic," said Dr. William Toffler, a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University. "It's an absolute corruption of traditional medical ethics to assist people with living well until they die naturally."

"The solution to suffering is never to kill the sufferer," said Toffler. "The compassionate thing to do is alleviate suffering, but not by encouraging or seducing them to take an overdose."

Toffler, an opponent of physician-assisted suicide, said that Weisberg's idea for a one-stop shop is "predictable."

Critics of the law said it would lead the state down a "slippery slope," and already out-of-state patients are easily establishing residence in Oregon to take advantage of the law, according to Toffler.

"Our goal as doctors is to provide the best care that the second millennium can provide," said Toffler."We need to provide that high-quality care given to Ted Kennedy to everyone and that's what we should be striving for."

"Offering suicide instead of care is absolutely upside down," he said.