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Assisted Death in Europe and AmericaFour Regimes and Their Lessons$
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Guenter Lewy

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199746415

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199746415.001.0001

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Physician-assisted Suicide in Oregon

Physician-assisted Suicide in Oregon

(p.126) 5 Physician-assisted Suicide in Oregon
Assisted Death in Europe and America

Guenter Lewy

Oxford University Press

Oregon's Death with Dignity Act was a citizen's initiative passed by the voters in November 1994. After surviving a series of legal challenges, the law allowing physician-assisted suicide became effective on October 27, 1997. Adult residents of Oregon who are terminally ill can make a request to a physician for a lethal medication for the purpose of ending their lives “in a humane and dignified manner.” The physician must determine that the patient has an incurable illness and is competent. The Oregon Department of Human Services collects information regarding compliance with the provisions of the law. This chapter presents demographic data on the 341 patients who have died under the law between 1998 and 2007. Contrary to fears expressed by opponents of the legislation, those who chose assisted death were not the poor or uneducated but the better educated and those with higher incomes. Inadequate pain control was cited only by about one third of those who made use of the law. Instead of concern about good end-of-life care, the fear of losing control and dignity was one of the primary reasons for choosing assisted death. As a result of rapid expansion of palliative care, by 2007 a full 88% of those who chose assisted death were being cared for by a hospice. Despite some remaining problems such as the difficulty of recognizing psychiatric disorders, experience with the law has on the whole been positive and safeguards against abuse appear to be working.

Keywords:   Washington, Oregon, Death with Dignity Act, palliative care, pain control, desire for autonomy, competency, premature babies

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