Is the Oregon Death with Dignity Act a Good Law?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Oregon Department of Human Services explained in its Mar. 9, 2006 "Eighth Annual Report on Oregon's Death with Dignity Act":

"Physician-assisted suicide has been legal in Oregon since November 1997, when Oregon voters approved the Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) for the second time... After voters reaffirmed the DWDA in 1997, Oregon became the only state allowing legal physician-assisted suicide.

Although physician-assisted suicide has been legal in Oregon for eight years, it remains highly controversial."

Read the full text of the Eighth Annual Report on Oregon's Death with Dignity Act in PDF format.

Mar. 9, 2006 - Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) 

PRO (yes)

Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, stated in his Jul. 14, 2004 column entitled "Choosing Death":

"All in all, the Oregon law has provided the world with a model for how to offer dying people a real choice about how they should bid farewell to the world...

The Death With Dignity law is part of a broader -- and welcome -- reinterpretation of the role of medicine...

The Oregon law deserves to be upheld. It forces us to examine the question of what is special about human life. The answer, I think, is the autonomy and dignity inherent in our individuality -- in making hard decisions for ourselves and determining our own destinies. Oregon honors that vision of what is sacred about life."

Jul. 14, 2004 - Nicholas Kristof 

Compassion & Choices, a patients' rights advocacy group, stated in its Feb. 6, 2002 press release, "Oregon 4th Year With Aid-In-Dying, Data On A Law Threatened":

"The fourth year data on the implementation of the Oregon Death With Dignity Act is more good news for Oregonians. The Oregon data continue to show that none of the risks or abuses predicted by opponents of the law has occurred. Instead, the law has brought significant benefits to Oregonians and to all Americans. The law benefits Oregonians in a number of ways:

  • Dying Oregonians who want to control the timing and manner of death can do so in a humane and dignified manner. Dying Oregonians have a much greater chance of receiving good pain and palliative care. The utilization of hospice care has increased from 22% in 1994 to 37% in 2000. The national average is 19%...

  • Oregon physicians have made efforts to improve their knowledge and skill in pain care...

  • More Medicare patients die at home, and fewer die in acute care hospitals in Oregon than any other state...

  • The entire nation benefits from the experience in Oregon for aid-in-dying. This law provides actual data to inform the important debate about legalization of assisted dying."

Feb. 6, 2002 - Compassion & Choices 

The Oregonian, in a Jan. 22, 2006 Editorial entitled "Message to Congress: Hands off Assisted Suicide Law," stated:

"By the time the Supreme Court finally had its say last Tuesday, Oregon had rolled up nearly a decade of experience with this law. Many of our practical fears did not come to pass during these years of experience.

Terminally ill people didn't flock to Oregon from other states to end their lives by assisted suicide.

Relatively few patients actually followed through with the option--just 208 in the first seven years of the program.

Safeguards against abuses appeared to be effective.

Warnings about lethal doses of pills not working as intended proved overblown."

Jan. 22, 2006 - The Oregonian 

Peg Sandeen, the Death With Dignity National Center Executive Director, stated the following in 2006 about the Death with Dignity Act:

"For the eighth consecutive year, the State's report demonstrates the great diligence with which Oregonians developed and implemented this law... The very existence of Oregon's Death with Dignity law gives comfort and peace of mind to terminally patients at life's end--regardless of whether or not they choose to use it. Equally encouraging is how the law continues to serve as a catalyst for improvements in care for the dying."

Jan. 2006 - Death with Dignity National Center (DDNC) 

The Death With Dignity National Center, a national organization in favor of Euthanasia, stated in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of their website (accessed Jan. 22, 2006):

"The strength of the Oregon law lies in its very strict and specific guidelines, which leave nothing to guesswork or interpretation. The three main reasons other states hope to replicate Oregon's law are because:

  1. The Oregon law respects and upholds the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship.

  2. The Oregon law requires that the patient self-administers the prescribed medication to hasten death.

  3. The Oregon law ensures that the patient -- and no one else -- is the driving force, the ultimate and conscious decision maker in the process.

The Oregon Death with Dignity Law exists only for dying patients whose mental, phsycial and emotional suffering has become intolerable and who wish a peaceful and dignified passing. There are many in the disabled community who support the Oregon law -- not because they are disabled, but because they are people...

To date, persons who have chosen to use the law have been well educated, have had excellent health care, have had good insurance, have had access to hospice and have been well supported financially, emotionally and physically. Absolutely no HMO or insurance company participates in this process."

Jan. 22, 2006 - Death with Dignity National Center (DDNC) 

CON (no)

Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group, in its website's section on Gonzales v. Oregon (accessed May 17, 2006), stated:

"The Oregon Law grants civil and criminal immunity to physicians providing lethal prescriptions based on a stated claim of 'good faith' belief that the person was terminal, acting voluntarily, and that other statutory criteria were met. This is the lowest culpability standard possible, even below that of 'negligence,' which is the minimum standard governing other physician duties. As the Oregon Reports on physician-assisted suicide make clear, the state has not been able to assess the extent of non-reporting or noncompliance with the law's purported safeguards. There are no enforcement provisions in the law, and the reports themselves demonstrate that non-terminal people are receiving lethal prescriptions...

More disturbingly, the reasons doctors actually report for issuing lethal prescriptions are the patient's 'loss of autonomy' (87 percent), 'loss of dignity' (80 percent), and 'feelings of being a burden' (36 percent). People with disabilities are concerned that these psycho-social factors are being widely accepted as sufficient justification for assisted suicide, with most physicians not even asking for a psychological consultation (5 percent in 2004, 16 percent overall) or the intervention of a social worker familiar with home and community-based services that might alleviate these feelings. The societal message is 'so what?' or 'who cares?' Recent government reports rank Oregon highest in the nation in elder suicide."

May 17, 2006 - Not Dead Yet 

The Family Research Council, a pro-life organization, stated in its Apr., 2005 amicus brief for Gonzales v. Oregon:

"The Oregon law authorizes and protects a non-traditional, deadly practice, using federally controlled substances--a practice condemned by the American Medical Association and our nation's leading health care provider associations...

While utterly failing to protect the family of the patient, the Oregon law grants 'good faith' immunity to the physician and fails to provide an enforcement mechanism for physician non-compliance. Moreover, inadequate data collection requirements limit any possible study of the Oregon experiment. For example, the form used by Oregon to effectuate the killing requires no disclosure of the reason for the patient's request...

Allowing physicians to dispense drugs to assist in killing has an insidious effect on families who support seniors, burdening both the family and the dying. The number of patients in Oregon reporting a concern about being a burden on the family increased from 12 percent in 1998 to 63 percent in 2000, subsequent to the passage of Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law. Physician-assisted suicide creates in practice a frightening 'duty to die'--frightening because the practice of physician-assisted suicide has been shown to be so imperfect a means of death that in one Dutch study fully 20 percent of patients given what was considered to be a lethal dose lived for more than three hours, in some cases requiring the physician to intervene with a lethal injection which would be illegal under the Oregon law."

Apr. 2005 - Family Research Council (FRC) 

Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation Vice-President Kenneth R. Stevens Jr., MD, stated in his Oct. 11, 2005 speech, "The Consequences of Physician-Assisted Suicide Legalization":

"The immunity offered to physicians under the Oregon assisted-suicide law requires only 'good-faith compliance' with the law. This is not a medical-legal standard of care, and is not applicable to any legitimate medical treatment...

Oregon's assisted suicide 'safeguards' are not being followed. There is no protection for the depressed or mentally ill. In 2003 and 2004 only 5% of those dying from assisted suicide had a mental health consultation. We have published reports of a patient diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having dementia, and still receiving a prescription for lethal drugs. The drug is supposed to be self-administered and we have newspaper reports of patients being assisted in taking the drugs, because they were not able to be self-administered...

Many doctors are writing prescriptions for lethal drugs to patients for whom they have not previously cared...

There is no real monitoring of Oregon's assisted suicides. In 2004, the prescribing doctor was present at the time the patient took the lethal doses of sleeping drugs in only 6 of the 37 deaths...

Oregon's 'assisted suicide social experiment' is being poorly conducted and managed."

Oct. 11, 2005 - Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation (PCCEF) 

Wesley J. Smith, JD, anti-euthanasia activist, stated in his Jan. 22, 2006 San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece, "The Dying Need TLC, Not Rulings: Legalizing Assisted Suicide Would Be Very Risky Decision" :

"Assisted suicide boosters claim it would be different here, and point to Oregon, to show that there is no 'slippery slope'...

Still, abuses have been revealed. In the only case in which the medical records of a potential assisted suicide were independently examined, a peer-reviewed report in the Journal of the American Psychiatric Association disclosed that a patient received a lethal prescription almost two years before he died naturally.

Yet, Oregon law requires that a patient be likely to die within six months. Not only that, but the patient whose death was reviewed was permitted to keep his pills even after being hospitalized as delusional.

In another case reported in the Oregonian newspaper, a woman with Alzheimer's disease and cancer received assisted suicide even after a psychiatrist reported that she didn't know what she was asking for and that her daughter was the driving force behind the request."

Jan. 22, 2006 - Wesley J. Smith, JD