The issue stirs strong emotions. Some opponents, including the Catholic Church, cite religious or moral grounds, seeing any form of assisted dying as anathema to teachings that life is never to be taken. Some physicians believe the practice violates their oath only to heal, and some disability rights activists fear that they will be vulnerable to abuses. Others warn of a slippery slope to euthanasia.
Oregon’s 18 years of experience do not confirm any of these fears. Enacted in 1997, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill adults who are residents of the state to obtain and use prescriptions from their physicians for self-administered lethal doses. Stringent protections include a life expectancy of less than six months, a finding of mental capability, a concurring opinion from a second doctor, mandatory discussion of hospice and other options, waiting periods and more.
Oregonians have made sparing use of the law, with 859 deaths as of Feb. 2 . The state collects data on each case, and there have been no reports of coerced or wrongly qualified assisted deaths. The typical patient is about 71, suffering from terminal cancer, well-educated, with health insurance and enrolled in hospice. About one-third of prescriptions were never used, suggesting some terminally ill people are comforted by knowing they have an alternative to extensive suffering should they need it.