Oregonian Given Suicide Pills for Depression But Protected by Advocates of Better Health Care

Case showed lack of safeguards to protect mentally ill from being coerced to kill themselves


NEW YORK, May 10, 2004 ( - The case of a 63 year old Oregon man supplied with assisted suicide drugs because of depression was revealed Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in New York.  Dr. Gregory Hamilton, a Portland psychiatrist and member of Physicians for Compassionate Care, presented the case, along with his wife Cathy, a volunteer with Physicians for Compassionate Care.

Dr. and Mrs. Hamilton revealed that Michael Freeland was haunted by thoughts of suicide since his early 20’s when his mother shot herself. Shortly after his mother’s suicide, Freeland attempted suicide himself.  In March 2000, his doctor diagnosed him, at age 62, with lung cancer. The following month, Freeland called Physicians for Compassionate Care (PCC) requesting assisted suicide. Cathy Hamilton encouraged him to keep living, offered to find doctors to treat his depression, pain or other concerns, and began making regular contact with him. His physician prescribed a drug to treat his depression.  In early 2001, Dr. Peter Reagan gave Freeland a lethal prescription although he was not actually “terminally ill” and he did not die for another year and a half. 63 years old at this time, Freeland was hospitalized for depression with suicidal and homicidal thoughts and Dr. Reagan pronounced him incompetent to make his own medical decisions. A Multnomah County judge also found Freeland incompetent to make his medical decisions.  Two weeks before he finally died, Dr. and Mrs. Hamilton found Freeland alone, in pain, dehydrated, confused and afraid to take his pain medication. He told the Hamiltons that when he had earlier told Dr. Reagan that he was in pain, rather than administer pain medication to him, Reagan instead proposed to sit with him while he took the lethal overdose he had originally prescribed a year and a half ago. With the Hamilton’s encouragement, Freeland instead took the pain medication rather than the overdose - to his great relief.  Cathy Hamilton insisted that Freeland have 24 hour attendant care and receive an infusion pump for better pain care. On December 5, 2002, Mr. Freeland died comfortably, just having reconciled with his daughter and without having taken any of the lethal drugs.  “This case demonstrates the callousness of those who support physician assisted suicide,” said Barbara Lyons, Executive Director of Wisconsin Right to Life. “Here was a man who was not receiving proper medical care and little pain control but all his physician would offer Mr. Freeland was a lethal drug to end his life. In fact, that physician tried to convince Mr. Freeland to end his life a year and a half before he actually died. Where is the compassion here? Had it not been for the Hamiltons, who provided him with the compassion, medical care and pain control he so desperately wanted and needed, Mr. Freeland would likely have relented and taken the lethal drug because he was being offered no other real choice. This case demonstrates that there are no safeguards in Oregon to protect the mentally ill from being coerced to kill themselves.”  Read related coverage:

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