TV ad on assisted suicide leaves out part of the story

From The Oregonian, November 4, 1994

Summary: The Measure 16 commercial says a daughter slipped away after taking pills but in a talk the mother says that she `hit a vein’

In the television commercial, the spokeswoman for Measure 16 tells the  story of how her cancer-stricken daughter “slipped peacefully away” after  taking a lethal dose of pills.

But in a talk to a national conference on euthanasia two years ago, Patty A. Rosen of Bend told a different story. The assisted-suicide seemed to backfire so badly that a family member nearly put a pillow over her daughter’s head to hasten the death.

In the end, Rosen, a registered nurse, said she “hit a vein,” suggesting  a lethal injection was used to supplement the pills.

In the campaign ad, she tells viewers, “So I broke the law and got her the pills necessary. And as she slipped peacefully away, I climbed into her bed and I took her in my arms for the first time in months.”

The omission isn’t the only questionable ad in a campaign driven by emotional anecdotes. Measure 16 opponents used actors to portray a supposedly cancer-stricken man and his son.

When asked to explain the difference between her 1994 commercial and her 1992 talk to The Hemlock Society in Long Beach, Calif., Rosen confirmed the accuracy of her original story but defended the ad. “I OK’d the script and it came from my heart.”

”First Jody took the pills and went to sleep,” Rosen said. “Then I got absolutely hysterical and thought she might wake up. Then I gave her additional morphine by injection and a suppository so she wouldn’t vomit up the pills.”

The difference between the two stories is important because questions over  the efficiency of medicine for suicides has been near the forefront of the medical debate about Measure 16.

Unlike failed assisted-suicide measures in Washington in 1991 and  California in 1992, Measure 16 allows for pills only, not needles. If it  passes Tuesday, Oregon would become the first state to legalize  doctor-assisted suicide.

”It’s not as easy as everyone says, that you just take pills and drift away. It doesn’t always work,” said Thomas Reardon, a Portland physician and national board member of the American Medical Association.

The AMA opposes any form of doctor-assisted suicide and has spoken out against Measure 16.

But proponents of Measure 16 say the Rosen story, even in its entirety,  illustrates why doctors are needed to assist with suicides.

”Had she been able to talk with a physician, who would have said `it will take this long, just wait,’ there wouldn’t have been this panic,” said  Barbara Coombs Lee, Measure 16′s chief petitioner.

She said doctors can specify the proper lethal dosage and emotionally prepare families for the temporary heavy breathing and other alarming responses that can accompany suicide by prescription.

In addition to appearing in the 60-second ad airing across the state,  Rosen’s story — minus the injection — has been told on “Good Morning  America” and “CNN.”

”The story was modified in a way to make it sound like this is a benign and easy process,” said Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Coalition for  Compassionate Care, which is opposing Measure 16.

But McCormick’s campaign has also aired a questionable commercial, in which actors dramatize a father overcoming a diagnosis of terminal cancer.

The ad copy includes an emotional hook that includes the words “well my wife, she’s never looked more beautiful.”

McCormick said the drama represented a man from Eugene who would not let  the campaign use his name.

”It’s not a real story,” said Geoff Sugerman, campaign coordinator for  Oregon Right to Die. “It’s a made up attempt to cast fear into the minds of  voters.”

The ad aired on 56 radio stations from Oct. 17 to 23.

”It was meant to tap into people’s emotions,” McCormick said. “That’s  what you try to do with advertising in a campaign. It’s not anything compared  to Patty Rosen’s misrepresentation of her story.”

Rosen’s story began when her 25-year-old daughter, Jody, developed bone cancer. The pain became so great that Jody pleaded with her mother to help her end her life. On Oct. 30, 1986, in San Diego, Rosen did.

”When I was bathing her she looked at me, tears running down her face that morning,” said Rosen, according to a 1992 tape recording of the talk. “And she said, `This is the happiest day for me.’ She says, `I do not have to wake up again with this pain and this body that I’m through with.

”So she went to sleep. I didn’t know about plastic bags. I wish I had.  Because, right at the (pause) it seemed to be backfiring. And I was fortunate enough at the very last to be able to hit a vein right. And say, `Bye, Jody.  See you later.’

”I have to add in there, before I could do that, the one son came into the room — because Jody’s arms were about as big around as a little doll’s at  this point — and the tourniquet wouldn’t fit. And Eric took his hands and  held her veins for me.

”What impact does this have on a family, this assisted suicide? What  impact did it have on that son? What impact did it have on the other son that  came in and I said, `Oh God, she’s starting to breathe again.’

”And he said, `I’ll take a pillow.’ And I said, `No, you can’t do that.’ I could not have them facing what I knew I was facing. Jody passed on.”

Spokespersons for the Oregon Right to Die campaign said Jody would have died with pills alone if Rosen had not panicked. The fact that campaign ad did not mention the injection is unimportant, they said.

”There simply wasn’t time to present the historically correct story,”  said Oregon Right to Die attorney Eli Stutsman. “And that is true of a lot of ads.”

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