NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Few Avail Themselves Of Assisted Suicide In Oregon

February 18, 1999

In the first year that Oregon's "Death With Dignity Act" was in force, fewer than two dozen terminally ill patients requested prescriptions for lethal drugs, reports the New England Journal of Medicine.

  • Twenty-three terminally ill residents requested and received lethal drugs -- but only 15 died after taking them.
  • Six of those who received drugs died naturally of their illnesses, and two had not used their prescriptions and were alive as of January 1 this year.
  • Over the same time period, some 30,000 people died in the state -- leading Barbara Coombs Lee, who organized the campaign to pass the act, to comment that the law was being used "very rarely and very carefully."
  • Of the 15 patients who used the drugs, 13 had cancer and the ailments of the other two were not specified.

To be eligible for a lethal prescription under the Oregon statute, a patient must be a "capable" adult, and an Oregon resident with a terminal illness and less that six months to live. The patient must request the drug both orally and in writing. He or she must also get a second doctor's opinion and wait 15 days between requesting the drugs and getting them. They must be self-administered.

Source: Patrick McMahon, "23 Oregonians Used Assisted Suicide Law, Study Says," USA Today, February 18, 1999.


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