PORTLAND, Ore. — Friday marked 25 years since Oregon voters passed the state’s Death with Dignity Act.
It became the first law in the country allowing terminally ill patients to choose to end their life.
Sen. Ron Wyden, former Gov. John Kitzhaber and others gathered at the Eliot Center in Portland Friday to honor the anniversary of the act’s passage in 1994. It went into effect in 1997, after voters rejected a ballot measure that would have gotten rid of the law.
“I think that Oregonians were so brave in taking this step and really sitting down and thinking about how we want to die and how we want to live our final days,” said Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Death with Dignity National Center, which sponsored the event. “It was just groundbreaking legislation for them to have the foresight to pass a law that changed everything about how we die.”
The law allows adults with a terminal illness to ask a doctor to prescribe them a lethal dose of medication. More than 1,500 patients in Oregon have been prescribed medication for this purpose since the law took effect. A little less than 1,000 of them have used the medication to end their life, according to the Death with Dignity National Center.
“It has given people an extra option,” Sandeen said. “It has also had these other tertiary effects like improving pain management and improving symptom control and giving people more control at the end of life.”
Earlier this year, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill adding on to the act by eliminating a 15-day waiting period for patients who are less than 15 days away from dying. That takes effect at the beginning of next year.
Since becoming legal in Oregon, Death with Dignity acts have also passed in Washington state, California, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine and Washington, D.C.