Portland 'death house' doctor's license suspended
| June 25, 2010 12:20 PM
A Portland psychiatrist who plans to open a home for terminally ill patients seeking to kill themselves has had his license suspended by medical regulators.
The Oregon Medical Board took the action Thursday against Dr. Stuart Weisberg for an investigation of improperly prescribing drugs. Weisberg said he had not been informed of the board's action and was continuing to see patients.
"That's cool," he said Friday. "If they want to suspend me, I'll fight it. I was expecting some heat."
Oregon in 1997 became the first state to make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally ill patient who requests it. More than 400 patients have used the option, but most swallow the lethal medication in the comfort of their own home.
The "Dignity House" would have been the first of its kind in the United States, where assisted suicide is illegal in all but three states. According to the Dignity House website, a 21-hour stay would cost $600 and patients would be required to spend another $600 for an "end-of-life camera" to record the final hours.
Optional services include nursing, catering, security, a personal assistant, a professional pianist and flowers from Weisberg's home garden.
Weisberg's presence is another option. "Normally, I will not be present for the completion of the Death of Dignity Act," the website states. "If, however, you would like my therapy dog and me present at the time of death, you may purchase a 3 hour window of our time for $1,200."
Weisberg's fee would be cut in half for patients buying the entire package of services, which run about $4,000.
No date had been set for the opening of Dignity House. Weisberg has invited doctors and politicians to learn more about his idea at a July 21 presentation. Though he could operate the place as a private businessman, Weisberg said he would walk away if the suspension is not lifted.
The medical board voted 8-0 for the emergency suspension of Weisberg's license. According to the three-page order, Weisberg improperly prescribed ketamine to a 68-year-old woman who complained of depression and wrongly provided a medical-marijuana card to a 54-year-old woman with an extensive history of bipolar disorder.
Weisberg had run afoul of the board on previous occasions and had earlier been placed on probation. In 2009, Weisberg and the board agreed that he would meet with a mentor twice a month to review charts and discuss patient-care issues.
The 37-year-old Weisberg, according to the board's suspension order, "has recently manifested behavior indicative of grandiosity, compulsivity, and risk taking behavior that calls his ability to practice medicine competently and in conformity to the law into question."
The psychiatrist, who specializes in treating drug addicts, said he believes the board's action is tied to his plans for Dignity House.
"It would be like dropping a heroin bomb on this city, if they came and suspended me, because I treat drug addicts," Weisberg said.
Barbara Coombs Lee, president of the national advocacy group Compassion & Choices, said Weisberg's idea is a "non-starter" because psychiatrists are not allowed to write lethal prescriptions. Moreover, she doubts it would make much business sense. Patients, she said, prefer to die at home, surrounded by the people and things they love.
"I don't think very many people are interested in paying Dr. Weisberg to go to his house," said Lee.