updated 3/4/2005 3:29:34 PM ET 2005-03-04T20:29:34

A terminally ill cancer patient who tried to end his life with drugs prescribed under Oregon’s assisted-suicide law awoke three days later, alert and talkative, his wife said.

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David Prueitt, who had lung cancer, took what was believed to be a fatal dose of a barbiturate prescribed by his doctor in January. He fell into a coma within minutes, but woke up three days later, said his wife Lynda Romig Prueitt.

Prueitt’s wife told The Oregonian newspaper that he asked, “Why am I not dead?”

Prueitt, 42, lived for two more weeks before dying of natural causes at his Estacada home, about 35 miles southeast of Portland.

The state Department of Human Services will turn the case over to the Board of Medical Examiners or state Board of Pharmacy to determine if the procedure or drugs were faulty, said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, assistant state epidemiologist.

Complications with doctor-assisted suicides are rare. In 2001, a patient took 37 hours to die after ingesting a lethal dose, and in 2003, a patient took 48 hours to die. Neither regained consciousness.

Since the law took effect in 1997, more than 170 people in Oregon have used it to end their lives. The law is meant for only extremely sick people — those with incurable diseases who two doctors agree have six months or less to live and are of sound mind.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that states have the right to decide whether to allow doctor-assisted suicides, but it announced last month it will review the law again following an appeal by the Bush administration.

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