In Oregon, it has been legal for terminally ill, mentally competent adults to have an assisted death since 1997. There have been no cases of abuse and the law has not been extended beyond terminally ill adults.
Assisted dying in Oregon works. It prevents unnecessary suffering at the end of life and provides dying adults with choice and control over their death. Assisted dying in Oregon is only available to dying people and has remained so since its inception.
Assisted dying has been responsibly implemented with none of the predicted dire consequences
Ann Jackson, CEO of Oregon Hospice Association (1988 to 2008)
In Oregon, the terminally ill person must be able to take the life-ending medication themselves. They can only get the medication after meeting the legal safeguards.
The terminally ill person must:
- be over 18
- be mentally competent
- have a terminal illness that will lead to their death within 6 months
- Must request the medication twice. There must be 15 days between each request – called a ‘cooling off’ period.
- Must make a written request to their doctor (known as the ‘attending doctor’). This must be witnessed by two individuals who are not primary care givers or family members
- Can cancel the verbal and written requests at any time
- Must be able to take the life-ending medication themselves
- A doctor (known as the ‘consulting doctor’) must confirm that the person is able to make and communicate decisions about their health and has a terminal illness with less than 6 months to live
- The attending doctor must inform the person of alternatives, including palliative care, hospice and pain management options
- If either doctor thinks the person’s judgement is affected they can be referred for psychological evaluation and potentially be considered ineligible
Palliative care in Oregon is excellent and is not seen as an alternative. Evidence shows that 90% of people who had an assisted death in Oregon were enrolled in hospice care. The national average for the USA as a whole is 45%.
Assisted dying is not a replacement for palliative care. It is an option for terminally ill adults who want to control the manner and timing of their death. Otherwise, they could face weeks of unnecessary suffering.