Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law

Oregon’s law was crafted and initially voted into law in 1994. However, due to legal challenges, implementation was delayed until 1998, following a second vote in 1997 in which it was supported by an even large margin (60% to 40%). Valuable data have been gathered every year since it went into effect.

Many Ohioans are not familiar with the concept behind Oregon’s Death with Dignity law.  It is about able-minded adults choosing to end their own life at a time of their own choosing when faced with a terminal diagnosis of 6th months or less, by self administering (ingesting) a life-ending medication prescribed by the patient’s physician.

Safeguards of the law address very relevant concerns brought by many.  Though not an attorney, I will attempt to outline important points of the law:

  1. An adult (18 years or older) patient is given a terminal diagnosis by their physician and given 6 months or less to live. A consulting physician must corroborate this diagnosis.
  2. The patient must verbally request the life-ending medication twice – separated by a minimum period of at least 15 days.
  3. The patient must fill out a third written request for the prescription that is witnessed by two people, one of whom must not be related to them and not in any way related to their place of living, or be a person who will benefit in any way from their decision. This addresses concerns of coercion.
  4. The physician must determine the patient’s level of mental competence and either physician can refer for a mental health evaluation if there is concern about competency, depression, coercion or other factors that might impair judgment.
  5. The patient must be counseled on their end of life options that include hospice care, pain management and comfort care.
  6. The patient may change their mind at any time during this process, and must be given the opportunity to rescind their request.
  7. This prescription may not be requested or administered by anyone other than the adult, mentally sound patient.
  8. Participation is entirely voluntary on behalf of the patient, the physician, the pharmacist and any involved healthcare provider.
  9. Physicians and pharmacists’ identities remain confidential and they are immune from any criminal or civil legal action, provided all of the procedures have been followed.
  10. The cause of death is listed as the underlying illness, and no insurance company can deny settlement of an otherwise payable insurance policy or

 

Results Since 1998 Under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law

  1. A total of 859 people have died since 1998 after ingesting the medication as prescribed under the law. This is about 0.3% of all deaths during this period.
  2. 1,327 people have had the prescription written. This means that about 2/3 of the people who receive the prescription actually use it.  It has been found that just having the prescription provides comfort in the form of a sense of control.
  3. In 2014, 155 had the prescription written, 104 died after ingesting the medication.
  4. Cancer was the largest terminal diagnosis (68.6%), followed by ALS (16.2%), Chronic lower respiratory disease (3.8%), Heart disease (2.9%) and Other illnesses (8.6%).
  5. 93% of patients were enrolled in hospice and 89.5% died at home.
  6. 7% of people were at least 65 years old; the median age at death was 72.

 

The 2014 Annual Report can be found in greater detail at:

http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Documents/year17.pdf

Oregon’s Death with Dignity law can be found at:

http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Pages/index.aspx

Another national organization and overview:

www.deathwithdignity.org/2015/02/12/oregon-health-authority-releases-2014-death-with-dignity-report

Important national organizations working on End of Life care and decisions:

Death with Dignity National Centerwww.deathwithdignity.org

Compassion & Choiceswww.compassionandchoices.org

 

We understand that people have unique experiences with death.  It’s these experiences that color how people move forward in planning for their own deaths.  Unfortunately, those who’ve experienced the bad death of a relative or loved one, carry that suffering with them. 

                Even though none of us know how we will die, the Ohio End of Life Options group believes that in declaring the need to plan for a good death, we are able to lead a good and responsible life.  In order to plan for a good death, we need to understand and talk about our options.  In Ohio, our options are limited. After all of these steps have been taken, we believe that Ohioans deserve the right to the sense of peace, dignity, and control that a law based on Death with Dignity will bring.  Ohioans deserve another option.

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