Nurses Investigated In Oregon Assisted Suicide Case - Killed Patient Without a Physician

By Hilary White

PORTLAND, Oregon, July 9, 2007 ( - Two Portland-area nurses have admitted to the Oregon State Board of Nursing that they administered massive doses of morphine and Phenobarbital to a woman dying of cancer with the intention of causing her death. The Portland Tribune reports that the state Board of Nursing was alerted to the nurses’ action, but took more than a year investigating and did not report the incident to police.

The Board’s finding was that the two did participate in an assisted suicide without a physician. Oregon law states that assisted suicides must be performed with a physician.

Oregon state police are investigating for possible criminal charges against the nurses after an employee of the Nursing Board gave information to Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski.

Nurses Rebecca Cain and Diana Corson were allowed to continue practicing nursing, Cain after two years probation and Corson after a 30-day license suspension. Wendy Melcher died August 23, 2005, four days after the two administered the drugs. She suffered from neck and throat cancer and received in-home care through Providence St. Vincent Hospice.

William Toffler, national director of Physicians for Compassionate Care, told The Portland Tribune that the Wendy Melcher case is an example of exactly what he and his organization have been warning against for years. "The cover-up is unconscionable," he said. "This is the slippery slope. It’s not theoretical. It’s very real."

Mara Woloshin, a spokeswoman for the Melcher family said the revelations about the nature of Wendy’s death have devastated the family, who believed she had died of cancer, and prompted them to wonder if Melcher genuinely gave consent. "The family wants some answers," Woloshin said. "This family is bleeding from the emotional pain. They have been broadsided."

"They think someone may have participated in ending Melcher’s life prematurely without (Melcher’s) consent," said Woloshin.

Toffler, a family physician and faculty member at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, said, "It’s not nurse-assisted suicide in this state," he said. "It’s physician-assisted suicide. It’s outside the law, and if being outside the law is criminal, it’s criminal."

The issue of informed consent is crucial in the argument against assisted suicide and euthanasia. Euthanasia opponents have pointed to the erosion of the principle of consent and the fallibility of "safeguards" in the Netherlands, the country that pioneered legalized doctor assisted killing.

A 2005 joint statement by a group of doctors and lawyers published by warned that the Netherlands experience showed "euthanasia, once legalized, cannot be effectively controlled."

"Euthanasia, initially intended for certain groups such as patients with terminal diseases will soon be performed on other groups of patients including the elderly, incapacitated patients, patients suffering with emotional distress, the disabled, and even children and newborn babies with disabilities who cannot ask for euthanasia."

The euthanasia movement has pushed forward in the Netherlands from legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, to legalized involuntary euthanasia for children.

Read related coverage:

Netherlands Set to Give Go-Ahead to Child Euthanasia

Dutch Doctors Admit to Euthanizing Babies

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